Washington — FOUR years ago no one in the civil rights community even knew the name William Bradford Reynolds. Today, civil rights leaders and lawyers either condemn or praise him. Mr. Reynolds has spent the past four years of his life in the middle of the civil rights battle. But his friends and former colleagues say that he has worked not as a man who has had a burning personal desire to restructure the nation's civil rights priorities. Rather, they say, he would bring the same intensity of effort, the same drive, to any job.
While not as consistently controversial as former Interior Secretary James Watt or former Environmental Protection Agency administrator Anne Burford Gorsuch, Reynolds has easily attracted his share of publicity and controversy as the Reagan administration's top civil rights enforcement official.
Indeed, if controversy is the measure of success, then Reynold's tenure as head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division can be characterized as a major victory.
One of Reynolds's specialties is his ability to take harsh accusation and innuendo in stride, as if they were simply part of the job.
Last week at a Senate hearing on Reynolds's slated promotion to become the No. 3 official at the Justice Department, Sen. Howard M. Metzenbaum (D) of Ohio launched into a stinging attack on the administration's civil rights policies and on Reynolds's personal integrity. A different man than Reynolds might have shown anger.
``I can't find any instance in which you didn't go against the blacks,'' the senator told Reynolds during the hearings. He added, ``You get the feeling that something may be biggoted about you, that maybe you don't like blacks.''
The room was silent. Sitting behind and to the right of Reynolds in the first row, were his wife, his mother, and his father. Reynolds appeared unfazed.
Quietly and methodically he fielded questions and criticisms throughout the day, defending his tenure as the assistant attorney general for civil rights.
That's the way ``Brad'' Reynolds is, friends and former colleagues say. They all use the same word to describe him -- ``unflappable.''
``I have been favorably impressed by the way he seems able to ride out these harsh criticisms and maintain his balance and equanimity,'' says Ramsey Potts, senior partner at Shaw, Pittman, Potts, and Trowbridge, the Washington Law firm Reynolds worked for before he took the Justice Post.
He is also described by former colleagues as an intense worker, rigorously analytical -- a non-politician who sees himself as the administration's lawyer in the civil rights field. (Reynolds's office says he has declined interviews until after his Senate confirmation vote.)
Reynolds seems to approach his work in the civil rights division from the same perspective with which he worked in the Solicitor General's office during the Nixon administration. The solicitor general represents the US government in cases before the Supreme Court.
As an assistant to then Solicitor General Erwin N. Griswold, Reynolds is said to have been greatly influenced by the experience. During that period -- while in his early 30s -- he presented 11 oral arguments before the Supreme Court, and wrote some 40 Supreme Court briefs.
Reynolds did not lobby specifically for the civil rights post four years ago. Rather, he would have preferred to be the US solicitor general, according to colleagues.
While much has been written about the controversies currently swirling around Reynolds (forced busing of students, opposition to quotas in affirmative action plans, specific voting rights cases) little is really known about Reynolds as an individual.
``I'm quite frankly perplexed about what motivates him, drives him to do the things he does,'' says Drew S. Days III, who headed the civil rights division in the Carter administration. ``He has been in long enough to know what the law is, so naivet'e is no longer an adequate explanation.''
Benjamin Hooks, Executive Director of the NAACP, says Reynolds is attempting to undermine 20 years of civil rights gains.
But Roy Innis, National Chairman of the Congress On Racial Equality doesn't object to Reynolds. ``I am satisfied that he is a decent man, that he is accessible, amenable,'' Mr. Innis says. ``It happens that I agree with him on some very important issues such as reverse racism.''
Though Reynolds was inexperienced in civil rights law when he accepted his Justice Department appointment in 1981, he has more than satisfied administration officials in carrying out President Reagan's policies.
Reynolds is said to have earned his stripes in the Reagan camp for seemingly single-handedly taking on what conservatives call the ``civil rights establishment.''
Since 1981, it is generally acknowledged, there has been a broad shift in the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, away from an office sometimes perceived as an advocate for blacks and other minorities. The administration's view is that civil rights are for everyone in a colorblind society.
Administration officials say they're not overly concerned if established civil rights groups don't like Reagan policies. There are other ``legitimate'' voices for blacks and other minorities who don't find the President's policies repugnant, these officials say.
President Reagan and Attorney General Edwin Meese III think well enough of Reynolds to promote him to Associate Attorney General, where he will be in charge of all non-criminal matters at Justice, including civil rights, antitrust, and the Solicitor General's office.
Judiciary Commitee aides predict easy confirmation for Reynolds at both the committee level and later on the floor of the Republican-controlled Senate. The committee is expected to vote on the Reynolds confirmation within two weeks.