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THE SUPREME COURT: CHANGE AT THE TOP : Problems Plague Constitution Panel

June 18, 1986|From a Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — A planned celebration for the 200th anniversary of the U.S. Constitution in 1987, of which Chief Justice Warren E. Burger is chairman, is proving to be hard to sell.

First of all, the idea of a bicentennial celebration sounds very much like what occurred in 1976. That, of course, was the commemoration of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, but sponsors of the celebration of the Constitution say that possible financial backers tell them: "Didn't we already do this?"

And then there is the upcoming July Fourth extravaganza to hail the second unveiling of the Statue of Liberty.

Burger, who said Wednesday that he is resigning his Supreme Court post to devote full time to the constitutional celebration, said recently that he is worried about his effort being overshadowed by "a gentleman named Iacocca," a reference to Chrysler Corp. chairman Lee A. Iacocca who headed the fund-raising effort for the Statue of Liberty celebration.

Burger said in April that the planning committee for the constitutional celebration had raised only $12.5 million, a fraction of the hoped-for $200 million. The foundation backing the restoration of the Statue of Liberty had taken $233 million during the same period.

"I have a feeling that in a good many cases (large donors) will say, 'We gave at the office'," Burger said.

But fund raising is only one of the problems faced by the bicentennial commission. Its first director was former Sen. Roger Jepsen (R-Iowa) who lost his seat after admitting during the 1984 campaign that in "a moment of weakness" he engaged in "nude encounters" at a Des Moines health spa.

When Burger took over as commission chairman, he angered many by insisting on closed door meetings.

One Washington scholar who has followed the bicentennial commission said Wednesday that he believes Burger will devote full time to the job to rescue the undertaking.

"The whole thing is in wretched condition. No one has made any decisions, and the good people are leaving," he said.

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