Washington--The White House moved quickly last week to quash reports of a potentially embarrassing election-year schism within the Reagan Administration over legislation that would broaden the scope of federal laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, sex, age, and handicap.
Press reports early in the week quoted high-ranking officials in the Justice Department and the Office of Management and Budget as viewing the proposed “civil rights act of 1984,” HR 5490 and S 2568, as an unwarranted expansion of federal authority. The reports went on to say that moderates on the White House staff and officials in the Education Department either supported it or had not adopted a position on it.
Shortly after the reports were publicized, the White House called a press conference during which a Presidential spokesman stated that “the Administration is not opposed to Congress enacting [the] legislation.”
Later in the week, C. Anson Franklin, an assistant White House press secretary, said in an interview that “the proposal will be reviewed at a high level in the Administration.”
“We are in the beginning stages of that review now,” he added.
Political observers have pointed out that President Reagan could weaken his chances for re-election if he offends women, Blacks, Hispanics, the handicapped, and the aged by opposing the legislation.
The companion bills under consideration would, in effect, nullify the U.S. Supreme Court’s narrow reading in late February of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which mandates the equal treatment of men and women in education.
In its ruling in Grove City College v. Bell, the Court sided with the Administration and held that the Education Department could not enforce Title IX’s anti-bias provisions throughout an educational institution but only in the “program or activity” within an institution that receives federal assistance. (See Education Week, March 7, 1984.) Previous Administrations had applied the law to entire institutions if they received any type and amount of federal aid.
Because identical “program or activity” language appears in the federal laws barring discrimination on the basis of race, age, and handicap, it has been widely predicted that the Court will apply its reading of the phrase to those laws as well if the Congress fails to pass legislation clarifying its intent with respect to the laws.
The House and Senate bills, which enjoy widespread bipartisan support, would delete the term “program or activity” from the laws and replace it with “recipient,” with that term defined as “any state or political subdivision thereof ... [or] any public or private agency, institution, or organization ... to which federal financial assistance is extended (directly or through another entity or person), or which receives support from the extension of federal financial assistance to any of its subunits.”
During a rare press conference shortly after the Grove City decision was handed down, William Bradford Reynolds, the assistant attorney general for civil rights, stated that “philosophically and personally” he would have no objections to legislation restoring the broad, “institutional” scope of Title IX.
But an article in the May 7 edition of The New York Times quoted Mr. Reynolds as characterizing the legislation now before the Congress as “a monumental, drastic change in the civil-rights enforcement landscape.”
It also quoted Michael J. Horowitz, counsel to the director of omb, as stating that the measure represents “a big, major, radical change.’'
Spokesmen for Mr. Reynolds could not be reached for comment. But Edwin L. Dale Jr., omb’s assistant director for public affairs, said that the quotations were taken “out of context” from off-the-record conversations.
“It is quite clear that we are not opposed to legislation that would return things to the status quo, but do not want legislation with unintended consequences,” he said.
A spokesman for Harry M. Singleton, the Education Department’s assistant secretary for civil rights, said that the department has not adopted a position on the legislation and is continuing to review it.
Meanwhile, two House committees began joint hearings last week on the legislation, and a pair of Senate committees announced that they would open similar hearings later this month.
During the first hearing on the measure, before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights and the House Education and Labor Committee, Representative Leon Panetta, Democrat of California, expressed his concern that the Court’s ruling on Title IX would affect the other anti-discrimination statutes. “The promise for equal rights means virtually nothing if you don’t have legislative enforcement,” he said.
“Strong enforcement demands that there be clarity in the law,” he said. “It’s tough enough to enforce civil-rights law under the best of circumstances. If you add to that, confusion in the law, it becomes virtually impossible.”
‘Perfectly Clear’ in 1984
Representative Olympia J. Snowe, Republican of Maine, speaking as co-chairman of the Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues, said, “If we did not make clear to the Supreme Court what we meant when these four critical civil-rights statutes were originally passed, we will make it perfectly clear in 1984.”
“Discrimination, be it based on race, sex, national origin, age, or disability, has no place in our society, let alone among recipients of federal financial assistance,” she said.
In additional printed testimony, Representative Claudine Schneider, Republican of Rhode Island, pointed out that the Court’s ruling has already had some effect. “Already, in the two months since the Court handed down its decision, at least four universities have been relieved from discrimination suits in direct response to the Grove City ruling,’' she noted.
“Despite charges of discrimination at the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Maryland, the University of Alaska, and the University of South Idaho, the office for civil rights at the Department of Education will not pursue further investigation into the cases since the discrimination did not occur where federal funds were ‘pinpointed,’” she added.
Access and Choice
Representative Robert Garcia, Democrat of New York, recommended that two amendments be added to the bill so that it does not contribute to the “problem of access and choice it is designed to correct.”
Concerned that colleges might refuse to accept student financial aid as a result of the passage of the act, Representative Garcia said “we might be contributing to the loss of educational opportunity for an unknown number of students.”
The first proposed amendment calls for redrafting the legislation if a certain number of students nationwide are unable to attend the college of their choice as a result of the act’s effect.
The second proposed amendment would exempt colleges, on a case-by-case basis, from the requirement that student financial assistance be considered direct federal assistance, if they can prove that a certain number of students would have attended had they been eligible for federal assistance.
The two committees were scheduled to hold additional hearings on the bill this week. The Senate Subcommittee on Education, Arts and the Humanities and the Subcommittee on the Handicapped will open joint hearings on that chamber’s version of the bill on May 24.
A version of this article appeared in the May 16, 1984 edition of Education Week as Reagan Officials Deny OppositionTo Title IX Bill