Sen. Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) accused the Justice Department yesterday of ignoring "the clear intent of Congress" in asking the Supreme Court to accept a "legalistic, technical interpretation" that would limit the effect of a 1972 law barring discrimination against women in school and college.
Dole, chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee and a frequent ally of President Reagan, pointed to the administration's recent drive to demonstrate its sensitivity to women's concerns, saying, ". . . Sex discrimination remains a major problem in this country. Thus I find it difficult to understand why the Justice Department has decided to take such a restrictive view of one of the most important anti-sex discrimination laws ever passed."
An aide said Dole was considering drafting a personal letter urging Reagan to withdraw the controversial Supreme Court brief that Justice filed Friday.
The brief argues that the obligation of Grove City College, near Pittsburgh, to comply with certain certification requirements of the federal law is limited. In essence, Justice argued that the receipt of federal aid obliged only the directly affected "program or activity" to comply with the law.
In practice, this could mean that discrimination in a college sports program would not trigger a cutoff of federal student aid, since the financial aid office--the direct recipient of the aid--did not practice the discrimination.
There has been no allegation that Grove City College, which brought the suit, discriminates. The college simply refused to sign an assurance that it is complying with Title IX, the anti-discrimination section of the education amendments of 1972.
By making his statement yesterday, Dole aligned himself with an array of women's and civil rights groups. They argue that a narrow interpretation of which "program or activity" receives federal aid could permit widespread discrimination in institutions receiving federal subsidies.
The section of the sex discrimination law at issue closely parallels provisions in two separate laws that prohibit federal aid recipients from discriminating racially and against disabled persons.
Ralph Neas, of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, said yesterday, "This regressive action underscores the vast chasm between the actual Reagan record on civil rights and its rhetoric of the past few weeks."