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Reynolds Claims Grove City Measure Unjustifiably Extends Federal Power

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Washington--The Reagan Administration's chief civil-rights official told members of two House committees last week that a major civil-rights bill now before them represents "one of the most far-reaching legislative efforts in memory to stretch the tentacles of the federal government to every crevice of public- and private-sector activity."

According to William Bradford Reynolds, the assistant attorney general for civil rights, the proposed civil rights restoration act of 1985, HR 700, "adopts for the first time a uniquely expansive view of federal enforcement authority in the field of civil rights."

"Nothing about the bill even hints at a 'restoration,"' said Mr. Reynolds during a joint hearing of the House Education and Labor Committee and the chamber's Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights. The bill, he said, "uses the extension of a federal dollar as the excuse for opening virtually every entity in this country--public and private--to federal supervision, regulation, intervention, intrusion, and oversight."

Second Appearence

Last week's hearing marked the second time in the past year that Mr. Reynolds has appeared before a joint hearing of the two committees to speak out against the measure, a version of which was introduced in the Congress last year in response to the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Grove City College v. Bell.

In that case, the Court ruled that Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the federal law baring sex discrimination in education, did not apply to schools and colleges as a whole but only to those parts of an institution that receive federal aid directly. (See Education Week, March 7, 1984.)

The language in Title IX at issue in the Grove City case is identical to language found in the federal laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, handicap, and age. Supporters of HR 700 claim that it has been drafted in such a way as to "restore" the institutionwide scope of the four civil-rights laws that existed prior to the Grove City decision.

A competing measure, S 272, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas and supported by the Administration, also purports to restore the laws' broad scope but restricts this application only to disputes arising in educational settings.

An earlier version of HR 700 easily passed the House last year, but died in the Senate during the closing days of the 98th Congress. Many of the House committee members present at last week's hearing are sponsors of the measure, and they indicated to Mr. Reynolds that they did not agree with his interpretation of what its effects would be if it is enacted.

'Against the World'

"We're back here almost one year later, going over the same issues, hearing from the same witnesses, hearing almost the same questions," said Representative John Conyers Jr., Democrat of Michigan. "It's almost like Mr. Reynolds against the world. We tell you year after year that we want to go back to the pre-Grove situation. We brought in people last year who used to hold your position and they all told us that the approach we're taking is on the right track. What will it take to persuade you that Congress's intent is to get back to the pre-Grove situation?"

"Passage of the Dole bill," Mr. Reynolds replied.

Other members of the committees asked Mr. Reynolds whether S 272's failure to provide for institutionwide coverage of the civil-rights laws in areas other than education should give them reason for concern.

"In my view, a legal analysis would lead one to the conclusion that the laws would be applied in a program-specific manner as the program-specific manner as the Congress intended," Mr. Reynolds responded.

Agrees With Reynolds

Harry M. Singleton, the Education Department's assistant secretary for civil rights, also appeared before the committees to testify in favor of Senator Dole's bill and against HR 700.

He agreed with Mr. Reynolds that HR 700 "would provide for a federal jurisdiction which would be broader than that exercised by the Education Department prior to Grove City."

Mr. Singleton said he supported Senator Dole's bill "because it offers the best possibility for ameliorating the effects of the Grove City decision without expanding federal jursidiction beyond that existing prior to the Court's action."

In an interview during a break in the hearing, Mr. Singleton acknowleged that since the Grove City decision was handed down, his office has placed approximately 60 investigations involving alleged violations of Title IX and the three other civil-rights statutes "on hold" and has4dropped about five others.

He also rejected allegations that were made by several civil-rights lobbyists that the setting aside or dropping of the investigations represented a significant scaling back of civil-rights enforcement in the department.

"To have 60 cases on hold out of a few thousand affected by Grove City, we aren't that far off," Mr. Singleton said. In his written testimony, he explained that his office "is gathering more data to apply the existing policy or is awaiting further written policy guidance" before reopening the investigations now on hold.

Commission Statement

In a related development, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights voted 5 to 2 last week to criticize supporters of HR 700 for "seizing upon the Grove City decision as an opportunity to seek a vast expansion of federal authority."

In a separate statement, Morris B. Abram, the panel's vice chairman, and Commissioner John H. Bunzel likened the measure "to a Trojan Horse, out of which would spring thousands of rulemakers, inspectors, and supervisors to diminish individual freedom and private life."

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