Would the civil rights act of 1964 pass Congress today?

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It passed Congress over the strenuous opposition, and indeed filibuster, of Southern Democrats.

At Politico, Todd Purdum seizes on the occasion to argue that this landmark legislation could not pass Congress today. This is mainly true, he asserts, because “sometime in the 1980s” the Barry Goldwater wing of the Republican Party seized control causing the GOP to betray its civil right supporting heritage. (Goldwater voted against the 1964 Act).

But Purdum cites no evidence that the Republican Party’s turn to the right is inconsistent with support for the 1964 Civil Rights law. Moreover, the evidence defeats his contention.

For example, in 1991, Republicans supported a Civil Rights Act far more aggressive than that of 1964 in the realm of employment law. This occurred well after the rise of the Goldwater wing and after the time when Purdum says the GOP abandoned its civil rights supporting heritage.

Since 1991, Republicans have continued to support the principle at the core of the 1964 Act — color-blindness in employment, public accommodations, and the like. When Rand Paul, running for the Senate in 2010, suggested that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 should not have been enacted, he was promptly chastised by his Party. Paul quickly attempted to disavow his comments.

Against all of this, the best Purdum can do is to point out that House Republicans are suing President Obama for failing to faithfully execute the laws and that Republicans oppose amnesty for illegal immigrants, increasing the minimum wage, and so forth.

How this recital supports the thesis that today’s Republicans would prevent the passage of legislation mandating color-blindness goes unexplained by Purdum. It is liberal grousing, not evidence.

Even so, Purdum’s contention that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 couldn’t muster the bipartisan support needed to pass today is probably correct. Why? Because today’s Democrats would almost certainly refuse to accept Section 703(j) of Title VII. It provides:

Nothing contained in this title shall be interpreted to require any employer, employment agency, labor organization, or joint labor-management committee subject to this title to grant preferential treatment to any individual or to any group because of the race, color, religion, sex, or national origin of such individual or group on account of an imbalance which may exist with respect to the total number or percentage of persons of any race, color, religion, sex, or national origin employed by any employer, referred or classified for employment by any employment agency or labor organization, admitted to membership or classified by any labor organization, or admitted to, or employed in, any apprenticeship or other training program, in comparison with the total number or percentage of persons of such race, color, religion, sex, or national origin in any community, State, section, or other area, or in the available work force in any community, State, section, or other area.

This is not the only provision of the original Title VII at which modern Democrats would balk. But it is the obvious deal breaker because Democrats could not count on the modern Supreme Court, in effect, to read Section 703(j) out of the Act.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was all about color-blindness. And for today’s Democrats, color-blindness just won’t do.

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