U.S. Congress Mandates Nondiscriminatory Practices by Recipients of Public Funds Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

With the passage of the Civil Rights Restoration Act, the U.S. government obligated the recipients of federal financial assistance to meet nondiscriminatory requirements in all respects, not merely in activity aided by federal funds.

Summary of Event

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964[Title 06 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964] Civil Rights Act of 1964 mandated that federal funds could not be used to support segregation or discrimination based on race, color, or national origin. The law did not affect a number of other civil rights problems, however. At Cornell University’s School of Agriculture, for example, women could not gain admission unless their entrance exam scores were 30 to 40 percent higher than those of male applicants. Individuals with epilepsy were often barred from employment, and persons in wheelchairs had difficulty gaining access to libraries and schools. Persons in their fifties who were seeking employment were often told they were qualified for jobs but would not be hired because they were too old. Civil Rights Restoration Act (1988) Age discrimination;legislation Gender discrimination;legislation [kw]U.S. Congress Mandates Nondiscriminatory Practices by Recipients of Public Funds (Mar. 22, 1988) [kw]Congress Mandates Nondiscriminatory Practices by Recipients of Public Funds, U.S. (Mar. 22, 1988) [kw]Nondiscriminatory Practices by Recipients of Public Funds, U.S. Congress Mandates (Mar. 22, 1988) [kw]Public Funds, U.S. Congress Mandates Nondiscriminatory Practices by Recipients of (Mar. 22, 1988) [kw]Funds, U.S. Congress Mandates Nondiscriminatory Practices by Recipients of Public (Mar. 22, 1988) Civil Rights Restoration Act (1988) Age discrimination;legislation Gender discrimination;legislation [g]North America;Mar. 22, 1988: U.S. Congress Mandates Nondiscriminatory Practices by Recipients of Public Funds[06770] [g]United States;Mar. 22, 1988: U.S. Congress Mandates Nondiscriminatory Practices by Recipients of Public Funds[06770] [c]Civil rights and liberties;Mar. 22, 1988: U.S. Congress Mandates Nondiscriminatory Practices by Recipients of Public Funds[06770] [c]Laws, acts, and legal history;Mar. 22, 1988: U.S. Congress Mandates Nondiscriminatory Practices by Recipients of Public Funds[06770] Bell, Terrel Howard Brennan, William J. Marshall, Thurgood White, Byron Harris, Patricia Roberts Hawkins, Augustus Freeman Kennedy, Ted Reagan, Ronald [p]Reagan, Ronald;Civil Rights Restoration Act

To rectify these problems, Congress extended the scope of unlawful discrimination in federally assisted schools in Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 Education Amendments Act (1972) Title IX of the Education Amendments Act (1972)[Title 09 of the Education Amendments Act] to cover gender, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 Rehabilitation Act (1973) to cover the disabled, and the Age Discrimination Act of 1975 Age Discrimination Act (1975) to cover older persons.

Enforcement of the statute regarding education was initially assigned to the Office for Civil Rights Office for Civil Rights, U.S. (OCR) of the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (when that department was later split into the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services, the OCR became part of the Department of Education). OCR ruled that the statute outlawed not only discrimination in the particular program supported by federal funds but also discrimination in programs supported by nonfederal funds. All recipients of federal financial assistance were asked to sign an agreement with OCR, known as the “Assurance of Compliance with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and the Regulation Issued by the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare in Implementation Thereof,” as a condition of receiving a federal grant.

From 1974 to 1984, Grove City College, located in western Pennsylvania, received $1.8 million in tuition grants and guaranteed student loans but was the only such recipient to refuse to sign an assurance of compliance. The college argued that the funds were for students, not the college, but OCR insisted that the financial aid was administered as a part of the college’s financial aid program, so the college must pledge as a whole not to discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, or gender. OCR instituted enforcement proceedings against Grove City College, and an administrative law judge ruled in 1978 that the college could no longer receive federal student loan monies.

Grove City College and four students desiring financial aid (Marianne Sickafuse, Sickafuse, Marianne Kenneth J. Hockenberry, Hockenberry, Kenneth J. Jennifer S. Smith, Smith, Jennifer S. and Victor E. Vouga Vouga, Victor E. ) then sued. The original defendant was Patricia Roberts Harris, U.S. secretary of health, education, and welfare. In 1980, when the case was first tried, the federal district court ruled in favor of Grove City College on the grounds that no sex discrimination had actually occurred. On appeal, the court of appeals reversed the lower court’s decision, and the matter was taken up by the Supreme Court of the United States, this time with Terrel Howard Bell, head of the newly created federal Department of Education, as the defendant.

In Grove City College v. Bell (1984), Grove City College v. Bell (1984) Justice Byron White delivered the majority opinion of the Supreme Court, which held that OCR did not have sufficient congressional authority to withhold funds from Grove City College for failure to sign the assurance of compliance. Moreover, according to the Court, violations of Title VI could occur only in the specific program or activity supported directly with federal funds, a judgment that went beyond the question raised by the case. Justices William J. Brennan and Thurgood Marshall dissented, arguing that the Court’s ruling gutted Title VI.

