The House yesterday approved, 265 to 122, antibusing language that an opponent said would, if enacted and held constitutional, set back the cause of school desegregation by 25 years.
The provision, attached to the $2.3 billion Justice Department authorization bill for next year, would forbid the department to "bring any sort of action to require directly or indirectly" the busing of students to any school but the one closest to their home, except when special education is needed. This would virtually take the government out of the desegregation business, since Congress has already moved to keep it from using its other weapon, which is to cut off federal funds for offending districts.
Both the House and the Senate approved the Justice Department language last year but it was vetoed by President Carter, and Congress did not override the veto. President Reagan would be expected to approve the provision, and the Senate is friendlier toward it now than last year.
The effect of the language would be to prevent the Justice Department from filing or intervening in court suits which seek to desegregate school systems by busing students beyond their neighborhood school. This would not prevent federal courts from ruling on busing suits brought by individuals.
Rep. Don Edwards (D-Calif.) said be believed the courts would strike down the language adopted yesterday on grounds that the Justice Department cannnot constitutionally be forbidden to protect constitutional rights of citizens. But if the provision were upheld, Edwards told the House, school desegregation would be set back 25 years by the removal from the scene of "the people's representative to enforce their rights."
Edwards has managed to bottle up in the House Judiciary Committee a constitutional amendment to forbid forced busing for racial balance, but a discharge petition to force the proposal to the House floor has collected more than 160 of the needed 218 signatures of House members.