PHOTO: Senate candidate Rand Paul (R-KY) with his father, Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX). They both oppose key sections of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
On Tuesday night Rand Paul (KY) won the Republican Party’s nomination for an open seat in the U.S. Senate in a landslide. He hit the interview circuit Wednesday for the first time as the official nominee, but immediately stunned many political observers. Paul refused to say he supports the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act or the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Every GOP Senate candidate for the past two decades has supported the Civil Rights Act. Paul, an ophthalmologist, has never before sought political office but his candidacy received massive support from Libertarians across the nation. His father, Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), was the 1988 Libertarian candidate for president and sought the GOP presidential nomination in 2008.
Incumbent Senator Jim Bunning (R-KY) is retiring and on Tuesday evening Democrats narrowly nominated state Attorney General Jack Conway, 40. Conway was on MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews on Wednesday evening and said civil rights will be a major issue in the campaign. Conway said he supported the Civil Rights Act while Paul was opposed to it.
The legislation banned racial discrimination in public accommodations such as hotels, restaurants and movie houses.
On Wednesday afternoon, Paul, 47, was asked about his position on segregation. Three times on National Public Radio (NPR), the GOP candidate was asked if he would have supported the Civil Rights Act had he been a Senator in 1964. He evaded the questions, but said he would have preferred local solutions to the problem of racial discrimination.
On Wednesday evening Paul appeared on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show, where the question was once again raised three times. When he did not give a direct answer, she played a tape of Paul saying he was opposed to the Civil Rights Act. Paul emphasized that he is not a racist but was against the portion of the Civil Rights Act which says businesses cannot discriminate.
Paul says he supports ending discrimination in the federal government, but opposes the regulation of private business. The candidate said he was opposed to Title II of the Act because it made it a crime for private businesses to discriminate against customers on the basis of race, and he viewed that as a violation of the first amendment. One exchange was as follows:
Maddow:… How about desegregating lunch counters?
Paul: Well what it gets into then is if you decide that restaurants are publicly owned and not privately owned, then do you say that you should have the right to bring your gun into a restaurant even though the owner of the restaurant says ‘well no, we don’t want to have guns in here’ the bar says ‘we don’t want to have guns in here because people might drink and start fighting and shoot each-other.’ Does the owner of the restaurant own his restaurant? Or does the government own his restaurant? These are important philosophical debates but not a very practical discussion.
Maddow: Well, it was pretty practical to the people who had the life nearly beaten out of them trying to desegregate Walgreen’s lunch counters despite these esoteric debates about what it means about ownership. This is not a hypothetical Dr. Paul.
The Civil Rights Act banned segregation in schools and public spaces and made it illegal to discriminate in housing and hiring processes. Private organizations and clubs can discriminate. Businesses however are public, and therefore the Civil Rights Act applies. A business can not deny the equal rights of a consumer. Jim Geraghty of National Review says “Libertarianism aims to protect individual rights but segregated lunch counters negate individual rights.”
In an interview with the Louisville Courier Journal, Paul said “I don’t like the idea of telling private business owners. I abhor racism. I think it’s a bad business decision to ever exclude anybody from your restaurant. But at the same time I do believe in private ownership. But I think that there should be absolutely no discrimination in anything that gets any public funding.”
An editorial in the Louisville Courier Journal two days before the primary said Rand Paul has a strange interpretation of the 14th Amendment regarding civil rights and equal protection of the law:
The trouble with Dr. Paul is that despite his independent thinking, much of what he stands for is repulsive to people in the mainstream. For instance, he holds an unacceptable view of civil rights, saying that while the federal government can enforce integration of government jobs and facilities, private business people should be able to decide whether they want to serve black people, or gays, or any other minority group. He quickly emphasizes that he personally would not agree with any form of discrimination, but he just doesn’t think it should be legislated.
Rand Paul’s father, Congressman Ron Paul, says the Civil Rights Act is a violation of the Constitution and it reduces individual liberties. He was one of only 33 Congressmen to oppose the renewal of the Voting Rights Act. A 2008 interview on “Meet The Press” featured the following exchange with the Congressman:
Q: In a speech you gave in 2004, the 40th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, you said: “Contrary to the claims of supporters of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the act did not improve race relations or enhance freedom. Instead, the forced integration dictated by the Civil Rights Act increased racial tensions while diminishing individual liberty.” That act gave equal rights to African-Americans to vote, to live, to go to lunch counters, and you seem to be criticizing it.
A: Well, we should do this at a federal level, it’d be OK for the military. Just think of how the government caused all the segregation in the military until after World War II.
Q: You would vote against the Civil Rights Act, if it was today?
A: If it were written the same way, where the federal government’s taken over property–it has nothing to do with race relations. It has nothing to do with racism, it has to do with the Constitution and private property rights.
Rand Paul has repeatedly said he is not a racist. Strom Thurmond and George Wallace also said that when they ran for president as “States Rights” segregationists. They wanted civil rights to be decided by the states, not the federal government.
