Rep. Don Edwards (D-Calif.) said yesterday "confidential sources" told him that the U.S. Civil Rights Commission prepared delaying amendments used by conservative senators to block passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1984.
Edwards, chairman of the House subcommittee on civil and constitutional rights, said he wrote the commission late last month demanding "all documents which were submitted to Congress . . . by commission staff on this legislation."
Linda Chavez, the commission's staff director, did not immediately provide the material but wrote to Edwards to deny writing any of the amendments used by conservatives to stall the bill to death. She characterized the reports from Edwards' sources as "complete fabrication made in reckless disregard for the truth."
The bill was intended to reverse a Supreme Court decision saying that Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972, designed to prevent discrimination in higher education, does not apply to an entire university if one unit of that university is found guilty of discrimination.
This was considered a watering-down of the law by Edwards and others in Congress, and they said the Civil Rights Act of 1984 was intended only to reverse the high court's decision.
Conservatives said, however, that it was far greater in scope and would cause more problems than it would solve.
Yesterday, Chavez released a second letter to Edwards, along with the complete file given to conservative senators who opposed the bill.
Chavez cited two items -- a Sept. 17 memo from the commission's general counsel to Sen. Chic Hecht (R-Nev.) listing "errors and misleading statements" by Edwards and a letter from Chavez to Hecht. In that letter, Chavez said, she did suggest "alternative language" for the act.
Chavez said in an interview that she believes Edwards is attacking the commission because her staff, in those two documents, "drew attention to inconsistencies" in the bill supported by Edwards and liberal Democrats.
"My letter to Sen. Hecht was also provided to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund at their request," Chavez wrote to Edwards. "Your unnamed sources apparently have mistaken that letter and its substantive suggestions for the numerous amendments introduced by Sen. Orrin G. Hatch in September . . . . Commission staff did not prepare or assist in the preparation of any of the latter amendments.
"I think that since your letter gives currency to such reports," Chavez added, "it is only fair for you to inform your unnamed sources of their serious error. As a devoted civil libertarian, I am sure that you would want to clear up any misunderstanding on their part."
In a telephone interview from his California congressional office yesterday, Edwards said he does not know if the commission acted illegally but, on the basis of his sources' reports, the subcommittee wants information on the commission's role in defeating the proposed legislation.
"I think they could give some technical advice," Edwards said, "but the commission is not part of the Senate. They should not be writing amendments."
Chavez said she did brief senators in the Republican Steering Committee, a party group, as well as the Wednesday Club, a group of moderate Republicans, and provided written analyses of the proposed act for Hecht, Hatch and Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.). She said she personally offered the same analysis to the supporters of the bill, but was refused.
Chavez said she believes that the amendments were written by a member of the Republican Steering Committee and a member of Hatch's staff.