Thu, Dec 09, 2004 - Page 7 News List

US civil rights head quits after Bush replaces her


Ending speculation that she would put up one last fight with a president, Mary Frances Berry, the chairwoman of the US Civil Rights Commission, resigned Tuesday, a day after US President George W. Bush appointed a new head of the advisory agency.

Berry, who has criticized Bush's civil rights record and had earned a reputation for combativeness in nearly 25 years at the commission, had said through a spokesman earlier in the week that she believed her term expired Jan. 21.

The White House on Monday, however, appointed a new chairman, Gerald Reynolds, a Missouri lawyer, and said Berry's term had expired Sunday.

In a letter to Bush, Berry stuck to her position but said she would step down to avoid a costly legal fight.

"Given that the conclusion of my tenure is only a few weeks away, a legal challenge would be an unwise expenditure of resources. Therefore, I am resigning my position as commissioner on the United States Commission on Civil Rights effective immediately."

Board members Tuesday were voting by e-mail and fax to ratify Reynolds' appointment as chairman. A spokeswoman for the commission said that as of last night six of the eight members -- more than the needed majority -- had already approved him.

Berry did not respond to a message left at her office at the University of Pennsylvania, where she is a history professor.

Bush designated another board member, Abigail Thernstrom, as vice chairman.

The moves are expected to put a more conservative stamp on the panel, which investigates rights complaints and issues reports but has no enforcement power.

Berry, 66, was appointed by former president Jimmy Carter in 1980 and butted heads with virtually every president since then.

Last week, Berry and Reynoso sent the White House a 166-page report accusing Bush of exacerbating divides in the nation.

Reynolds said last night that he wished Berry well and would seek to focus the panel on advocating for improved education as a way to further civil rights.

Liberals have accused Reynolds of opposing affirmative action, but Reynolds said he more precisely opposes race-based quotas or preferences in government and public programs.

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