Thursday, July 22, 1999

Senate pressured to vote
on Lee’s appointment

By Pete Pichaske
Phillips News Service


WASHINGTON -- Two years after he was first nominated, supporters of Bill Lann Lee urged the Senate to take the vote that would make official Lee's appointment as assistant attorney general for civil rights.

Lee is the California civil rights attorney who, as acting assistant attorney general, is the highest-ranking Asian-American ever to hold an appointed federal position.

He was appointed by President Clinton 18 months ago without the blessing of the Senate, after influential Republicans objected to Lee's activist record on civil rights and his appointment never came to a Senate vote.

At a rally outside the Capital yesterday marking the anniversary of his appointment, Lee was painted as a political prisoner held hostage by anti-affirmative action Republicans and as a hero to Asian-Americans.

"Democracy, liberty, justice -- everything that is precious to Americans requires that the Senate permit Bill Lann Lee to come up for a vote," said Rep. Patsy Mink, one of a handful of Asian-Americans in Congress.

"It really saddens me to think of the millions of Asian-Pacific-Americans living in the country, believing that Bill Lann Lee cannot get a vote. ... I call on the U.S. Senate to free all the ethnic Asian- and Pacific-Americans from these doubts."

Lee "has demonstrated that he can and will be able to deal with the responsibilities of that position," said Sen. Daniel Akaka, who also spoke at the rally.

Supporters and opponents disagree on whether Lee would be confirmed by the Senate. But supporters were buoyed by an invitation from Sen. Orrin Hatch, the Utah Republican who chairs the Judiciary Committee that refused to approve Lee, to meet and discuss the appointment.

"His willingness to meet is a good sign, an opening which was closed before," said Rep. Robert Underwood, D-Guam, chairman of the Congressional Asian-Pacific Caucus.

But a Hatch spokeswoman said the senator, while in the process of reviewing Lee's record, has not changed his position. Lee, Hatch has said, is "a very fine man and a skilled lawyer," but the wrong choice for a job that "allows him to implement unconstitutional policies such as quotas which give preference to one group at the expense of another."

On Tuesday, Lee's congressional backers sent a letter to Hatch urging him to re-evaluate Lee's record and reconsider his appointment. The letter was signed by 41 members of Congress -- including all four from Hawaii, which has a larger percentage of Asian-Americans than any other state.

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