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Facing Defeat, GOP Puts Off Vote on Justice Nominee : Democratic Attempt at Showdown on Reynolds Confirmation Blocked in Senate Panel

Times Staff Writer

Faced with likely defeat Thursday on a vote to recommend confirmation of civil rights chief William Bradford Reynolds as the Justice Department’s No. 3 official, Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee blocked a Democratic attempt to force a showdown vote.

Instead, the committee held over the nomination for a week after Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), one of three swing votes on the panel, announced that he would vote against Reynolds, whom he accused of misleading testimony and of placing himself “above the law.”

Reynolds’ critics contend that he refuses to enforce those civil rights laws with which he disagrees and that he has ignored those court rulings with which he disagrees.

Reagan’s Efforts

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Rejection of Reynolds’ nomination as associate attorney general would mark a substantial embarrassment for President Reagan, who campaigned personally for confirmation last Saturday in his weekly radio address and in calls to some undecided senators. A negative vote also would upset plans by Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III to fill a string of longstanding vacancies at the Justice Department.

White House spokesman Larry Speakes said Reagan had no intention of withdrawing Reynolds’ nomination, which had been scheduled for a committee vote Thursday.

Sen. Charles McC. Mathias Jr. (R-Md.), another swing vote, told a committee aide that he would vote against Reynolds if the committee did not hold over the controversial nomination. It was at Mathias’ request that Reynolds was recalled for additional testimony after civil rights lawyers questioned the truthfulness of his earlier remarks before the committee.

Mathias’ intention to vote no would have made a tie the best result that Reynolds’ supporters could have gotten, with seven of the panel’s Democrats solidly opposed and the eighth, Sen. Howell Heflin (D-Ala.), undecided. The panel has 10 Republican members.

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Reynolds’ opponents hailed the Republicans’ inability to muster support in the committee. Ralph G. Neas, executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, said that eight to 10 negative votes on the panel “translates into 45 to 50 votes against him on the Senate floor.”

Hatch Motion

As the committee sat down for what was expected to be the definitive vote Thursday, Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), one of Reynolds’ staunchest supporters, moved to report the nomination to the full Senate with no recommendation--tacit acknowledgement that there were not enough votes to recommend confirmation.

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), the panel’s ranking minority member, immediately offered an amendment to delay the vote a week--a proposal he said he would withdraw if the committee agreed to go ahead with a yes-or-no vote on confirmation. Biden appeared doubtful that Democrats could have defeated the motion to report the nomination without a recommendation.

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“We all know what’s going on here. . . .” Hatch protested. “Let’s let Mr. Reynolds have his vote.” But he declined to withdraw his motion--thereby blocking the up-or-down vote--and the committee then approved the delay without dissent.

More Time for White House

The week’s delay gives the White House the opportunity to plead its case once more with the two Republican defectors, both of whom are up for reelection next year, and affords Specter additional time to pursue matters he said are unresolved. Although he said he would vote no if the issue had come up Thursday, Specter contended that he remained “ready to listen.”

Specter accused Reynolds of misleading testimony on March 1, 1982, about the Justice Department’s decision not to file a legal brief in a Georgia voting discrimination case, recalling that Reynolds had given the committee no indication that he already had privately taken sides in the case.

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Specter also disputed the Administration’s argument that opposition to Reynolds actually reflects broader opposition to Reagan’s stand against racial hiring quotas and court-ordered busing, policies that Reynolds is in charge of carrying out.

Noting that Reynolds’ position in a key affirmative action case has been rejected by three federal courts of appeal, Specter said: “It’s not a matter of policy or advocacy to take a position contrary to settled law.”


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