Hatch Lashes Out at Civil-Rights Bill Supporters

By Tom Mirga — September 19, 1984 4 min read
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A press conference here last week that featured Olympic athletes speaking out in favor of a controversial civil-rights bill prompted the harshest and most detailed critique of the measure and its sponsors to date by the bill’s chief opponent in the Senate.

“I am afraid that the private-sector exploitation that so many of [the athletes] have suffered in recent weeks has only been compounded by the public-sector exploitation which they experienced yesterday,” said Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah, at the opening of a hearing the day after the press conference to mark up the proposed civil-rights act of 1984. The hearing, like six before it, was canceled for lack of a quorum.

‘Wonderful’ Conference

Senator Hatch said he was prompted to speak out by “the wonderful press conference that many of us enjoyed yesterday in which a bevy of Olympic athletes were invited to testify” in favor of the measure.

The bill, S2568, is intended to nullify the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last February that the federal law barring sex discrimination in education applies only to specific federally funded programs or activities and not to institutions as a whole.

Proponents claim that it would simply restore the “institutionwide” scope of the antidiscrimination law, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, as well as ensure similar broad coverage for laws barring discrimination on the basis of race, age, and handicap. The House passed its version of the bill last June.

Prominent Olympians

Among the prominent U.S. Olympians appearing at the press conference last Tuesday to promote the measure were Cheryl Miller, a gold-medal winner in basketball; Flo Hyman, a silver medalist in volleyball; and the distance runner Mary Decker.

“These athletes represent perhaps the most visible recent beneficiaries of civil-rights legislation,” Donna de Varona, a sports commentator for ABC-tv and president of the Women’s Sports Foundation, said at the conference.

“No one could miss the effects of Title IX on the women at this year’s Olympics,” Ms. de Varona said, noting that women won 44 percent of the American team’s gold medals at this year’s games.

“It seem impossible that we’re back fighting for the same things we were fighting for 20 years ago,” she added. “But after you’ve traveled to places like East Germany and the Soviet Union, you learn that freedom isn’t free.”

“To a great extent, what we face in the Senate is very much like what [the athletes] faced in Los Angeles--an opposition that is well trained, persevering, willful, and skilled in technique,” said Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts and one of the bill’s primary sponsors. “We have to bring to this battle the same kind of characteristics that they brought to the playing field.”

Misconceptions Alleged

In his remarks before the abortive hearing, Senator Hatch accused the proponents of the civil-rights measure of spreading a number of misconceptions about it.

For example, he denied as “wholly untrue” reports that debate over the bill pits those who want to restore the law as it existed prior to the Supreme Court’s decision in the Title IX case, Grove City College v. Bell against those who want to limit the scope of civil-rights laws.

“Virtually every leading critic of the pending legislation would be entirely satisfied by legislation retaining the status quo,” Senator Hatch said. “The controversy here lies over the fact that [the bill] would amend, in substantial ways, three important and long-standing civil-rights laws which were not even at issue in Grove.”

Federal Authority

He also attacked as incorrect the perception that the debate involves the protection of minorities against discrimination by educational institutions. Rather, he said, what is at stake in the present debate is “the extent of federal authority to impose upon wholly innocent and nondiscriminatory institutions ... an estimated 50,000 words of federal rules and regulations, new paperwork burdens, periodic federal compliance reviews which can only be likened to irs audits, and the delights of federal affirmative-action policy.”

“It is one thing to say that if Notre Dame University receives federal funds for its engineering school that the entire institution ought to be covered,” he said. “It is a different thing to say that a grocery store ought to be covered as a ‘recipient’ of federal aid if it accepts food stamps.”

“The hurdle to final committee consideration has been the absence of its proponents” from the six pre-vious mark-up sessions, Senator Hatch charged. “They apparently would prefer to bring this measure directly to the floor rather than to have to endure a difficult debate in committee, with the likelihood of a narrow committee vote.”

Not a ‘Narrow Segment’

The Senator said it was wrong to portray the bill’s critics as representatives of “an extremely narrow segment of society.” He noted “the extremely large number of outside organizations that have raised serious questions about the wisdom of [the bill] as they have had time to focus upon it.”

“It seems to be the case that the more one knows about this bill, the more likely one is to be concerned about its provisions,” he said.

Senate aides had noted in the past that Senate Majority Leader Howard H. Baker Jr. of Tennessee, a cosponsor of the bill, was considering several parliamentary tactics to bring the measure to the Senate floor for a vote.

During last week’s hearing, Senator Hatch said it was rumored that Senator Baker planned to offer the measure as an amendment to a banking bill that was being debated on the floor of the chamber last week. Aides to Senator Baker could not be reached to comment on the rumor last week.

A version of this article appeared in the September 19, 1984 edition of Education Week as Hatch Lashes Out at Civil-Rights Bill Supporters


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