Bush Bombs on Rights

PERHAPS President Bush truly does want, as he says, to sign a bill attacking discrimination in the workplace; and maybe he vetoed the Civil Rights Act of 1990 with genuine reluctance in hopes that an even better bill would be forthcoming from Congress. Maybe he honestly thinks that the bill would result in jobs quotas for minorities and women and therefore would itself be discriminatory. It's troubling, though, that the White House has put forth no credible evidence in support of its professed objections to the bill that passed both houses of Congress by wide margins. Besides labeling the act a quotas bill, the administration contends that it would set off an avalanche of opportunistic litigation by fee-mad lawyers. But where's the proof?

The bill reverses or modifies six Supreme Court decisions that made it harder for plaintiffs to win lawsuits claiming discrimination in hiring or promotions. It also expands compensatory and punitive damages available to victims of job discrimination.

President Bush contends that the bill unfairly stacks the deck against employers defending such suits, and that to avoid costly litigation companies will quietly adopt quotas ensuring that their workforces mirror the surrounding population.

A key section of the bill would reinstate a 1971 ruling by the Supreme Court that placed the burden on employers to prove that seemingly discriminatory hiring practices were justified by business necessity. If quotas are the inevitable result, there should be a pattern of quotas in the wake of the 1971 decision. The administration has been unable to identify such a pattern, however. The same is true of provisions Bush says would detonate a litigation explosion: Similar anti-bias provisions in other statutes have not had the bugabooed effect.

With the Senate's failure Wednesday to override the veto, this useful corrective legislation is dead, for now. Too bad. The president acted on either faulty advice or faulty instincts. He may pay a political price.

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