Shortly after the Supreme Court ruling, OCR dropped some seven hundred pending enforcement actions, resulting in an outcry from civil rights groups over the decision. Congressman Augustus Freeman Hawkins then authored the Civil Rights Restoration Act in the House of Representatives, and Senator Ted Kennedy sponsored the bill in the Senate. Their aim was to amend all the affected statutes—Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Age Discrimination Act of 1975. According to the bill, any agency or private firm that wanted to receive federal financial assistance would have to comply with the nondiscrimination requirement as a whole, even if the aid went to only one subunit of that agency or firm.

The road to passage of the proposed statute was full of potholes, however. Although Hawkins’s version quickly passed in the House of Representatives, the measure became caught up in the politics of abortion, and the bill died in the Senate. Opponents advanced more than one thousand amendments to the bill over a period of four years, and representatives of the administration of President Ronald Reagan testified against passage of the law. A group known as the Moral Majority Moral Majority broadcast the fear that the bill would protect alcoholics, drug addicts, and homosexuals from discrimination, although there were no such provisions in the proposal.

More crucially, the Catholic Conference of Bishops, Catholic Conference of Bishops which was traditionally aligned with the Civil Rights movement, wanted two amendments to the bill. One proposed amendment, which was unsuccessful, would have exempted institutions affiliated with religious institutions from complying with the law if religious views would be compromised thereby. The other proposed amendment, which was opposed by the National Organization for Women, National Organization for Women was an assurance that no federal funds would be spent on abortion. With two parts of the Civil Rights movement at loggerheads, Congress delayed finding a compromise.

In 1987, leaving out references to abortion, Congress finally adopted the Civil Rights Restoration Act, which then went to President Ronald Reagan for his signature to become law. Reagan, however, became the first president since Andrew Johnson to veto a civil rights bill. Instead, he sent to Congress a substitute bill that would have exempted farmers, grocery stores, ranchers, and religious institutions.

Supporters of the act next sought to gain sufficient votes to override the presidential veto, and they were successful. With the gallery filled with persons in wheelchairs, opponents in the Senate tried to destroy the bill by various amendments in debate on the floor of the Senate on January 28, 1988. An amendment by Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Hatch, Orrin G. for example, would have legislatively exempted organizations closely identified with the tenets of a religious organization, although the bill enabled such groups to obtain exemptions from OCR. Hatch also sought to restrict coverage to the specific affected statutes. Both efforts were defeated.

Senators Tom Harkin Harkin, Tom and Gordon Humphrey Humphrey, Gordon gained support for an amendment that permitted employers to discriminate against persons with an infection or contagious disease whose presence on the job might threaten the health or safety of others or who could not otherwise perform the duties of the job. This reflected contemporary concerns about acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). HIV/AIDS[HIV AIDS] Senator John Danforth Danforth, John proposed an amendment that would disallow federal payments for abortion. Abortion;laws and legal decisions This amendment passed, providing that neither Title VI nor Title IX was intended to require an abortion or payment for an abortion.

With the passage of the act by the Senate on March 22, 1988, Congress overrode Reagan’s veto, and the law went into effect immediately.

Significance

The Civil Rights Restoration Act clarified the application of the provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and restored federal enforcement of those provisions to where it was before the Grove case—that is, the recipients of federal financial assistance were obligated to meet nondiscriminatory requirements in all respects, not merely in activity aided by federal funds. Passage of the act thus affected the lives of untold numbers of Americans who might otherwise have been discriminated against on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability, or age. Civil Rights Restoration Act (1988) Age discrimination;legislation Gender discrimination;legislation

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Blow, Richard. “Don’t Look NOW.” New Republic 198 (April 11, 1988): 11-12. Explains why the National Organization for Women opposed the Civil Rights Restoration Act.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gillespie, Veronica M., and Gregory L. McClinton. “The Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1987: A Defeat for Judicial Conservatism.” National Black Law Journal 12 (Spring, 1990): 61-72. Explains the political importance of various facets of the law.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Graham, Hugh Davis. “The Storm Over Grove City College: Civil Rights Regulation, Higher Education, and the Reagan Administration.” History of Education Quarterly 38 (Winter, 1998): 407-429. Examines the relationship between Congress and the Reagan administration during and after the fight over the Civil Rights Restoration Act.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Robinson, Robert K., Billie Morgan Allen, and Geralyn McClure Franklin. “The Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1987: Broadening the Scope of Civil Rights Legislation.” Labor Law Journal 40 (January, 1989): 45-49. Discusses coverage of the law.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Shull, Steven A. American Civil Rights Policy from Truman to Clinton: The Role of Presidential Leadership. 2d ed. Armonk, N.Y.: M. E. Sharpe, 1999. Focuses on how U.S. presidents have influenced civil rights policy and legislation since the Truman administration. Includes discussion of Reagan’s veto of the Civil Rights Restoration Act.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Watson, Robert. “Effects of the Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1987 upon Private Organizations and Religious Institutions.” Capital University Law Review 18 (Spring, 1989): 93-118. Discusses objections to the law among political conservatives.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Willen, Mark. “Congress Overrides Reagan’s Grove City Veto.” Congressional Quarterly Weekly Review 46 (March 26, 1988): 774-776. Explains the parliamentary maneuvers required to get the law passed.

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