The Senate Judiciary Committee is now approaching a vote on the nomination of William Bradford Reynolds to be associate attorney general. When the committee took up this nomination at the beginning of the month, it seemed clear that Mr. Reynolds' record, as head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, spoke forcefully against raising him to this higher office. But it was possible to argue, two weeks ago, that the Judiciary Committee's hearings might produce some new argument or information weighing in his favor.
The hearings have done precisely the opposite. They have introduced new reasons for doubt. It turns out that on several occasions he has misled senators in describing his own position and other people's. Perhaps that will strike you as a elatively modest offense, in comparison with his handling of some recent civil rights cases. It's true that this week he apologized to the committee. But misleading the Judiciary Committee raises further questions about his understanding of his accountability.
In a Mississippi voting rights case, he had earlier testified, he talked with lawyers for black voters challenging local election laws, and they agreed, he said, that the Justice Department should not file suit. On Monday one of those lawyers, Charles V. McTeer of Greenville, gave the committee an indignant affidavit declaring that he was one of those lawyers, and he certainly has not agreed with the Justice Department's decision. To that, Mr. Reynolds responded that he never claimed to have met with all the lawyers for the voters. In a similar instance involving a Louisiana redistricting plan, Mr. Reynolds had testified that he met with opponents of it before deciding not to challenge it. Shown to be wrong, he pleaded a faulty memory.
Several years ago he told the committee that he stayed out of a voting dispute in one Georgia county because of a lack of resources in the department. Now it turns out that, as he wrote in an internal memo, he had another reason as well: he thought the county was right and the protesting black voters were wrong.
None of these prevarications would be fatal to the nomination of an official with an otherwise commendable record. But they would not be helpful even to the strongest of candidates -- and that is not Mr. Reynolds. If he deals in this cavalier fashion with men as powerful as the members of the Judiciary Committee, the senators must have found themselves wondering how he deals with people of no power at all who live far from Washington. His record two weeks ago was sufficient reason to conclude that he ought not to be confirmed. The recent hearings strengthen that conclusion.