Saying Reform Efforts Would Be Hurt, Bush Rejects Rights-Bill

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WASHINGTON--President Bush has rejected a compromise civil- rights bill on the grounds that it would harm his education-reform efforts.

In a recent letter to Senator John C. Danforth, Mr. Bush said he could not accept a key provision in a compromise proposal put forward by Mr. Danforth--one that would effectively prohibit using educational requirements in making hiring decisions when those standards are not directly related to job performance.

Mr. Danforth, Republican of Missouri, spent the summer attempting to broker an agreement between Congressional Democrats and the Administration on the controversial legislation.

Previously, Administration opposition to the bill had focused on the argument that employers would find it difficult to prove their requirements were sufficiently job-related and would have to resort to hiring quotas to avoid lawsuits.

In a letter dated July 28, Mr. Bush told Mr. Danforth that the provision on educational requirements would "seriously, if not fatally, undermine the reform and renewal of our educational system by discouraging employers from relying on educational effort and achievement."

In other comments, Mr. Bush said he hoped his Administration and Mr. Danforth could resolve their differences and produce a bill the President could accept.

But Mr. Danforth told reporters after discussions broke down that he would not alter the compromise bill and would seek enough votes in the Senate to overturn a possible veto. Senator Edward M. Kennedy, the Massachusetts Democrat who chairs the Labor and Human Resources Committee, said he would assist Mr. Danforth in trying to put together the required two-thirds majority.

The House already has passed a civil-rights bill, HR 1, but the vote for it fell 17 votes short of the 290 needed to override a veto. Both the House and Senate measures would overturn six U.S. Supreme Court decisions that made it harder for plaintiffs charging job-related discrimination to challenge employers in court. (See Education Week, June 12, 1991.)

In addition to his letter, President Bush provided Mr. Danforth with copies of letters written by Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander and Evan J. Kemp, chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which maintain that Mr. Danforth's version of the civil rights bill would impede the Bush Administration's attempt to reform education.

Alexander: 'The Wrong Message'

"To tell employers not to consider such information [as level of education] when making hiring decisions would undermine the importance of staying in school and working hard in school," Mr. Alexander said in a letter to Senator Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, the ranking Republican on the Labor and Human Resources Committee and a leading Administration ally on the issue.

"It would send precisely the wrong message to students and teachers," Mr. Alexander continued. "It would say to students that staying in school doesn't matter, because employers don't have the right to know whether you graduated or whether you did well. It would say to teachers that their work is unimportant in the outside world."

The Secretary also told Mr. Hatch that the Administration's school-reform agenda "will be jeopardized by any legislation that inadvertently devalues schooling and depresses academic standards."

In a similar letter to the White House chief of staff, John H. Sununu, Mr. Kemp said the provision supported by the Missouri senator would make it almost impossible for employers to show that their use of educational standards was "legally defensible."

But Mr. Danforth, citing the Supreme Court's 1972 decision in Griggs v. Duke Power Company, argues that educational criteria should not be used as a standard for employment for jobs that do not require a high level of education.

"The issue is whether employment requirements that screen out minorities, women, or others must be related to the ability to do the job," he said in a statement last month. "I believe job qualifications should be related to a person's ability to do the work, which was the standard set by the Supreme Court in 1971 in the Griggs case."

The Senate is scheduled to reconvene from the Congressional summer recess next week, but no date for floor action on the civil-rights bill has been set.

Vol. 11, Issue 01, Page 41

Published in Print: September 4, 1991, as Saying Reform Efforts Would Be Hurt, Bush Rejects Rights-Bill
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