President Reagan supports the idea behind civil rights legislation that the Senate approved Thursday but would veto the measure because it "infringes upon state and local rights in many ways," presidential spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said Friday.
The bill, called the Civil Rights Restoration Act, is designed to reverse the impact of a 1984 Supreme Court ruling that restricted the government's power to withhold federal funds from educational institutions that discriminate.
Under the court ruling, the government may block federal aid to only the specific educational program or activity believed to be discriminatory, not to the entire institution.
The Senate measure, which its proponents call one of the most sweeping civil rights bills approved in decades, would restore the power of the government to withhold all federal funds from many types of institutions, including governments, believed to discriminate against minorities, women, the elderly and the handicapped.
"What the bill does is dramatically expand the federal jurisdiction over state and local governments, churches, synagogues, farms, grocery stores, including mom and pop stores, and businesses of all sizes," said Leslye Arsht, a deputy to Fitzwater. She said it would force the government to suspend all payments to church-affiliated hospitals, for example, if a housing development run by the same church group was found to have inadvertently discriminated.
"It's a question of whether you discriminate against people who have no intention of discriminating," Arsht said. The Administration, she said, supported a substitute offered by Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) that would have affected only educational institutions and would have allowed the government to halt all funding for schools found to discriminate.
During Thursday's debate on the bill, opponents produced a letter from Reagan to Hatch calling the measure "unacceptable." But some senators questioned whether Reagan's threat was serious.
Fitzwater said Friday that the veto threat was indeed serious and that the President believed the bill, sent to the House on a 75-14 vote, went too far in its effort to overturn the high court's ruling in a case known as Grove City College vs. Bell.
"I would like to point out that the Administration supported a bill that will overturn the Grove City decision and that we have said virtually from the time that the decision was made that we opposed it . . . " he said, chiding the news media for not reporting the Administration's position.