Not the First Time

This is not the first time the MAGA Party (and its predecessor the GOP) tried to overturn women’s rights to equal protection under the law.  And if you wonder why this post is listed under “sports” instead of “politics” or “culture,” that is because the focus of this entry has nothing to do with Roe v. Wade, the Dobbs decision or the draconian efforts by MAGA-dominated legislatures to “punish” women who dare to want control over their own health care.

Today’s topic is Title IX of the Civil Rights Act.  Based on the Fourteenth Amendment principle of equal treatment under the law ratified four years AFTER the Arizona ban on abortion (sorry, I could not miss that opportunity), Congress passed and President Richard Nixon signed the bill which amended the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by adding Title IX which reads:

No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.

There was just one problem.  At a time when the Supreme Court actually read the text of the Constitution or of laws, the justices rightfully focused on the word “program,”   In 1984, the Court ruled in the case of Grove City College v. Bell that “program” must be taken literally.  In other words, alleged discrimination under the act only applied when someone was denied access to the specific program or activity to which federal funding or subsidies applied.  Therefore, athletic programs, which seldom received federal funding (as was a school lunch program), were not subject to Title IX, even if that was more limited than Congress intended.

To remedy the situation, Senate Edward Kennedy introduced Senate Bill 557, the Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1987, adding that Title IX and all other parts of the Civil Rights Act applied when federal funds were accepted for programs that were “any part” of an institution’s operations.  For example, Title IX would apply to athletic programs regardless whether federal funds were dedicated to that specific program or activity. The bill passed in the Senate on January 28, 1988 by a vote of 75-14.  Likewise, it passed in the House of Representatives on March 2, 1988 by a vote of 315-98.  On March 16, President Reagan vetoed SB 557, despite a warning from then House Speaker Jim Wright a veto would be “ill advised.”  In his veto message to Congress, Reagan restated the paradox that today still haunts the MAGA party.

The Congress should enact legislation designed to eliminate invidious discrimination and to ensure equality of opportunity for all Americans while preserving their basic freedoms from governmental interference and control. Regrettably, the bill presented to me fails to achieve that objective.

In other words, people are entitled to basic freedoms as long as there are no mechanisms to enforce them.

Fortunately, enough Senate Republicans joined with Democrats to override the veto by a vote of 73-24 despite then Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s warning:

S. 557, the so-called Civil Rights Restoration Act, would take away people’s civil rights to be left alone by the Government, to worship as they see fit, and to pursue their livelihood without having to file forms in triplicate with a giant, impersonal bureaucracy every step of the way. Overall, this bill promises less freedom and more government in every corner of America.

The same day the House followed suit and overrode Reagan’s veto by a vote of 292-133.  Note, however, that in both chambers some Republicans who had voted “yea” for the original bill switched their vote in support of the veto (10 in the Senate and 35 in the House).  Sound familiar?  A precursor of MAGA flip flops on the border security bill.  “I am for it until the head of our party tells us to kill it.”

Believe it or not, I am not sharing this detailed account of a political debate from four decades ago just to prove that MAGA hypocrisy about small government is nothing new.  My real objective is to demonstrate to the growing number of Americans who believe that a party’s policy positions do not matter that they, in fact, matter a lot.

Last week, the ESPN broadcast of the women’s NCAA basketball championship game drew an audience of 18.867 million viewers.  In contrast, the men’s broadcast, which was simulcast on three cable networks, pulled 14.823 million viewers.  But for Title IX and the 1988 amendments, the prospect for women’s basketball to have outpaced its men’s counterpart would be unimaginable.  Likewise, the quality of talent on the LPGA tour would be diminished without the opportunities for young girls to compete in golf during high school and college.  Not to mention the success of the USA women’s soccer team in World Cup and Olympic competition (17 of the 18 members of 2021 Olympic champion USA squad played collegiate soccer).

So, this year, when Donald Trump, MAGA members of Congress or their surrogates talk about government overreach, they may pretend they are protecting your freedom.  When, in fact, they are doing just the opposite, reducing your opportunities and choices.


There was an uncomfortable moment at the end of the South Carolina-Iowa women’s NCAA final that had nothing to do with the score or the officiating.  Once the final outcome was no longer in doubt, both coaches called timeouts to pull their stars off the court to standing ovations.  As they walked down the line of coaches and teammates, there were hugs for every female.  Yet when they came to a male assistant coach, they kept their distance.  I wondered if this was a precaution precipitated by the inappropriate actions of the head of the Spanish soccer federation Luis Rubiales, who kissed a member of his country’s World Cup team on the lips.  If so, it is a sad commentary how the “rules of engagement” have changed in response to unacceptable behavior by celebrities, coaches or a former president of the United States who believe “when you’re famous, you can do whatever you want.”

For what it’s worth.