Civil Rights Leaders Urge Lee's Confirmation

A coalition of elected officials and civil rights leaders called Wednesday for the immediate confirmation of Bill Lann Lee as assistant attorney general for civil rights at the U.S. Department of Justice.

"We're here because we believe this Congress has to approve the nomination as quickly as possible," Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa told a news conference at the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor offices near downtown.

Lee, first nominated by President Clinton for the top federal post two years ago, is "the first Asian American in U.S. history to be accorded that honor," said Stewart Kwoh, executive director of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center.

Formerly one of the top public interest lawyers in the nation, Lee was named acting assistant attorney general by Clinton in December 1997 after a Republican-led Senate Judiciary Committee threatened to jettison his nomination. Conservative Republicans said that Lee was too strident a proponent of affirmative action.

"Their objection is that he is too strong in favor of civil rights," said Los Angeles City Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg.

Lee was nominated again for the post by Clinton in March, and the Senate committee has not voted on the matter.

Lee's appointment should be confirmed because his current acting title compromises his ability to do his job, said civil rights attorney Constance Rice, who used to work with Lee at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

"In Washington, title is everything. If you don't have the title, you don't have the clout . . . in everything from getting your phone calls returned to getting a budget from Congress," she said.

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