Civil rights advocates renewed their efforts Thursday to reverse a 1984 Supreme Court decision that narrowed the scope of anti-discrimination laws aimed at colleges and other recipients of federal funds.
A bipartisan coalition of Senate and House members, led by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), introduced in the House legislation to overturn the court's ruling in a case involving Grove City College in Pennsylvania. The court found last Feb. 28 that the federal ban on discrimination applies only to the specific "program or activity" funded by the government and does not extend to all activities of the recipient institution.
The legislation quickly drew opposition from the Reagan Administration and Republican leaders in Congress, who introduced a narrower measure of their own. "If they really want pre-Grove City legislation, this is it," declared Senate Majority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.).
Likewise, the Administration's bill was criticized by Kennedy. "No Congress that adheres to the principle of equal justice under law can permit the Grove City College decision to stand," Kennedy said. "Half-way measures and half-hearted support for civil rights are not a satisfactory response by Congress, and we will not be a party to the charade."
The Administration bill had the nominal support of Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), whose filibuster last October succeeded in killing one measure that would have overturned the Supreme Court decision. Hatch contended that proponents of the earlier bill were trying to exceed the scope of the law as it existed before the Grove City case.
The Supreme Court ruling specifically restricted enforcement of Title IX of the 1972 Education Act banning sex discrimination by colleges and universities. In addition, legal scholars interpreted the ruling as imposing restrictions on enforcement of three other laws banning discrimination by all federally funded institutions on the bases of race, age or handicap.
Civil rights groups charged that the Administration bill, which deals only with education, does not go far enough and does not preclude the court from imposing a similar ruling in cases involving federal funding for health, social services, transportation or housing.
Although the Administration bill "purports to remedy the consequences of the Grove City decision, it could leave millions of Americans unprotected by our civil rights laws," warned Ralph G. Neas, executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. "Such a result is unacceptable to those who believe in equality of opportunity for all our nation's citizens."
The Kennedy bill, co-sponsored in the House by Democratic Reps. Augustus F. Hawkins of Los Angeles and Don Edwards of San Jose, would amend all four laws believed to have been affected by the Grove City decision. At the same time, it abandons the approach contained in last year's House-passed bill that was condemned by Hatch and others as too broad.
Although Hatch was listed as a sponsor of the Administration bill, the Utah Republican is still not satisfied with the measure that bears his name, according to an aide. As a result, Hatch is promising to offer amendments to the legislation imposing additional restrictions.
At the White House, spokesman Larry Speakes said that there is "no good reason" why the Administration bill should not be passed. "I am confident," Speakes said, "that this will happen so long as no efforts are made to alter the legislation's fundamental purpose or add to it needless and crippling amendments."
Supporters of both bills predicted that Congress would enact some form of legislation this year to reverse the Grove City ruling.