Why I oppose the civil rights bill

Helen Delich Bentley

July 22, 1991|By Helen Delich Bentley

EVERY fair-minded person supports the basic intent of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was designed to open long-closed doors to blacks and other minority groups in our society.

TC As both a woman and a person of ethnic background, I have experienced discrimination throughout my youth and prior career, so I'm sympathetic to the grievances still felt by many in our society.

I'm also mindful that I represent black constituents in both Harford and Baltimore counties, and I have been a leader in the drive to expand black participation in the Republican Party, the party of Lincoln and emancipation.

Why, then, did I choose to vote against the Democratic-sponsored Civil Rights Act of 1991? The answer is simple: My belief is that it will not aid minorities in the long run, and actually may cause many of them to become unemployed if its provisions are carried out to the letter.

First of all, if enacted into law, the bill will have the very real effect of creating much unnecessary, costly, permanent employment for lawyers.

These cases will be decided by a jury instead of a judge, and the way the bill is currently written they may result in inequities. For example, if a case were tried in Baltimore city, there might have to be an all-black jury, while elsewhere it might have to be all white. In neither case would it be fair.

The Democratic bill establishes a three-year statute of limitations when cases still may be brought to court. This will have the effect of further clogging an already backlogged court system across the board. This is not in anyone's best interests, but particularly not in cases affecting minorities.

Moreover, under the Democratic bill, there is no limit on the amount of damages that can be assessed against an employer found at fault; thus a small business owner actually could be put out of business altogether. In this scenario, everyone -- including those minorities working at the firm -- would be without jobs. What kind of sense does that make?

The most damaging aspect of the Democrats' civil rights bill is that its "statistical disparity" provision presumes that the business defendant in any case is guilty. Under this provision, the business must prove its innocence; it must rebut the presumption that it is in violation when its proportion of minority employees is smaller than that of the community where it's located.

I recently spoke before a downtown Baltimore law firm that had a large complement of women in top positions. I congratulated the firm, but I also pointed out that under the civil rights bill the Democrats are pushing, the firm would have to be completely restructured because it has an inadequate number of blacks, Hispanics and Asians.

Would this be in the interest of those women working at the firm now, or of minorities who might be employed there someday? I think not. In the final analysis, we must use common sense and not kill the goose that lays the golden egg for all of us -- American free enterprise.

Finally, although the Democrats claim that this is not a "quota bill," in fact it does require quotas. I support equal opportunity for all, but I also support special privileges for none.

Let's do a better job of enforcing the civil rights we have, not enact more negative legislation that serves no one well except lawyers.

Helen Delich Bentley represents Maryland's 2nd District in Congress.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.