On Rand Paul and the Civil Rights Act
by Jonathan Singer, Thu May 20, 2010 at 10:34:20 AM EDT
desmoinesdem has already written a bit about the recently stated views of Kentucky's Republican Senate nominee Rand Paul -- questioning the validity of the section of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 banning discrimination in public accommodations like restaurants. I just had a chance to watch through Paul's interview with Rachel Maddow, which have included below, and wanted to jot down a few thoughts.
During the interview with Maddow, as well as an earlier interview with NPR's Robert Siegel, Paul made fairly clear that he did not believe it within the bounds of Congress's powers to address issues of private discrimination. In legal parlance, Paul does not believe that Congress's power under Article I, section 8, clause 3 of the Constitution to "regulate Commerce... among the several States" extends to the private actions of the citizens of these states. Instead of Congress addressing the issue of discrimination under this power, Paul apparently believes that it should be left up to private citizens to weed out discrimination. Here's an illustrative exchange from the NPR interview:
SIEGEL: But it's been one of the major developments in American history in the course of your life. I mean, do you think the '64 Civil Rights Act or the ADA for that matter were just overreaches and that business shouldn't be bothered by people with the basis in law to sue them for redress?
Dr. PAUL: Right. I think a lot of things could be handled locally. For example, I think that we should try to do everything we can to allow for people with disabilities and handicaps. You know, we do it in our office with wheelchair ramps and things like that. I think if you have a two-story office and you hire someone who's handicapped, it might be reasonable to let him have an office on the first floor rather than the government saying you have to have a $100,000 elevator. And I think when you get to the solutions like that, the more local the better, and the more common sense the decisions are, rather than having a federal government make those decisions.
The problem with this view is apparent to just about anyone who lives in a world of reality rather than ideology. It is fine enough to believe that, in theory, individuals' contractual and property rights should not be trampled on by the state, and that, what's more, the market will solve all problems. But the fact is the market did not solve the problem of institutional racism. It took state action, not only in directing state actors but also in directing the practices of private individuals like the ones who owned restaurants. The same can be said about the Americans with Disabilities Act, which like the Civil Rights Act restricted individual action to ensure access for those who otherwise might be denied access. The good acts of individual property owners to accommodate their workers in the ways described by Paul in his NPR interview are important -- but they were not enough. Only when the state stepped in were the rights of the disabled to access restaurants and other accommodations ensured.
This isn't to say that Paul is racist or biased against the disabled. He's not. He holds a principled stance against federal action to regulate private action in these areas. But this stance, when the manifested as the law of the land prior to enactment of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, enabled institutional racism to occur. That's a fact. And that's a problem for Paul because it's hard to imagine many Americans, or Kentuckians specifically, want to go back to a period in which segregated lunch counters, whether on the basis of race or disability, are condoned under the law.
[UPDATE by Jonathan]: Four more questions for Rand Paul considering his apparently limited views of Congress's Commerce Clause powers:
- Do you believe the federal minimum wage is constitutional?
- Do you believe federal overtime laws are constitutional?
- Do you believe the federal government has the power to enact work safety laws and regulations?
- Do you believe that federal child labor laws are constitutional?
A "no" answer to any of these questions would presumably be problematic for the Paul campaign considering folks seem to like the minimum wage, laws that stop employers from, say, making their workers use machines that cut off their hands, and laws that prohibit 7 year olds from laboring in coal mines.
UPDATE from desmoinesdem: Paul's campaign issued a statement today on the controversy. He says he supports the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and will not seek to repeal it. "As I have said in previous statements, sections of the Civil Rights Act were debated on Constitutional grounds when the legislation was passed. Those issues have been settled by federal courts in the intervening years."