Imagine trying to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 using the legislative techniques of 2009

December 20, 2009 | By | Reply More

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is an impressive piece of legislation, but it would never pass today, certainly not in anything like the form in which it currently exists.  Note: The actual Civil Rights Act of 1964 (which can be found here) is only 56 pages long (double spaced in 12 point Times Roman font).   It contains clearly written provisions throughout its ten titles.  For example, see the following language from Title II, SEC. 201.:

(a) All persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, and privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation, as defined in this section, without discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin.

But what would it have been like if present-day legislative techniques had been used by those attempting to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964?  Most significantly, using modern strategies means that the proponents would be much more interested in passing legislation that sounded like it prevented discrimination, than passing legislation that actually prevented discrimination.

Here are some specific differences.  If the 2009 legislative techniques were being used back in 1964:

-The Civil Rights Act would have been thousands of pages long, so long that most legislators would not be well-versed regarding its terms.

-Key deliberations and debate regarding the Civil Rights Act would have been conducted entirely in secret.

Lyndon Johnson (image - creative commons)
Lyndon Johnson (image – creative commons)

-The Civil Rights Act would’ve been filled with terms that the citizens themselves would not understand the effect of the bill. If asked about the bill, most American citizens would say something like, “I think it has something to do with discrimination but I’m not quite sure what the new law allows or prohibits.

-Proponents of the civil rights legislation would have actively invited legislators who opposed any such bill to give their input.

-Hundreds of high paid lobbyists who were pro-discrimination would have been invited to attend high-level meetings to write the legislation.

-Proponents of the Civil Rights Act would have crumbled under the threat of filibuster.

-The citizens of the United States would not have risen up and marched en mass on Washington, and elsewhere, to pressure their representatives to pass the Civil Rights Act.

-Legislators who were the recipients of hundreds of thousands of dollars of campaign cash from pro-segregation groups would shamelessly would have done the bidding of their contributors by opposing the Civil Rights Act.

-The proponents of the bill would’ve been happy with a bill that only reduced discrimination by 30%, rather than outlawing discrimination entirely.

-The President, who claimed to be against discrimination would have advocated for a weak version of the bill rather than go to bat to get a bill America would have been proud of.  At the signing of this weak Bill, the president would’ve explained that it fails to deliver in significant ways and that future generations of politicians would need to try to repair the problems.

-The President would have promoted a watered-down version of the bill because he was more concerned about being re-elected than with passing a bill he could be proud of.

These are some of the ways in which the legislative process of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was different than the tragic set of compromises that are taking us toward a tragically flawed version of “health care reform.”

Epilogue: It is the current effort at health care reform that leads Paul Krugman to conclude that “the U.S. government as a whole — has become ominously dysfunctional.”

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Category: Communication, Corruption, Health Care Reform, Politics, Uncategorized

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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