President Clinton and federal lawmakers must provide stronger leadership and funding for civil rights because of "new dangers" that 30 years of progress may be eroded in the courts and Congress, a bipartisan panel of former federal officials urge in a report to be released today.
The Citizens' Commission on Civil Rights, in its biennial study of the state of civil rights in the nation, commended Clinton for reversing policies of the Ronald Reagan-George Bush years in housing, affirmative action, desegregation and other areas. "But it will not mean a great deal unless we get additional resources" to run enforcement programs, said commission chairman Arthur S. Flemming, the former Republican chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
"The proposals being advanced on Capitol Hill represent the broadest threats to civil rights in my lifetime," Flemming, 89, said. "The proposed constitutional amendment for a balanced budget and the proposals to transfer welfare programs to block grants for the states, where they can adopt their own standards, that will mean millions of the poor will have nothing to look forward to."
The generally gloomy report by the 17-member commission says civil rights are also endangered by California's Proposition 187.
The commission was formed in 1982 with equal numbers of Republican and Democratic officials to monitor the government's civil rights policies and practices. It has been spearheaded by Flemming, who was fired by Reagan over his support of affirmative action and other issues.
"We are seeing a trend of elected officials seeking to escape their obligations to provide equal opportunity," Flemming said. "California Gov. Pete Wilson is attempting to avoid implementation of the federal 'motor voter' law by calling it an 'unfunded mandate.' The Constitution was an unfunded mandate. Imagine if (former Alabama) Gov. (George C.) Wallace had been allowed to use this excuse to avoid desegregation."