WASHINGTON -- Assistant Attorney General William Bradford Reynolds, the Justice Department's controversial civil rights chief, resigned Wednesday effective Dec. 9.
Reynolds, who led the Reagan administration's assault on affirmative action and busing, previously had said he would stay on at the department until after the presidential election.
Reynolds said in a letter to Attorney General Dick Thornburgh informing him of his resignation, that 'from a civil rights' perspective, we are unquestionably far better off today than we were in January 1981.'
And Reynolds borrowed a phrase from the 'I Have a Dream' speech of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., adding: 'The civil rights' accomplishments of this administration will be with us for years to come, and it is emphatically the case that our uncompromising adherence to the principle of non-discrimination has brought us noticeably closer to that day when all Americans will be judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin.'
Ralph Neas, head of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights in Washington, said views held by Reynolds led to a backlash that strengthened the nation's commitment to such laws.
'Ironically, his lasting legacy may be that because of his views, he contributed greatly to the reaffirmation of civil rights laws and remedies that has occurred over the last eight years,' Neas said.
Reynolds, 46, has led the civil rights division since 1981. He played a major role in the administration's attack on quotas based on race or sex, particularly in hiring and promotion. He also attacked busing and challenged certain court-mandated integration programs.
In the process, Reynolds drew the wrath of some Democratic lawmakers and civil rights advocates, who accused him of abandoning enforcement civil rights laws and turning them upside down.
In one of the more celebrated issues, Reynolds in 1983 sided with Bob Jones University in Greenville, S.C., when the Internal Revenue Service removed the school's tax-free status because of the school's policy to refuse admission to applicants in an interracial marriage or who were known to advocate interracial marriage or dating.
In 1985, the Senate Judiciary Committee rejected his nomination to become associate attorney general, the department's No. 3 post, arguing that he had pursued a conservative political agenda and had shown contempt for civil rights laws.
But in mid-1987, former Attorney General Edwin Meese appointed Reynolds as his counselor, a move that Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., as recently as last August criticized as an 'arrogant attempt to end run the (Senate Judiciary) committee's advice-and-consent function.'
Justice Department observers said Reynolds assumed more influence in the department in that position as Meese was forced to devote more time to fight a criminal probe of various ethical and legal matters.
Meese resigned Aug. 12 and Reynolds relinquished his title as counselor to the attorney general in early September.
Reynolds is a graduate of Yale University and the Vanderbilt University School of Law.