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Vote on civil rights nominee delayed

Split down the middle after an emotional debate, the Senate Judiciary Committee delayed action Thursday on President Clinton's choice of Bill Lann Lee for the nation's top civil rights job.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, the panel's chairman, scheduled a committee meeting for next Thursday to vote on the Los Angeles lawyer's nomination.

Supporters said they would keep working to convince at least one other committee Republican to provide the vote needed to move Lee's nomination to the Senate floor.

But several Republicans strongly opposed to Lee's views in favor of affirmative action said they would give no ground.

And Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who is not a committee member, said he would block Senate consideration of the nomination if it cleared the committee. Any senator can block action on a bill or nomination as long as the majority leader honors that objection, known as a "hold."

Hatch, R-Utah, the panel's chairman, said it was "time to take a stand against policies that are ripping America apart."

"I guess we're going to have to do it on the Bill Lee nomination and I'm prepared to do it," said Hatch, the co-sponsor of a bill to end affirmative action programs by the federal government.

Opponents say Lee's history of advocacy on behalf of activist civil rights groups, coupled with his support of affirmative action, make him unfit for the Justice Department assistant attorney general's post.

In the House, the Judiciary Committee voted 17-9 to delay action indefinitely on legislation to kill federal affirmative action programs. Rep. George Gekas, R-Pa., stunned a packed hearing by offering the motion to table the bill, which is supported by the GOP leadership.

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