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Statement on Signing the United States Commission on Civil Rights Act of 1983

November 30, 1983

I have signed today H.R. 2230, establishing a new Commission on Civil Rights. I believe that the birth of this Commission can serve as another milestone in our long struggle as a nation to assure that individuals are judged on the basis of their abilities, irrespective of race, sex, color, national origin, or handicap.

I take this opportunity to reaffirm this administration's commitment to these ideals, which the civil rights laws of the United States were designed to implement and which it will be the central mission of this Commission to articulate and defend.

The bill I have signed today is, of course, a product of negotiation and compromise. While, as noted, I am pleased that the Commission has been re-created so that it may continue the missions assigned to it, the Department of Justice has raised concerns as to the constitutional implications of certain provisions of this legislation. I have appended a recitation of these reservations.

During the preceding 6 months there has been considerable debate on the past and the future of the Commission on Civil Rights, but all seem to agree that the Commission's best and most productive years were its earlier ones. I believe that it is no coincidence that those years were characterized by open debate and a devotion to the principle of equal treatment under the law. With the bill I have signed today and the quality of appointments that can be made to the Commission, there is cause for confidence that the Commission's best years are yet to come.

Statement by the Department of Justice

Under the terms of H.R. 2230, four members of the Commission will be appointed by the President, two members by the President pro tempore of the Senate, and two members by the Speaker of the House of Representatives. The Commission itself is not placed clearly within any of the three branches of government created by the United States Constitution, and restrictions have been placed upon the power of the President to remove members of the Commission.

Agencies which are inconsistent with the tripartite system of government established by the Framers of our Constitution should not be created. Equally unacceptable are proposals which impermissibly dilute the powers of the President to appoint and remove officers of the United States. The Civil Rights Commission is, however, unique in form and function and should therefore not become a precedent for the creation of similar agencies in the future.

The new appointment procedure created by the Congress has effectively imposed constitutional limitations on the duties that the Commission may perform. The basic purpose of the old Commission on Civil Rights—to investigate, study, appraise, and report on discrimination—would be maintained, and most of its current authorities would remain intact. However, because half of the members of the Commission will be appointed by the Congress, the Constitution does not permit the Commission to exercise responsibilities that may be performed only by "Officers of the United States" who are appointed in accordance with the Appointments Clause of the United States Constitution (Article II, Section 2, clause 2). Therefore, it should be clear that although the Commission will continue to perform investigative and informative functions, it may not exercise enforcement, regulatory, or other executive responsibilities that may be performed only by officers of the United States.

Note: On the same day, the White House announced that the President appointed Clarence M. Pendleton, Jr., of California, to be a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights for a term of 6 years and designated him as Chairman. The President also appointed Linda Chavez Gersten, of the District of Columbia, as Staff Director of the Commission.

As enacted, H.R. 2230 is Public Law 98183, approved November 30.

Ronald Reagan, Statement on Signing the United States Commission on Civil Rights Act of 1983 Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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