Sen. Charles McC. Mathias Jr. (R-Md.) charged yesterday that Assistant Attorney General William Bradford Reynolds has failed in dozens of cases to provide relief for victims of housing discrimination.
Mathias was the first Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee to assail Reynolds' four-year record as head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division as the committee resumed hearings on Reynolds' proposed promotion to associate attorney general.
The Maryland senator also said that while Reynolds has refused to be an advocate for discrimination victims, he has shown no such reluctance in promoting a constitutional amendment on school prayer.
Officials of a long list of civil rights groups later used far harsher language in condemning Reynolds for abandoning traditional civil rights remedies. This followed a daylong hearing Tuesday in which Republicans generally defended Reynolds against fierce Democratic criticism.
Despite his criticism, Mathias gave no indication that he will oppose Reynolds' confirmation.
The committee, composed of 10 Republicans and eight Democrats, is considered likely to approve the nomination, probably along party lines.
Mathias ridiculed Reynolds' enforcement record against housing bias, which Reynolds has said equals that of previous administrations.
The senator said that even by Reynolds' standards he had achieved next to nothing with 35 consent decrees, covering housing bias on 44,000 units, since 1981.
While Reynolds has abandoned the Carter administration's sweeping class-action lawsuits in favor of seeking relief for specific victims, Mathias said, in only one case did victims receive cash compensation.
"Is this the fruit of four years of work of the Civil Rights Division?" Mathias asked. "Fourteen individuals got $1,500 each for a grand total of $21,000 -- is that the bingo? . . . My problem with this, Mr. Reynolds, is that you aren't achieving a great deal of relief for people who need relief."
Reynolds said the consent decrees required defendants to comply with the law.
"You have to end discrimination, open up those complexes and make them available for people to enter," he added.
Mathias said he had accepted Reynolds' decision to be a "neutral law enforcer" rather than a civil rights advocate. But he quoted an internal 1983 memo in which Reynolds criticized "ill-conceived" court rulings that bar school prayer, saying that "such judicial wrong-headedness . . . may be just the catalyst needed to put momentum behind the president's efforts for a constitutional amendment" to allow organized prayer in schools.
"Now that goes beyond mere enforcement of the law," Mathias said.
Civil rights groups vented their frustration with Reynolds' tenure by dissecting his record in thick legal briefs with footnotes and appendices.
"Mr. Reynolds' record reflects an abdication of responsibility for the enforcement of civil rights and, even more disturbing, a disregard for the rule of law . . . ," said Thomas D. Barr of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. Benjamin L. Hooks, executive director of the NAACP, accused Reynolds of an "attempt to reshape the law for the ideological and political purposes of the administration."
"He perceives us as the enemy," Ralph G. Neas, executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, said in an interview. "When you listen to Brad Reynolds, he sounds like the counsel for those who are discriminating rather than those who are discriminated against. Every statute -- fair housing, handicapped and employment laws, the Voting Rights Act -- is so narrowly interpreted that he strangles the life out of them."
Neas said Reynolds has used his opposition to school busing and racial quotas as "a smoke screen" to divert attention from his weak enforcement record in housing, handicapped law and other areas.
Many of yesterday's 53 witnesses endorsed the nominee.
Paul D. Kamenar, legal director of the Washington Legal Foundation, called Reynolds' record "exceptional" and said, "Mr. Reynolds has made it clear that our Constitution is colorblind and that racially divisive affirmative action quotas violate the fundamental principles of equal opportunity."
Roy Innis, national chairman of the Congress of Racial Equality, said Reynolds is "technically qualified, competent, morally fit, accessible, perceptive and creative, courageous and fair."