Cultural Revolutions

Interpretative Gymnastics

The Federal government’s freestyle interpretive gymnastics did not end when the man who was uncertain regarding the meaning of “is” left office.  On January 13, 2000, President Clinton appointed Victoria Wilson to fill a vacancy on the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, a roving band of allegedly independent and bipartisan officials tasked with the job of determining the state of civil rights in the nation.  Wilson was to fill the rest of the term of A. Leon Higginbotham, Jr., a retired activist judge who had recently died.  As was the custom, the President expressly limited Wilson’s tenure to the remaining years left in the six-year term of Mr. Higginbotham, so her appointment should have expired on November 29, 2001.  Accordingly, on December 5, President George W. Bush appointed a new commissioner, Peter N. Kirsanow, to take the place of Victoria Wilson.  Four of the eight commissioners are appointed by the President, while the other four are appointed by Congress.  By statute, each of the commissioners is to serve a six-year term, and that is the problem.

When Kirsanow arrived at the commission’s first regularly scheduled meeting after his appointment, on December 7, and sought to present his credentials and take his seat, the chair of the commission, Mary Frances Berry (nominally an “independent”) ruled that he could not be recognized because the commission did...

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