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Justice Dept. Won't Challenge Rights Rulings : Thornburgh Tells Blacks Bush Won't Pursue Legislation to Correct Setbacks

June 27, 1989|From Associated Press

CHICAGO — Atty. Gen. Dick Thornburgh told a black audience today that the Bush Administration will not pursue legislation to overturn recent Supreme Court decisions on civil rights.

However, Thornburgh said he will monitor implementation of the rulings and take "any legislative or executive action that might be required to resolve inequities."

"The pursuit and promotion of civil rights in America is more than a legal obligation. It is a moral imperative embodied in our national sense of fairness and justice," Thornburgh told the annual convention of Operation PUSH, the civil rights group founded by the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

The high court, adopting some positions advocated by the Justice Department under the Reagan Administration, has restricted affirmative action programs and made it more difficult for plaintiffs to prove discrimination in the workplace.

The decisions have prompted calls from some lawmakers to consider legislation to overturn the rulings.

Thornburgh, in his first public pronouncement on the controversial cases, said some viewed the decisions "as a retreat in the battle for civil rights."

But, Thornburgh asked, do "these decisions . . . stand in conflict with this nation's fundamental commitment to ensure the provision of civil rights of all Americans? Or do these decisions represent attempts by the court to fine-tune the complexities of enforcement of civil rights law in America?"

Thornburgh said that the effects of the rulings will not be felt until they are applied in new cases but that President Bush had asked him to monitor their implementation.

"This responsibility is one I take very seriously and one that the Department of Justice will approach consistent with our commitment to the goals of fairness and equality in our quest for equal opportunity," Thornburgh said.

Ralph G. Neas, executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, an umbrella group of civil rights organizations nationwide, had said the Administration's response would be an important test.

"President Bush has repeatedly stated his commitment to civil rights and to minority outreach efforts. However, a decision to oppose legislation to overturn the recent Supreme Court decisions would be completely incompatible with such a commitment," Neas said before Thornburgh's speech.

'No. 1 Priority'

"Indeed, remedial legislation has become the No. 1 priority for everyone committed to equal employment opportunity for all Americans," Neas said.

Thornburgh spoke at the invitation of Jackson, who hailed the attorney general's commitment to civil rights after the two met at the Justice Department last winter.

"The lights have been turned back on in the Justice Department and hopefully the dust will be cleared from the books," Jackson told reporters that day. He was referring to the Reagan Administration's civil rights record, which was roundly criticized by blacks.

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