An incorrect total was reported in some editions yesterday on the Republican vote on a civil rights bill. On final passage, 73 Republicans voted yes; 94 voted no. (Published 3/4/88)
The House voted yesterday to overturn a 1984 Supreme Court decision that has limited the scope of federal law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex, race, age or physical disability, sending the legislation to the White House.
President Reagan told House leaders in a letter, released in Brussels where he is attending a NATO summit meeting, that he will veto the bill, which applies to institutions receiving federal funds. He called it a threat to religious freedom and an undue extension of federal regulation that "diminishes the freedom of the private citizen."
The House approved the legislation 315 to 98, by far more than the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto. Ninety-four Republicans voted yes, while only four Democrats opposed the bill. The Senate passed the same bill Jan. 28 by a similarly wide margin, 75 to 14. Earlier yesterday the House turned down, 266 to 146, a Republican substitute that would have softened the impact on private businesses and schools affiliated with a religion.
Republicans accused the Democratic majority of sending the bill to the president in a form he could not accept and thereby creating a campaign issue. Rep. Daniel E. Lungren (R-Calif.) said Democrats are saying, "We are willing to see a civil rights bill go down so we can talk about it in the next election."
Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.), who offered the GOP substitute, said that, like other Republicans, he was upset that the Democratic leadership allowed no amendments other than the all-or-nothing substitute. He and others said Republicans wanted to overturn the high court ruling but considered the Senate-passed bill too sweeping.
House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel (R-Ill.) unsuccessfully argued that the bill should be opened to all amendments, calling it "the single most important piece of civil rights legislation since those landmark bills of 20 years ago" and one deserving greater debate. He lost 252 to 158.
House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Augustus Hawkins (D-Calif.) brushed aside arguments that the bill is too broad, saying that any organization that receives federal money should be prepared to play by the rules.
"Anyone who dips their hand in the public till should not mind if a little democracy sticks to their fingers," he said.
The bill would effectively overturn the 1984 Supreme Court ruling in Grove City College v. Bell, which said laws barring discrimination do not apply to entire institutions, only to the specific program or activity receiving federal funds. The ruling, involving a small Pennsylvania college, dealt specifically with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which bar discrimination based on sex. But it also affected laws barring discrimination against the handicapped or based on race or age.
The bill would make clear that Title IX of the Education Act, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Rehabilitation Act of 1974 and the Age Discrimination Act of 1975 apply to an entire organization if any part of it receives federal money.
Under the 1984 ruling, the government could take action against, for example, a college's chemistry department if it received federal funds and discriminated. But if the college's athletic department received no federal funds, it would be free to discriminate.
Yesterday's legislation contained a compromise amendment regarding abortion that was hard-fought when offered in the Senate by Sen. John C. Danforth (R-Mo.), but which caused hardly a ripple in the House. That amendment would make it clear that the law does not require any hospital or other institution to perform or pay for an abortion. But the bill does make it clear there can be no discrimination against women who have had or are seeking an abortion. Women's groups and abortion opponents, including the Roman Catholic Church, reluctantly agreed to the compromise.
Marcia Greenberger of the National Women's Law Center, said women's groups that opposed the amendment were persuaded to accept it by assurances read into the House debate that no discrimination would be allowed and that although insurance plans would not have to cover abortions, they would have to cover complications that might result.
Those with contagious diseases, including AIDS, were added to the protection provided by the Rehabilitation Act unless the disease is a direct threat to the health and safety of others or prevents the sufferer from performing his or her job. Recent court decisions have taken a similar approach.
Many of those who fought over various portions of the bill hailed the final product. The Rev. Robert Lynch of the United States Catholic Conference said it would "strengthen . . . civil rights laws without requiring institutions to violate deeply held principles of human life." Ralph Neas, executive director of the Leadership Conference for Civil Rights called it "a tremendous bipartisan victory for civil rights."
The Justice Department, which supported the Grove City decision, strongly opposed any change in the law on grounds that such action would be a major and unneeded expansion of federal authority. But a large majority of both houses, including Republicans, had agreed from the beginning that some legislation was necessary.
The unsuccessful Republican substitute offered by Sensenbrenner would have changed the bill in two basic ways:
An institution could have gained an exemption from the law if it were closely identified with "the tenets of a religious organization." Current law allows exemptions only for institutions controlled by a religious organization.
A private company would not have been affected as a whole if an individual division received federal funds. Under the bill as passed, the law would apply to an entire company if any part of it receives federal assistance and its principal business is education, health care, housing, social services or parks and recreation.