FORTUNATELY, the Senate Judiciary Committee has put off consideration of two truly terrible "anti-busing" bills that were scheduled to come up today.
The bills are the work of Sens. John East of North Carolina and Orrin Hatch of Utah. The East bill is the worse of the two, although this is a pretty fine distinction. It would even make it impossible for the courts to order remedies other than busing, such as teacher transfers and school consolidations, for example, as these along with busing would be forbidden. Civil rights proponents rightly argue that passage of the East bill, imposing restrictions on every known method of attacking segregation except voluntary transfers, would leave the courts with no means at all of enforcing civil rights law in the schools.
But there is more. Both the East and the Hatch bills also would make it possible to reopen old cases and get rid of busing orders that have been in operation for years--and in communities that have long since settled amicably and peacefully into desegregated systems. Again the East version is worse. It would require judges to vacate existing court orders that require busing, school closings or teacher transfers one year after anyone asked them to. The Hatch bill is somewhat less radical in that it lets the judges decide to permit some plans to survive.
Concerning this prospective reopening of cases and vacating of court orders that have proved effective, the Reagan Justice Department has had something cogent to say. It took a clear stand against such a disruptive approach. Assistant Attorney General William Bradford Reynolds testified that "the law generally recognizes a special interest in the finality of judgments, and that interest is particularly strong in the area of school desegregation. Nothing we have learned in the 10 years since Swann leads to the conclusion that the public would be well served by reopening wounds that have long since healed." He's right.