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Bush: civil rights and wrongs.

Time for a pop quiz. Who recently said: "This administration is committed to action that is truly affirmative, positive action in every sense, to strike down all barriers to advancement of every kind of people"?

David Duke? George Bush? Jesse Jackson? If you selected the Connecticut Texan occupying 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., congratulations--you've won a trip to Maine.

Last November, the president made those remarks as part of an attempt to silence critics who said that his White House staff had tried to strip and gut the 1991 Civil Rights Act he had just signed.

The act raises conservative Republican hackles. The reason: It reverses five 1980s Supreme Court rulings and allows access to jury trials and punitive damages for people discriminated against because of their sex, religion or disability (see box). The maximum compensatory and punitive damages awarded are $300,000. However, awards are determined by the number of employees and are granted only in cases of intentional discrimination. The law also extends protection to Americans at U.S. companies abroad and prohibits employers from test-norming, the altering of employment-related test scores.

"But passing laws is only 20% of the battle," says Parren J. Mitchell, chairman of the Washington, D.C.-based Minority Business Enterprise Legal Defense and Education Fund. "Enforcing laws is the other 80%. We would be incredibly naive, considering this administration and the climate in America, if we believe there will be wholesale compliance."

Where Does The President Really Stand?

Will George Herbert Walker Bush's true colors regarding civil rights issues be revealed in 1992 (see cover story, this issue)? After all, he is a long-time supporter of the United Negro College Fund and says publicly he supports nondiscriminatory "affirmative action." But he also okayed the Willie Horton ads and called the 1990 Civil Rights Act a "quota bill" before vetoing it. Yet, his signature is on the 1991 act.

What happened? The bill didn't change. President Bush did. Over conservative criticism that the bill hurt business, and to avoid a whitewash as a racist, George Bush had to sign.

Ironically, despite contrary Republican comments, civil rights laws are part of American business. And a moderate Democrat and a conservative Republican president put them in place. In 1965, Lyndon B. Johnson signed an executive order requiring federal contractors to make affirmative action part of business life. In 1969, Richard M. Nixon broadened the mandate ordering "goals and timetables" enacted to counter housing industry discrimination, and he expanded the ruling to all federal contractors a year later. Now, more than 95,000 U.S. companies with 27 million workers and federal contracts worth $ 184 billion are affected.

Is the battle over? Hardly. President Bush's surrogates are trying to weaken the act's broad impact.

Last December, the Equal Employement Opportunity Commission declared that the 1991 act does not apply to bias suits filed prior to its signing. Those suits will be decided under older restrictive rules and will limit potential compensation. And one of Bush's closest advisers, White House counsel C. Boyden Gray, actively opposes all affirmative action. The day before the Civil Rights Act's signing, Gray sent the directive to federal departments to end programs giving preferences to racial minorities and women in federal contracts, hiring, promotion, college admissions and scholarships. But heavy criticism forced Bush to make Gray rescind the order. In 1992, as ever, eternal vigilance remains the price of libery.
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Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:McCoy, Frank
Publication:Black Enterprise
Article Type:Column
Date:Mar 1, 1992
Words:565
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