House Leadership Will Try To Quash Senate's Anti-Busing
Washington--In the wake of the Senate's passage of sweeping anti-busing legislation last week, Democratic leaders of the House of Representatives are acting to prevent the bill, which must be passed by the House to become law, from being brought to the House floor for a vote.
At the same time, House members who oppose the use of mandatory busing to achieve school desegregation are planning a parliamentary maneuver to force the leadership to take up the bill.
The Senate bill, S 951, authorizes funds to be spent by the U.S. Justice Department for fiscal 1982. As passed by a 57-37 vote last Tuesday, it contains three separate anti-busing amendments that observers say would virtually end the use of court-ordered busing of students.
One amendment, sponsored by Senator Jesse A. Helms, Republican of North Carolina, would bar the Justice Department from bringing desegregation suits that could result in busing remedies.
A second rider, added by Senator J. Bennett Johnston, Democrat of Louisiana, would forbid federal courts to order the busing of students more than five miles or 15 minutes beyond a "neighborhood" school.
A third amendment, added last week by Senator Howell Heflin, Democrat of Alabama, passed by a vote of 72 to 22. It would permit the Justice Department to participate "in any proceedings to remove or reduce the requirement of busing in existing court decrees or judgments."
The earlier amendments had been the object of a bipartisan filibuster, led by Senator Lowell P. Weicker, Republican of Connecticut, that began last June when the bill was first brought to the Senate floor.
The filibuster grew throughout the fall to include 16 senators, most of whom said they were opposed to legislative restrictions on the powers of the federal courts. The filibuster also received the support of the American Bar Association (aba).
Although the filibuster had survived several attempts to invoke cloture, which would have cut off debate on the bill, the tactic was halted by Senator Weicker on Feb. 25, when it became clear, he said, that the filibuster could not continue indefinitely.
David R. Brink, president of the aba, called last week's vote "a first step to serious damage to our Constitution, our system of government, and our identity as a nation. Today, the subject was busing. Next, it could be our freedom of speech or freedom of religion," he said.
"If the Congress can foreclose access to the federal judiciary on this particular issue, a future Congress can shut off other constitutional rights, and in so doing fundamentally alter our system of government," said Senator Claiborne Pell, Democrat of Rhode Island.
The bill now faces an uncertain future in the Democrat-controlled House, which last June also passed, by a 2-to-1 margin, a Justice Department authorization bill with an anti-busing rider.
The language of the House amendment, sponsored by Representative James M. Collins, Republican of Texas, is similar to that of the Helms rider.
Under normal circumstances, the two bills would go to a House-Senate conference in which legislators would work out the differences between the two bills' provisions.
But last week, the Senate majority leader, Howard H. Baker, Republican of Tennessee, decided not to send the bill to conference for two reasons, an aide to the majority leader said.
Senator Weicker could have filibustered the motion to send the bill to conference, stalling Senate action on pending bills even further. In addition, the House-Senate conference probably would have ended in a stalemate between the conferees, the aide said.
The bill, which is now being held "at the desk" of the Speaker of the House, Thomas P. O'Neill Jr., will remain there unless the chairman of either the House Judiciary Committee or the House Rules Committee requests action on the bill, the Massachusetts Democrat said last week.
Representive Peter W. Rodino Jr., chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said his committee will not consider the bill. "The Johnston amendment raises disturbing questions of policy and constitutionality. It is without precedent in its severe restriction on federal courts. The Johnston amendment is not germane, and House proceedings do not permit consideration of non-germane amendments to legislation."
Mr. Rodino, Democrat of New Jersey, also said he would ask the Justice Department for "its views on the wisdom and constitutionality of this amendment."
The chairman of the Judiciary subcommittee that has jurisdiction over busing legislation, Representative Don Edwards, Democrat of California, also said he would refuse to take up the bill.
"This is an entirely inappropriate way to legislate, and we're not going to allow it to happen," he said. "It would be the beginning of a breakdown of the federal court system."
Meanwhile, Representative Collins, sponsor of the House anti-busing amendment, is putting together a discharge petition--which requires the signatures of 218 legislators--to force the House leadership to permit a vote on the Senate bill.
Mr. Collins said he was disappointed that the bill had not gone to conference because "my plan was to move to instruct our conferees to accept the Senate language, which was excellent and would have ended busing."
Mr. Collins said his experience with school systems in his district that have undergone court-ordered desegregation had convinced him that "we've gone completely beyond that Brown [v. Board of Education] decision."
"When the Dallas school system had busing, we went from 38 percent minority students to 78 percent, all because of 'white flight,"' Mr. Collins said. He contrasted that situation with the Richardson, Tex., school system, which, he said, has an all-voluntary desegregation program that has made it "the best school system in the country."
Mr. Collins said he is convinced that Congress will act to end busing for desegregation in this session by whatever legislative vehicle is necessary, because "half the problems in the public schools today arise from busing. [Some members of Congress] don't understand quality education at all. When you force the American people to do anything, they react in a negative way."
Whatever the outcome of the current fight, Senator Johnston--whose home state also contains several school systems that have experienced problems with court-ordered busing--says he is will continue to fight for legislation to end the practice.
'Busing Doesn't Work'
"The verdict is in. And that verdict, very loudly and clearly, says that busing doesn't work," he said.
Opponents of the anti-busing legislation also have vowed to continue their efforts. "Busing is not the issue," said Senator Dale Bumpers, Democrat of Arkansas. "The issue is whether we are going to remain a free nation, devoted to the sanctity of the Constitution."
Vol. 01, Issue 24