WASHINGTON – A sweeping anti-affirmative action proposal that would have ended racial and gender preferences in federal hiring and contracting was rejected Thursday by a House panel.
The House Judiciary Committee killed the Civil Rights Act of 1997 by a 17-9 vote. Rep. George W. Gekas, R-Pa., led a group of three Republicans and 14 Democrats to quash the measure. Nine GOP legislators voted against the action.
The bill was sponsored by Rep. Charles Canady, R-Fla., and Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Frederick, was one of the 53 co-sponsors. The broad span of the bill, which would have affected federal actions such as the enforcement of the voting rights act and school desegregation, prompted the GOP division.
Prominent black leaders and politicians, who had front-row seats in the overflowing Capitol Hill hearing room, cheered the vote and attributed the defeat to the large audience turnout and strong opposition to the bill.
“The foundation of politics is the mobilization of the people,” said Rep. Albert Wynn, D-Prince George’s. “The turnout played a part, but also the overall intensity, the rallying and the fact that there was a full room.”
Civil rights leader Jesse Jackson called the decision “a major victory.”
“Clearly the Republicans are aware of the intensity of opposition,” Jackson said.
Following the vote, Jackson led a prayer urging people to continue to fight for the American dream and for “equal opportunities for all: red, yellow, brown, black and white.”
Black leaders encouraged the audience to keep up the lobbying effort and to support affirmative action.
“If you fight you can win, and you never know if you don’t put forth the effort,” said Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif.
Waters told the crowd that “simply because it was tabled today doesn’t mean that it won’t be taken up again. Always be alerted.”
In a pre-hearing rally organized by the Congressional Black Caucus, speakers explained to the packed audience what the bill would mean to equality in the federal work place.
“The bill is both sweeping and comprehensive and could remove the foundations of racial and gender equality, for which our ancestors fought, suffered and died,” said Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, D-Baltimore.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, cited a similar measure defeated in Houston that also would have ended affirmative action, and drove home to the audience that such a bill eliminates all “gender-conscious remedies.”
“This is like the mother of all anti-civil rights bills,” Lee said. She stressed that the bill would end all quotas, numerical goals, timetables and consent decrees in hiring women and minorities.
Wynn ended the rally by urging the audience to continue to oppose similar legislation.
“The struggle continues,” Wynn said. “It is our turn, it is our responsibility, it is our duty to fight this fight.”