It was this week in history that Dwight Eisenhower signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1957. Among other things, it created the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
In 2007, I was asked to testify at a Senate hearing celebrating the Act’s 50th anniversary. (The Chairman couldn’t make it, so I was the rookie substitute.) I had just recently been appointed to Commission and was more optimistic about the Commission’s ability to produce quality reports than I am now. It reads pretty cheerily.
Since then I suffered disappointments. Here are just two examples:
(1) The 2015 report on immigration detention centers: The Commission members who sponsored it set out to prove that these detention centers were hellholes. But when we visited two such centers they were nicer than expected … so the report barely mentioned our visit and instead did things like repeat a very old (and pretty much discredited) rumor that once a detention center served maggots with a meal. I dissented from the report.
(2) The 2016 report on environmental justice: The Commission members who sponsored this one set out to prove empirically that coal ash dumps are more likely be located near African Americans. But the data ended up pretty much proving the opposite … so the results got buried. I dissented again.
I haven’t entirely given up on the Commission’s ability to do bipartisan research that (as LBJ put it) will “sift out the truth from the fancies” and “be of assistance to reasonable men.” But it’s not an easy task.
Feel free to excoriate me for my remaining optimism in the comments. But don’t spend too much energy on it, because I’m pretty sure I won’t have the heart to read them. Sad!
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