WASHINGTON – The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Colombia overturned a lower court's decision and unanimously approved the appointment of Bush nominee Peter Kirsanow to the United States Civil Rights Commission.
"The president is pleased with this ruling," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Thursday. "The Bush administration is firmly committed to protecting civil rights for all Americans, and the Court of Appeals ruling will now allow the Civil Rights Commission to move beyond the question of membership to get to the important business before it."
A black labor lawyer from Cleveland, Kirsanow was appointed to the commission on Dec. 6 to fill the expiring slot held by Victoria Wilson. Wilson was appointed by former President Clinton in January 2000 to fill the vacancy of Judge A. Leon Higginbotham Jr., who died in 1998 in the middle of his term.
Wilson, with the backing of commission chairwoman Mary Frances Berry, refused to leave her seat saying that her six-year term began when she took the position.
A lower court ruled that Wilson was indeed due six years on the commission since a 1994 amendment to the commission’s bylaws omitted any language on mid-term vacancies.
The appeals court, which heard the case last month, ruled that the original 1983 mandate stood since no change was made to it.
"In enacting the 1994 Act, Congress did not disrupt the staggering of terms of Commission members created in the 1983 Act. Therefore, mid-term vacancies are to be filled only for the remainder of the unexpired term," it said in its ruling.
Wilson has said previously that it will take federal marshals to remove her from her seat. Her lawyer said Thursday that he is disappointed with the ruling.
"We thought the District Court correctly analyzed the situation. We'll have to see what to do about it," Leon Friedman said.
In the meantime, Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., who chairs the House Judiciary Committee that has been conducting oversight of the commission, said he expects Wilson and Berry to abide by the ruling.