The President is not an equal opportunity appointer.
The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, which he has helped make famous by firing half its members (they will remain active until their successors are confirmed by the Senate), used the White House's own data, obtained under threat of subpoena, to make its case that women, Hispanic Americans and blacks are not well represented in this administration.
The commission said the greatest difference between President Reagan's record on appointments and that of his predecessor involved blacks: only 4.1 percent of Reagan's full-time appointees have been blacks, compared to 12.2 percent under former president Jimmy Carter. The figure for women dropped from 12.1 percent during the Carter administration to 8 percent. The figure for Hispanics dropped less sharply, from 4.1 percent under Carter to 3.8 percent under Reagan.
The report of the lame duck commission coincided with another study that helps us understand why things are still tough for so many people despite all the talk of economic recovery. The Joint Center for Political Studies used the measure of household wealth to gauge the economic gap between white and black Americans and found that the wealth of black families averages only 36 percent that of white families. Women, who earn only 59 cents for every dollar earned by men, increasingly are the poorest of the poor.
Women, blacks and Hispanics remain poor due to circumstances they often can't control. And one of those circumstances, as the Civil Rights Commission's report makes clear, is that there are just too few people in high-level federal positions who are attuned, through personal experience, to the needs and interests of those groups.
Just one of several areas in which the commission expressed "disappointment" about the low levels of women and minority appointments was the federal judiciary. Where the Carter administration aggressively sought women, blacks, and other minorities for judgeships -- enabling Carter to appoint more black federal judges than any other president -- President Reagan had not appointed a single black to the federal bench since he has been in office.
Writing in the March 1983 issue of Judicature, Sheldon Goldman noted that the total absence of blacks chosen for lifetime federal district court judgeships is the worst record of any administration in over two decades."
In another area, minority women, the commission reported that neither Carter nor Reagan offered a shining example. Minority women made up only 2.2 percent of Carter's appointees, but these women are virtually absent from the Reagan administration's appointments: Only 1.2 percent of his 980 appointments are black women or Hispanic women.
President Reagan and his spokesmen have taken issue with the report, pointing to such prominent appointments as Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Dole and Health and Human Services Secretary Margaret Heckler. But his record won't be set to rest by the presence of Samuel Pierce at Housing and Urban Development or even by naming one minority woman -- District of Columbia Corporation Counsel Judith W. Rogers -- to a seat on a local bench, the D.C. Court of Appeals.
Some fence-mending has begun. Presidential aide Michael Deaver has been put in charge of efforts to coordinate the drive for the women's vote, and when the pitch is made to address women's issues, it cannot be made simply to white women.
Chief political adviser Edward Rollins recently held a meeting with a group of black Republican leaders who, according to one, "gave a very honest reading of why the president has an image of being uncaring by the black community." In addition, Legree Daniels, chairman of the National Black Republican Council, has named a task force on critical issues.
But it would be well if the administration made a serious response to the commission's challenge to seize "the opportunity to make a major effort to appoint women and minority men to full-time, top-level positions during its remaining tenure, thereby continuing the [previous administrations"] trend of increasing the numbers of women and minority men in the nation's most responsible federal leadership positions."