A civil rights coalition group sent a letter on Tuesday to newly elected Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) urging him to keep his promise to “heal the wounds of division” opened up by outgoing Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS). The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), which represents more than 180 organizations, including the Feminist Majority, asked Frist to make civil rights a real priority for the Republican-led Senate when it reconvenes. Among other important goals, LCCR wants Frist to oppose judicial nominees who do not have a commitment to civil rights, preserve equal opportunity for women and girls in athletics by protecting Title IX, and ensure fairness in the criminal justice system and immigration. The letter was signed by Wade Henderson, LCCR executive director, and Dr. Dorthy Height, LCCR chair.
“We are hoping [the Lott controversy] has created a greater awareness and an opportunity to work with both Republicans and Democrats on human rights issues and civil liberties,” Nancy Zirkin, LCCR public policy director, told the Washington Post. But, she added, it “remains to be seen” whether Congress members’ attitudes towards civil rights have really changed, the Post reports. Lott stepped down as Majority Leader after being widely chastised for making racist remarks at a birthday celebration for retiring Senator Strom Thurmond. Frist, a retired heart surgeon, is close to President Bush and key presidential aides, including political strategist Karl Rove.
Frist’s record on civil rights and women’s rights does little to suggest a change in Republican policies. Planned Parenthood’s Action Fund gave Frist a zero percent rating for voting against choice in eight key issues, including emergency contraception, the global gag rule, and sex education. The National Organization for Women notes that his record on civil rights is no better than Lott’s, with Frist voting against affirmative action, hate crimes legislation, and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. According to the Post, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) gave Frist an “F” rating for voting against civil rights measures 75 percent of the time. LCCR gave him a 0 percent rating on civil rights issues in their latest Congressional scorecard.