Make experience count

Civil rights: Nominee for Justice Department post is well-qualified for a job, but maybe not this one.

March 12, 2001

EXPERIENCE COUNTED when President Bush selected his running mate. And his defense secretary had been defense secretary before. Time and again, Mr. Bush chose tested hands for top posts.

So it's puzzling that Mr. Bush would nominate Ralph S. Boyd Jr. - a lawyer with little civil rights litigation experience - to head the Justice Department's civil rights division.

To be sure, someone with Mr. Boyd's resume deserves a place in the Bush administration. He has been a federal prosecutor and an assistant attorney general. He has worked with federal officials, local police and churches in Boston to sharply reduce gun violence in Boston. He has prosecuted fraud, narcotics and bank robbery cases.

But he has little or no civil rights experience.

The last person to hold that Justice Department post, Bill Lann Lee, had been director of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund in Los Angeles. He'd cut his teeth working on school desegregation, employment and housing discrimination cases. And he won a case that expanded California's efforts to screen children for lead poisoning.

His predecessor, Deval Patrick, won a major voting rights case in Alabama and then settled a voting rights issue against then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton. Mr. Patrick was able to energize the Civil Rights Division because he understood the issues.

We had hoped Mr. Bush would want someone similarly experienced, someone who has experience and muscle to aggressively pursue civil rights. Mr. Boyd doesn't

Mr. Boyd's confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee will give him a chance to show why he's well-suited for the post. He should use the opportunity to assure the nation that equal rights protection will be in good hands on his watch.

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