WILLIAM Bradford Reynolds, head of the US Justice Department's civil rights division, has described himself as the ``personification'' of President Reagan's policies in that controversial area. Now up for confirmation as associate attorney general, the No. 3 post in the department, Mr. Reynolds may be paying a price for his determined pursuit of his leader's goals. What was expected to be a routine approval process by the Senate Judiciary Committee has become a cliffhanger. The committee postponed its vote on the Reynolds nomination June 20 when it became clear that there was not a majority for recommending confirmation by the full Senate. Why the hang-up?
Intense lobbying against him by civil rights advocates for his ideological dedication did not jeopardize Reynolds's promotion. His own misleading statements, for which he later apologized, about his handling of certain voting-rights complaints from blacks in Southern states cost him the confidence of key committee members.
Reynolds doesn't apologize for his stands on affirmative action, hiring quotas, forced busing, and other issues. It should be noted that Drew Days Jr., Reynolds's counterpart in the Carter administration, had been an attorney with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and as much an advocate of busing and quotas as Reynolds has been an opponent.
Besides the matter of appearing to have misled the Judiciary Committee as to his activities in the voting-rights cases, Reynolds has been at best lukewarm about enforcing certain civil rights laws. It is noted that personnel in the division who served through previous Republican and Democratic regimes have departed and that the turnover has been unusually high.
Reynolds's commitment to the civil rights agenda of the President who appointed him should shock no one. The US Constitution and body of law accommodate different approaches and points of view. But the Judiciary Committee, and then the Senate, must decide whether Reynolds has dutifully upheld civil rights laws even while trying to get them changed. And they must determine whether his misstatements to the committee have so damaged his integrity that it is impossible to confirm him as third-in-command at Justice. These are significant enough matters to warrant the unusual step of denying Senate approval of a presidential appointment.