The current uproar over the nomination of William Bradford Reynolds to be associate attorney general of the United States must seem to those outside Washington to be puzzling, particularly to those who understand the nomination process as it relates to the Department of Justice.
Brad Reynolds is a decent man and a capable lawyer who should be spared the slow and painful torture he is undergoing. The process being followed is not a good way to nullify the 1984 election.
The attack against Reynolds began with a fusillade fired against the policies he followed as assistant attorney general in the civil rights division. Because those policies were those of the president who won an impressive reelection victory, it was evident that the attack probably could not succeed. Indeed, The Washington Post reported this week a different strategy has now emerged -- that of attacking the nominee's credibility.
Toward this end, the confirmation hearings focused on minor details. In one instance, it seems that Reynolds' memory failed him. At his first hearing he recalled that he had met in 1982 with opponents of a Louisiana congressional redistricting plan; but, on checking his records, he determined that only his staff had met and conferred repeatedly with the opponents.
Given a schedule of cases and meetings in which any assistant attorney general for civil rights must be involved over four years in office, it is quite understandable that some details of particular and routine cases would not loom large in his memory. To make his confirmation hearings depend upon such petty factual reconstructions under the intense pressure of a public hearing is unreasonable and unfair
Thus, the attack on Reynolds' integrity is, at best, disingenuous. The fact is that Reynolds is under attack because of his enforcement of the Justice Department's policies on quotas and discrimination -- nothing more, nothing less.
The law is not clear on the busing and quota issues. There is room for debate. Interpretation of the laws before the federal courts is an adversarial process under our system of government. The president and his administration must be afforded room to press his policy directives no less than the various civil rights organizations must be allowed to press their views.
Such a public debate allows differing views on such volatile issues to be reconciled with the constitutional and statutory requirements involved. The debate will not be silenced by the Senate's refusal to approve Reynolds; it will only be made more acrimonious.
To argue against quotas and busing does not make one an opponent of civil rights. It is only to argue that there are different ways of attempting to reach a common goal of a colorblind society. At least since John Marshall Harlan dissented in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) a good many people (Hubert Humphrey, for example) have argued that a policy of nondiscrimination across the board is the only policy that is constitutionally acceptable and which promises to work.
William Bradford Reynolds is a man of integrity, character and unquestioned ability. He is precisely the sort of man most needed in the highest ranks of our government -- of whatever administration. He can continue in his present position as head of the civil rights division without further confirmation. The issue is whether he will be denied a promotion.
As attorney general of the United States, I would have considered it great fortune to have had a man of Reynolds' professional ability and personal character in the Justice Department. The Senate should confirm him without further delay.