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Senators Delay Vote On Civil Rights Nominee

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WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Nov. 6) -- Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch agreed today to put off a vote on President Bill Clinton's choice to head the Justice Department's civil rights division at the request of a committee Democrat.

The nomination of Bill Lann Lee appeared doomed as committee Republicans objected to his pro-affirmative action stance heading into a scheduled vote today. But Democratic panel member Patrick Leahy of Vermont lobbied Hatch for more time to give Lee another hearing.

"There has been nothing but misstatements of his positions," Leahy told The Associated Press.

All eight of the Judiciary Committee's Democratic members support Lee, but only one Republican, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. Ten votes are needed to move the nomination to the full Senate.

Democrats say what is at issue is Clinton's right to choose a candidate that reflects his own support for affirmative action.

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"We have got to recognize that you can't staff government with presidential appointees unless they are going to reflect the president's views," Attorney General Janet Reno said at her weekly press briefing. She called Lee "a well-qualified civil rights attorney."

Others called GOP opposition an attack on civil rights.

"The party of Lincoln was always the party of civil rights," Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy said Wednesday during a committee meeting. "We are seeing, now, Republicans on the Judiciary Committee willing to stand against fair enforcement of the civil rights laws."

Earlier today, Hatch said it was time to take a stand against pitting one group of Americans against another. He said Lee would push "constitutionally suspect racial preferences until every possible exception under the law is unequivocally foreclosed by the Supreme Court."

Some Asian-American groups are portraying the nomination as a litmus test for racial inclusiveness in America.

"If the Senate rejects Bill Lee, they are rejecting the entire Asian-Pacific community," Matthew Finacane, executive director of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, told AP.

Even if the Judiciary committee approves Lee, he faces the opposition of other GOP senators who could use delaying tactics to prevent a full Senate vote. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, for one, said he would do just that.


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