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Briefs

Justics Department Refuses To Enter Gay Rights Case

The Washington Post
WASHINGTON

With President Clinton's backing, Attorney General Janet Reno Thursday said the Justice Department will stay out of a major gay rights test case before the Supreme Court over Colorado's ban on extending discrimination laws to homosexuals.

Reno's decision, administration officials said, followed an extended and vigorous debate within the White House over whether entering the fight on behalf of gay rights advocates carried a political cost for Clinton. Reno said the Justice Department decided against entering the case because there was no federal issue at stake.

The decision infuriated gay rights activists, some of whom warned that Clinton risks losing a community that was an important fund-raising ally when he ran for president in 1992 but has since turned disillusioned.

The attorney general told reporters at her weekly news conference that there was no reason for the Justice Department to intervene as a "friend of the court" in arguing against a Colorado constitutional amendment that bars state and local laws protecting gays from bias in employment, housing and public accommodations.

Senate Republicans May Consider Term Limits on Leaders

The Washington Post
WASHINGTON

The leader of a Senate Republican task force that proposed rules to strengthen party discipline said Thursday additional changes may be made to include imposing term limits on Senate leaders as well as heads of committees.

Support for some kind of leadership term limits - similar to those imposed by the House on its speaker earlier this year - emerged during a closed-door meeting of GOP senators to begin discussion of the plan, which is aimed at enforcing more party unity and decreasing reliance on seniority as a way of choosing committee chairmen. The effort grew out of the furor last March over the refusal by Appropriations Committee Chairman Mark O. Hatfield, R-Ore., to support the balanced budget constitutional amendment and an abortive attempt by some conservatives to strip the veteran GOP moderate of his chairmanship.

Hatfield's critics succeeded in forcing appointment of the task force, whose recommendations to impose more discipline on committee chairmen nettled some of the long-serving moderates who head powerful committees, including Sen. John H. Chafee (R.I.), chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee. At Thursday's meeting, Chafee focused on two specific proposals, which call for development of a legislative agenda at the start of every new Congress and seek to empower the Senate Republican leader to nominate a slate of committee chairmen for approval by all GOP senators.

"To force us all to walk in lockstep is bad for the party," especially in areas like southern New England, where it is difficult to elect Republican senators, Chafee told reporters after the meeting. Republicans like to talk about being "a big tent," but "this is jamming us into a pup tent," he complained.