Senate conservatives yesterday fashioned a new anti-busing provision aimed at the federal courts as well as the Justice Department, but a vote was delayed for at least two weeks by the persistence of Sen. Lowell P. Weicker Jr. (R-Conn.).
Pending before the Senate for the past week but denied a vote because of Weicker's filibuster has been a provision offered by Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) that would bar the Justice Department from taking part in suits that might "directly or indirectly" result in orders to bus students for racial integration.
Yesterday, Sen. J. Bennett Johnston (D-La.) offered as an addition to Helms' language a provision that would also restrict the power of federal courts to order students bused more than five miles of 15 minutes' driving time beyond their homes.
Johnston's provision would be retroactive and if upheld by the courts, which some experts think unlikely, would strike down any court-ordered busing in effect that violates its terms.
Johnston is aiming at Baton Rouge's court-ordered busing scheduled to take effect this fall. He could stop the federal court order there only by making his proposal apply to similar orders already entered.
Even this wasn't enough for senators who want to wipe busing off the book completely as a remedy for school segregation.
To satisfy them, Johnston added a sense-of-the-Senate sentence telling the Judiciary Committee to report to the Senate before the August recess a bill dealing definitively with the busing issue. Johnston called his provision only "interim" action.
He predicted that the Judiciary Committee, where conservative chairman Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) is in control, will recommend eliminating busing for racial balance.
This Congress has already adopted the strongest anti-abortion language ever voted at the federal level. And should the current Helms-Johnston language be enacted, it would be by far the broadest anti-busing provision passed on the Hill since the federal courts began ordering busing more than a decade ago.
If added to the Justice Department's annual authorization bill as sponsors are trying to do, however, the bill would run into strong opposition from liberal House conferees. The House has adopted a slightly more limited version of the Helms amendment but has not considered the Johnston language.
Some legal scholars also believe that if enacted the entire provision would be struck down by the courts on grounds that Congress cannot block the protection of constitutional rights by other branches of the government.
Johnston contended yesterday that busing has failed in its purpose because the chief result has been white flight from inner cities, leaving more segregated patterns than before.
Weicker prevented a vote all last week by talking whenever the bill was called up. Yesterday he held off a vote by demanding quorum calls until the bill was set aside so the Senate could get on with budget reconciliation matters. That is expected to consume the rest of this week and the Senate will then go on recess until after the Fourth of July.