WASHINGTON — President Clinton on Friday again nominated Bill Lann Lee to be assistant attorney general for civil rights, a post Lee has held on an acting basis since his nomination was rejected more than a year ago.
Lee met at the White House with Clinton for a private ceremony despite complaints from conservative Republicans in Congress that Lee has been too zealous in enforcing affirmative action laws.
Lee was sworn in as acting head of the Justice Department's civil rights division in December 1997, a month after the Republican-led Senate Judiciary Committee rejected his nomination.
White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart said Lee has done "an excellent job" as acting head of the civil rights division, and he called for Lee's swift confirmation.
"It's our hope that the Senate will look at the work he's done, will look at his distinguished record throughout his career devoted to civil rights," Lockhart said.
In a separate, written statement, the White House said Lee took an "honest, reasoned approach" to his job and has "known how and when to bring a case to close through effective, pragmatic settlements that serve the interests of all parties."
But it appeared that Lee, a Chinese American who used to be the top lawyer for the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, will again have trouble getting confirmed.
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said it is unfortunate that Clinton has chosen to renominate Lee and doubted that the Senate would confirm him.
He urged Clinton to nominate "a consensus, confirmable candidate."
"I like him personally and would support him for almost any other position in the government, but not one that allows him to implement unconstitutional policies, such as quotas, which give preference to one group at the expense of another," Hatch said.
Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) said Lee has established a strong record of "fair and effective enforcement" of U.S. civil rights laws.
"Bill Lann Lee deserves foursquare treatment by the Senate, and he most certainly deserves confirmation," Leahy said.