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Justice Staffers Cheer Bill Lann

Attorney General Reno urges Lee's confirmation

By Terry Frieden/CNN lee

WASHINGTON (Dec. 8) -- President Bill Clinton's embattled nominee for the government's top civil-rights job today received a rousing standing ovation from hundreds of employees who will work for him if he is appointed to the post over the objections of Senate Republicans.

Bill Lann Lee spoke briefly at Justice Department ceremonies marking the 40th anniversary of the Civil Rights division which he has been tapped to head. Lee did not mention his pending nomination, nor the possibility he may receive a recess appointment by the White House.

While calling for the enforcement of civil rights laws, the Chinese-American civil-rights lawyer avoided any mention of affirmative action.

GOP senators led by Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch oppose Lee's confirmation because he supports affirmative action programs. They have warned the White House of seriously damaged relations if the president appoints Lee to the job while the Senate is in its year-end recess.


Attorney General Janet Reno, who sat beside Lee at the Justice Department ceremonies, did not mention such an appointment, but called for the Senate to confirm Lee when it returns in January.

Reno praised Lee in her address to the packed auditorium of civil rights lawyers. Reno said, "Some say he should be denied the job simply as a payback for the rejection of past nominees. Others say he should be rejected because he shares the views of the president on affirmative action. I say 'No' to that, and so does the president."


Longtime civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) delivered the keynote address, and also called for Lee to head the Civil Rights division.

A long list of speakers joined the attorney general at the celebration marking 40 years of enforcement of federal civil rights laws. The civil rights chief during the mid-1970s, Stanley Pottinger, told the crowd, "We are still in the midst of the civil rights movement."

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