The Weekly Standard summarizes the latest controversy involving the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. It seems that, with the liberal chairwoman Mary Frances Berry no longer having a majority on the Commission (and thus being unable to run roughshod over conservative members), she has found a way to do an end-run around the Republican appointees: she has her staff write the report, and fails to even to show it to the Republicans.
This has raised questions about fairness and procedure and Berry's fitness for the job. But here's a better question: why exactly do we have a U.S. Commission on Civil Rights? What purpose does it serve? If you're like me, you've probably never thought much about the organization or its origins. Well, according to its About Us page:
The United States Commission on Civil Rights (Commission) is an independent, bipartisan, fact-finding agency of the executive branch established under the Civil Rights Act of 1957. The Commission has the following mandate:In short, they write reports. They have a budget of $9 million to write reports. Reports which, of course, nobody reads.
- Investigate complaints alleging that citizens are being deprived of their right to vote by reason of their race, color, religion, sex, age, disability, or national origin, or by reason of fraudulent practices;
- Study and collect information relating to discrimination or a denial of equal protection of the laws under the Constitution because of race, color, religion, sex, age, disability, or national origin, or in the administration of justice;
- Appraise Federal laws and policies with respect to discrimination or denial of equal protection of the laws because of race, color, religion, sex, age, disability, or national origin, or in the administration of justice;
- Serve as a national clearinghouse for information in respect to discrimination or denial of equal protection of the laws because of race, color, religion, sex, age, disability, or national origin;
- Submit reports, findings, and recommendations to the President and Congress;
- Issue public service announcements to discourage discrimination or denial of equal protection of the laws.
Keep in mind that the Department of Education has an Office for Civil Rights. The Department of Health and Human Services has an Office for Civil Rights. The Department of Transportation has an Office for Civil Rights. The Department of Agriculture has an Office of Civil Rights. The State Department has an Office of Civil Rights. The Federal Aviation Administration (!) has an Office for Civil Rights. (I could go on, but you'd probably kill me. Do the Google search yourself if you're interested.) And, of course, the Gulliver among all these Lilliputians: the Department of Justice has a Civil Rights Division, which does everything the Commission on Civil Rights does, as well as having actual enforcement powers.
So why exactly does the Commission on Civil Rights exist? (Other than the obvious: for Democrats, it's a sop to the black community, and for Republicans, it would open them up to further charges of racism if they tried to kill it.) There's some sort of lesson here about the self-perpetuation of government, but I'm too disgusted to draw it.