The Thomas connections

October 23, 1991|By The New York Times

THERE ARE obvious connections between last week's Senate vote to confirm Clarence Thomas's nomination to the Supreme Court and the civil rights bill that came up in the Senate yesterday -- obvious, that is, to everyone except President Bush.

One connection concerns race, another concerns Republican consistency and a third concerns decency to women in the workplace.

At the Thomas hearings, Republicans helped the nominee denounce what he called a "high-tech lynching," a startling image of racial oppression.

Then last Friday, Bush called in his Senate minority leader, Bob Dole, and Senators John Danforth and Arlen Specter to discuss the 1991 civil rights bill. Those Republican Senators, who had led the fight for Thomas, were too polite to raise the possibility that the president might follow their example and support the nominee and the bill.

Not a chance. The administration so quick to claim the image of civil rights protector last week remains truculently opposed even to Danforth's compromise bill. So much for healing the wounds of the bitter confirmation fight.

The civil rights bill already approved in the House would give women complainants the same redress available to those who charge intentional racial discrimination or harassment, with one wrinkle.

To appease lobbyists for business organizations, and to rally enough votes to override a Bush veto, the Danforth compromise would limit damages for proven intentional harassment to as little as $50,000 for most employers. No such ceiling applies to racial cases.

On another key provision, Bush keeps chanting "quota bill," by way of smearing Danforth's reasonable proposal to correct a recent Supreme Court misinterpretation. Strong majorities in both houses want employers to prove that hiring practices that screen out minorities and women are justified by business needs.

This modest bill would, mainly, restore rights won long ago in Congress but unduly narrowed by the judiciary. It is no quota bill, no radical advance, no peril to honorable businessmen.

For the Senate to enact it now, decisively, would restore reasonable protections to blacks and women and consistency of principle to the Republican Party.

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