Today, he heads up the American Civil Rights Institute (ACRI), a national group that works on similar efforts in other states.
Many of today’s new-right legal activists met up in the Reagan and Bush administrations: Bill Bennett, Linda Chavez, and IJ’s Clint Bolick, to name but three. In 1981, Bennett was Reagan’s pick to head the National Endowment for the Humanities, Chavez was the staff director for the U.S. Civil Rights Commission; Bolick came on later to work for Clarence Thomas when Thomas directed the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission. The civil and women’s rights movements had forced the passage of landmark laws, such as the Civil Rights Act, the Equal Pay Act, the Equal Employment Opportunity Act, and various affirmative action programs. Believing that much of this legislation was an “overreach” by the federal government into state affairs, the Reagan/Bush crew worked to defang the government agencies that were charged with enforcing those laws.
Many of the same former Reaganites carry on the mission in the states, where activists propose measures like California’s anti–affirmative action proposition (Prop 209) and its voucher initiative (Prop 38).
Consider Linda Chavez, for example. It was in 1983 that Ronald Reagan tapped her for the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. There, she took positions against affirmative action and mandatory busing and for limits on Title IX (the federal law that prohibits discrimination in federally funded educational programs). In 1996, she went to the state level and supported Connerly’s Prop 209 initiative.
We need laws that say you can’t discriminate,” Chavez said recently. “But we don’t need government agencies to engage in social engineering.” In other words, we need to remove the “Whites Only” sign over the door, but we don’t need to help people walk through it, which is what she believes is behind tools like affirmative action.
Chavez is president of the Center for Equal Opportunity (CEO), one of the new right’s key advocacy groups. CEO describes itself as a “nonprofit research and educational organization that focuses on civil rights.” In fact, CEO specializes in publicly scrutinizing institutions that might be “discriminating” in favor of women or minorities. The group demands admissions and contracting statistics from state agencies and public universities, then holds high-visibility press conferences when they find what they assert is bias—for example, outreach to inner-city communities or scholarship programs for minority groups or women. “With each [CEO] study,” says Chavez, “school systems and university trustees get more concerned,” because CEO threatens lawsuits.
And there are plenty of lawyers who will sue. Perhaps the most radical are those with the Center for Individual Rights (CIR). In 1999, CIR’s scare tactics came to fruition when Boston College forcibly “retired” their most famous professor—feminist Mary Daly—because a male student threatened to sue the school, with CIR’s help, over Daly’s women-only class. The same group successfully defended Connerly against the ACLU and others who claimed Prop 209’s language of “civil rights” was deceptive. CIR also challenged the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) in the U.S. Supreme Court.
In that case, Brzonkala v. Virginia Tech, CIR represented two college football players who allegedly raped Christy Brzonkala in a dorm room. CIR’s attorneys argued that the provision of VAWA that permitted women to sue their attackers in federal court was an overreach by the federal government into state affairs. In response to the many amicus briefs submitted by the states in support of the VAWA provision, Ann Coulter, a former CIR attorney, asked if that w
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