01.29.08

Leahy Urges Commission On Civil Rights To Approve State Charters

More Than Three Dozen State Advisory Committees Lack Operational Authority

WASHINGTON (Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2008) – Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) Tuesday sent a letter to the Chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights expressing concern that the Commission has been slow to renew the advisory committee charters of Vermont and dozens of other states.  Leahy’s letter was sent on the same day that members of the country’s leading civil rights organizations called on the U.S. Justice Department to discontinue partisan appointments and the recent politicization of the Commission on Civil Rights.

A Government Accountability Office report issued in December 2006 found that the Commission on Civil Rights has failed to approve the charters of 38 states.  In his letter to Commission Chairman Gerald Reynolds, Leahy asks for a detailed explanation of why the charters have not been approved. 

“These trends are troubling given that state advisory committees have long played a key role in fulfilling the Commission’s fact-finding and reporting mission,” wrote Leahy.

Leahy’s letter was sent the day before the Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hold a Department of Justice oversight hearing with Attorney General Michael Mukasey.  Leahy is the committee’s chairman. 

The text of Leahy’s letter follows. 

 

 # # # # # 

 

January 29, 2008

 

The Honorable Gerald A. Reynolds

Chairman

United States Commission on Civil Rights

624 Ninth Street, NW

Washington, DC 20425

 

Dear Chairman Reynolds:

 

I write to request information on a matter of great concern to our Nation and to the people of Vermont.  It has come to my attention that the Vermont Advisory Committee of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (“Commission”) has been without a charter since December 2006, because the Commission’s staff has failed to vote on the Vermont Advisory Committee’s membership list.  I am concerned that this may not be an isolated incident.  According to a May 2006 Government Accountability Office report, “38 out of 51 of the state advisory committees to the Commission cannot conduct any work because they do not have approved charters” giving them authority to operate. 

 

These trends are troubling given that state advisory committees have long played a key role in fulfilling the Commission’s fact-finding and reporting mission.  It is my understanding that without these charters, the state advisory committees are unable to conduct their critical work and the capacity of the Commission to investigate and report on civil rights is greatly undermined.

 

I therefore request that you provide me (1) an update on the Commission’s efforts to ensure that the Vermont Advisory Committee’s charter is secured; (2) the list of state advisory committees currently not chartered; (3) a detailed explanation of why each state advisory committee currently not chartered had their proposed-member lists rejected and who made the decision to reject those lists; and (4) a detailed explanation of why each state advisory committee currently not chartered has not had an up or down vote on their proposed-member lists.

 

I appreciate your prompt attention to this matter.  Please respond to my office by no later than Friday, February 13, 2008.

 

Sincerely,

 

 

 

PATRICK LEAHY

Chairman

 

cc:       The Honorable Abigail Thernstrom

            The Honorable Gail Heriot

            The Honorable Peter N. Kirsanow

            The Honorable Arlan D. Melendez

            The Honorable Ashley L. Taylor, Jr.

            The Honorable Michael Yaki

Press Contact

David Carle: 202-224-3693