President Reagan intends to replace three of the six members on the U.S. Civil Rights Commission this week, but the White House has backed away from an earlier plan to use "recess appointments" that would have allowed them to serve without confirmation until the end of this session of Congress, administration officials said yesterday.
Reagan will submit the three nominees in the next few days, before Congress leaves for the Memorial Day recess, officials said. Senate confirmation will be required before they can take office.
Some White House officials were considering the use of "recess appointments" while Congress was away, but that idea was scrapped, officials said.
Reagan is ousting commission members who have been critical of the administration's record on civil rights and replacing them with nominees who apparently share his opposition to affirmative action quotas and school busing as tools to fight racial discrimination.
Clarence M. Pendleton Jr., the commission chairman, said yesterday that he asked the White House to replace four of his six fellow commissioners because he needed more conservative support to carry out the administration's civil rights policies.
"I said to them, 'I'm commissioner over there but I can't get anything done because of them the other commissioners . You need to appoint more conservatives over there . . . . If I'm going to be appointed to a political position in which I am ideologically compatible with the administration, then I need some support.' "
Pendleton said he wrote a letter to Reagan last December in which he asked the president to develop a civil rights policy with the goal of creating a "colorblind society" and requesting Reagan to consider making conservative appointments to the commission.
"I saw Reagan a month later at a Martin Luther King birthday reception at the White House and he told me 'I've got your letter and you'll get an answer,' " Pendleton said. "I think the appointments are part of my answer."
According to White House officials, Pendleton has met with White House counselor Edwin Meese III several times recently urging him to make changes in the commission.
Pendleton said the changes should not be seen as purely a black issue.
"We're dealing with everybody's civil rights here. There are 17 protected classes, and blacks are just one of them. There is a perception that the commission is responsive only to blacks and that's a problem. That's not what the statute that created the commission talks about."
The 17 classes Pendleton referred to are identified by law as groups, including women, Hispanics, blacks and others, to be shielded from discrimination by the commission.
Pendleton added that the commissioners to be replaced have criticized the administration for taking fewer civil rights cases to court.
"Fewer court cases proves nothing," he said. "A school system or a local government saves money with a conciliatory agreement and so does the federal government. That's good for black people. That's good for all people."
The president's planned housecleaning drew criticism yesterday from two leading Democrats.
Former vice president Walter F. Mondale told black college graduates that Reagan was trying to "undo the great work of a generation" in civil rights "and he must not get away with it." Speaking at commencement excercises at Clark College in Atlanta, Mondale, a Democratic presidential candidate, said the Reagan dismissals would destroy "the integrity of that body, which has been a source of expertise and national conscience for decades."
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, president of Operation PUSH and a potential Democratic presidential candidate, urged Reagan in a letter yesterday to "rethink any effort to gain control of the commission and to jeopardize its traditional and historic role of being free to monitor other agencies' performance without fear of retribution."
Jackson noted that the commission has subjected Reagan's policies to "severe criticism" but "so has it in the past criticized other presidents."
White House officials said yesterday that Reagan will not replace commission member Jill Ruckelshaus, wife of Environmental Protection Agency Administrator William D. Ruckelshaus. Earlier, the White House had considered replacing her and last year sent a nominee to the Senate for her seat, but the nomination lapsed.
The officials confirmed that the president will replace commissioners Mary Frances Berry, a former assistant secretary of education in the Carter administration; Murray Saltzman, a Baltimore rabbi; and Blandina Cardenas Ramirez, a San Antonio educator.
Saltzman was appointed by President Ford; the others were appointed by President Carter. Reagan already has appointed the commission chairman, Pendleton, and Vice Chairman Mary Louise Smith.
Four candidates reportedly in line for the three commission openings are: Morris Abram, a former president of Brandeis University; John Bunzel, a senior research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University; Robert Destro, a law professor at Catholic University; and Carolyn Reid Wallace, assistant director of elementary education projects at the National Endowment for the Humanities.
In addition, Pendleton said the White House has agreed to nominate a new staff director for the commission, Linda Chavez Gersten.