The Leadership Conference is working diligently to see that Tom Perez is confirmed as U.S. Secretary of Labor. Perez is an eminently qualified public servant and consensus builder who has dedicated his career to ensuring that all individuals are treated fairly and have the opportunity to succeed. He has served with integrity and distinction at the local, state and national level, compiling an outstanding record of achievement.
- Table of Contents
- Executive Summary
- I. Creating the Commission
- II. The Commission’s Early Years
- III. The 60s: Laying the Foundation for Legislation
- IV. The 70s: School Desegregation and an Expanded Mandate
- V. The 80s: Dismantling the Commission
- VI. The 90s: The Commission Devolves
- VII. The Post-Millennial Commission
In its early years, the U.S. Civil Rights Commission served as the "conscience of the nation" on some of the most challenging issues of the times: guaranteeing the right to vote and achieving equality of opportunity in our schools and in the workplace. By shining a spotlight on discrimination and segregation around the country, the commission helped define the nation’s civil rights agenda for several decades. Without the commission’s ability to engage in thoughtful and independent examination of these issues, our progress would have been harder, slower, and less effective.
Congress, at the urging of Presidents Truman and Eisenhower, created an independent civil rights commission because we needed one. That need arose in part from the sense that civil rights issues should be above partisan politics because fairness and equal opportunity are core American values that transcend party. The commission was created to have its own independent voice, separate from any given administration, and separate from Congress. Appointments to the commission would have the stature and credibility to be that voice; and they would be empowered to use it.
As this report reflects, at some point the commission lost its way. It became a political voice, not an independent one. In recent years, its members have often been advocates for the views of the administration or party that appointed them, rather than independent thinkers and constructive critics. Issues of race, gender, and opportunity have become just another set of political footballs, with the commission often quarterbacking for a given administration or party.
But while the commission has changed, our need for an independent voice on civil rights issues has not. Legal barriers have fallen, but other more subtle obstacles remain. We still need committed and creative minds and independent voices to address those issues. Our challenge going forward is to identify those voices and create institutions in which they can be heard. A new administration provides the perfect opportunity to work toward building an institution that meets the civil and human rights challenges facing the nation in the 21st century. The following recommendations attempt to achieve that goal.
The central recommendation is to create a new commission that will serve once again as the conscience of the country on civil rights issues. The new commission would focus on identifying and illuminating important issues of race, gender, national origin, class, disability, age, sexual orientation, and religion that still have so much currency in our society, while ensuring that civil rights policy is not made in a fact-free world. The remaining recommendations focus on the core missions of the original commission and how best to implement them. They also reflect today’s broader understanding of civil and human rights.
Next Section: Recommendations