Berry Resigns From Rights Panel

Mary Frances Berry (search), blunt-spoken chairwoman of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission (search), resigned Tuesday after more than two decades of criticizing the governments, both Democratic and Republican, that she served.

Berry, an independent, and Democratic Vice Chairman Cruz Reynoso (search) sent resignation letters to President Bush a day after the White House moved to replace the two. Both had resisted leaving Monday, arguing their terms wouldn't expire until midnight Jan. 21, 2005.

The White House maintained that their six-year terms expired Sunday, and Berry and Reynoso had been replaced.

In brief letters to Bush, Berry and Reynoso said they believed they still had more time to serve but it wasn't worth the fight.

"Given that the conclusion of my tenure is only a few weeks away, a legal challenge would be an unwise expenditure of resources," wrote Berry, a civil rights history professor at the University of Pennsylvania. "Therefore, I am resigning my position as commissioner on the United States Commission on Civil Rights effective immediately."

Berry did not reflect in her letter on her more than two decades on the commission, during which she served under five presidents and criticized them all.

White House spokesman Ken Lisaius said Berry and Reynoso's terms on the commission had ended.

"While we are grateful for the service of Berry and Reynoso, their terms ended, and their replacements have been named, and we're working on an orderly transition," Lisaius said. "The president is moving now to ensure the commission has direction and leadership to continue its work."

First appointed by President Carter, Berry became chairwoman in 1993. She earned plaudits from supporters as a civil rights hero but criticism from opponents as overly divisive.

President Reagan fired her but had to reinstate her after a lawsuit. Former Presidents Bush and Clinton also came in for criticism.

Most recently, Berry sided with other Democratic-leaning commissioners to keep a report critical of the current President Bush on the commission's Web site before the election.

When the commissioners finally voted on the report the vote split four to four, a typical division between Democratic-leaning and Republican-leaning commissioners that could change with the new Bush appointees.

The newly named commissioners are Gerald A. Reynolds (search), former assistant secretary for the office of civil rights in the Education Department, and attorney Ashley L. Taylor of Richmond, Va. Bush intends to designate Reynolds the commission chairman, succeeding Berry, and to name Abigail Thernstrom, already a commission member, as vice chairwoman.

The eight-member panel investigates civil rights complaints and publicizes its findings but has no enforcement power.