The Reagan administration's civil rights policies are based on the belief that Uncle Sam should be colorblind. Government, say Reagan officials, should not favor one ethnic group over another. It must make sure blacks, Hispanics, and other minorities have fair access to housing and employment - but it should also ensure that whites are not disadvantaged by discrimination remedies.
Thus the Reagan White House opposes race-conscious hiring programs (''quotas, '' in political parlance) and school integration through forced busing.
This theory of civil rights has infuriated many minority organizations and Democrats, who feel government should take a more active role in fighting the effects of race prejudice. During the last four years, there have been many spirited battles over Reagan rights policies - the most bitter being the 1983 struggle for control of the US Civil Rights Commission.
The Civil Rights Commission was formed in the early '60s to watch over and comment on federal race policies. When President Reagan took office, he found that a majority of commissioners opposed his policies - so he fired them.
Congressional Democrats felt the White House was ''stacking'' the panel in an unprecedented way. The resultant chest-beating and statute-rattling lasted for six months, ending in a compromise that enlarged the commission to eight, with four members appointed by the President and four by Capitol Hill.
Early in his term, Reagan dragged his feet over supporting a reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act, though in stump speeches he now takes credit for signing it.
The President initially supported a segregated private school's claim to tax exempt status, though he quickly reversed positions when the political dimensions of the case became clear. The administration did not back a bill to overturn a Supreme Court decision which narrowed the reach of anti-discrimination laws in education.
But the most significant Reagan rights policies are probably those that involve US investigation of employment practices.
Critics say the administration is not enforcing laws against discrimination in employment. Reagan aides say that's not so - the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, they say, resolved 74,000 complaints this year, as opposed to 57,000 in 1980.
The White House is, however, working to change the definition of ''job discrimination.''
Last June, the Supreme Court ruled that the city of Memphis had been wrong to lay off senior white firefighters, instead of more junior black colleagues who had been hired as part of an affirmative action program. Reagan officials welcomed this ruling with open arms, saying it has vindicated their belief that ''quotas'' - numerical hiring targest for minorities - are illegal.
The Justice Department is now seeking to alter four quota-based affirmative action programs that have been ordered by courts in the past. It is, for instance, challenging a court order that forces Alabama to promote one black state policemen for each white trooper advanced. More such cases may be forthcoming, as Justice is reviewing some 50 affirmative action cases.
''Quotas,'' says the '84 Republican platform, ''are the most insidious form of discrimination.''