The Supreme Court has upheld Title II (public accommodations) of the Civil Rights Act. A business which is open to the public cannot discriminate in terms of race, sex or national origin. Civil rights provides equal opportunities for all, and if you want to serve the public, you can not tell customers that black, Jews, gays or any other minority is not welcome.
This is definitely an area where the federal government was needed, and it is best described in Martin Luther King’s book “Why We Can’t Wait.” King said blacks had been waiting for over a century since the emancipation proclamation, and little substantive action had occurred. The solution demanded action from the federal government.
In 1963 King helped to launch the civil rights movement in Birmingham, Alabama. He tells the story of bus boycotts, lunch counter sit-ins and prayer marches to change the policies of both public and private business. The Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act resulted in significant positive change, and very few lawmakers would advocate their repeal.
Once again, Rand Paul says he is not a racist, but he has hired them. Those who wanted legal segregation to continue were able to obtain it by saying the federal government should stay out of private businesses. Today it is accepted that businesses which serve the public should not be able to discriminate. In the past it was not possible to solve this issue on the local level.
Unfortunately it was necessary for President Eisenhower to send the 101st Airborne Division from Kentucky to Little Rock, Arkansas. President Kennedy sent federal troops to the University of Mississippi and he had to take over Alabama’s National Guard. There are times when federal action is required to make sure there is not any roll back in civil rights policies.
Several commentators are now criticizing Rand Paul’s simplistic approach to the Constitution. Even the framers knew there were limits to the rights of those holding private property.
For example, what if a property owner along the U.S. border said they would allow egress to America because they had an unfettered right to use their property in any manner they desired. Or perhaps a business in the middle of a war decided to sell its property to the enemy based on a better price or simply opposition to the war?
There have been laws and regulations concerning the use of property even before the US was created. The water laws in the original colonies rested upon the argument that the upstream property owner did not have an absolute right to use the water anyway they wanted.
There is a huge distinction between private property used as a home and private property on which a business is conducted for profit and to which the general public is invited. Business can’t be divorced from the community in which they operate.
For that reason, no one would say that they shouldn’t be required to follow certain health standards, building codes, safety regulations, zoning laws and child-labor laws — all ways in which businesses are regulated in the public interest. The Civil Rights Act simply extended that principle to another problem of grave public concern.
Simply put, what you do privately or in your own home is your own concern, including who you invite as guests and who you choose to marry. It has no relationship to the laws or regulations that govern running a business open to the general public. And when you’re running a business, declining to serve a customer because of the way he or she behaves or because of the person’s reputation, such as a low FICO score, has no relation to refusing service on the basis of that person’s race.
We should also note that there are no absolute rights in a democracy. The argument that property rights are sacrosanct ignores the fact that all rights are relative to the rights of others. In a different time and age, for instance, supporters of slavery once argued for the continuation of that institution on the grounds that slaves were private property.
Furthermore, there were actually laws on the books in southern states mandating segregated private facilities at that time. It wasn’t the business owners, but their customers, who were demanding it. The Supreme Court case of Plessey v. Ferguson involved a state statue criminalizing transportation of Blacks and Whites in the same train car.
FREEDOM OF SPEECH
The Civil Rights Act has nothing to do with the First Amendment. The owners of restaurants, hotels and other establishments that serve the public are completely free to hate blacks, Jews and other minorities as much as they want. They’re completely free to believe that any group other than their own is inferior and to shout that opinion from the rooftops.
But refusing to serve a particular group based on race, religion or ethnic background when you’re in the business of serving the public at large crosses the line from speech to behavior and infringes on the rights of others. It’s not unlike that old quote from Oliver Wendell Holmes: “The right to swing your fist stops at my nose.”
UPDATE, May 29th
Last night the Republican-controlled Kentucky State Senate unanimously passed a resolution vigorously supporting the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1968 Fair Housing Act. Why were they debating legislation which was decided over 40 years ago? Because all KY Republicans are now being asked about civil rights in light of Rand Paul’s comments. He said “I think a lot of things could be handled locally.”
The KY Republicans emphasized it was naïve to think southern states would have voluntarily stopped discrimination. The Constitutional Convention of 1787 was necessary to create a “more perfect union,” because the states rights approach under a decade of the Articles of Confederation was creating havoc.
The federal government would be needed to end segregation, child labor, unsafe food and projects such as the transcontinental railroad because a national solution could not wait for local action.
This Norman Rockwell painting entitled “The Problem We All Live With” depicts the day in 1960 when 6 year old Ruby Bridges of Louisiana became the first African-American child to attend an all-white elementary school in the South.
The Eisenhower administration had to send federal marshals to escort her to school every single day of that first year. All but one of the white teachers refused to have a black child in their classroom.
Her father immediately lost his job and her grandparents were thrown off their land. The civil rights struggle was just beginning. Rand Paul’s father still opposes the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act and the Fair Housing Act. He does not speak for the Republican Party and never has.