Commission on Civil Rights

Author:Jeffrey Lehman, Shirelle Phelps

Page 23

The federal Commission on Civil Rights evaluates CIVIL RIGHTS laws and policies of the U.S. government, follows legal developments regarding discrimination, investigates allegations that U.S. citizens are being denied their civil rights, and evaluates equal opportunity programs. It collects and monitors information on discrimination or the denial of EQUAL PROTECTION of the laws on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, age, handicap, or national origin. It also investigates equality of opportunity in voting, education, employment, transportation, housing, and the administration of justice.

The commission holds public hearings, publishes findings and reports, and maintains a toll-free phone line by which people may make complaints regarding civil rights. The commission disseminates the information it gathers but cannot enforce existing civil rights laws. It offers its findings and makes recommendations to the president and to Congress. Many of the commission's recommendations have been incorporated into laws, executive orders, and regulations. The commission also collects and stores civil rights information gathered from around the United States.

The Commission on Civil Rights was created by the CIVIL RIGHTS ACT of 1957, and it was later reestablished by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Act of 1983 (42 U.S.C.A. § 1975 et seq.). It maintains six regional offices and is headed by eight members, or commissioners, of whom no more than four shall come from any one political party. Members serve for three or six years. Four members of the commission are appointed by the president, two by the president pro tempore of the Senate, and two by the Speaker of the House of Representatives. The president designates a chairperson and vice chairperson from among the commission's members.

From the beginning, the Commission on Civil Rights has interjected itself in controversy. It has investigated activities ranging from discrimination to HATE CRIMES. Because appointments to the commission are political, its tone often swings from the right to the left, depending on who is president. During the 1980s, it issued opinions that were so conservative that some congressional Democrats wanted to shut it down. In contrast, during the 1990s, under the leadership of its outspoken chairwoman, Mary Frances Berry, it tilted toward the left.

The commissions most controversial recent action was its investigation into the 2000...

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