Speaking on Fox News this morning, former GOP House Majority Leader and Tea Party profiteer Dick Armey falsely claimed that Republican Kentucky Senate candidate Rand Paul’s opposition to the federal ban on whites’-only lunch counters is something much more benign:
ARMEY: [H]e says I am for the civil rights amendment; I am for civil rights. But had I been in the Senate, I would have examined the constitutional issues related to some provisions of the act. Is a senator not supposed to examine the constitutional provisions of a complex law under consideration?
KILMEADE: Right. Gotcha.
ARMEY: Now, the fact of the matter is the guy’s getting, he’s getting harangued unreasonably for what is in fact the reasonable expression of I would have done my duty as an elected senator had I been in the Senate at that time.
For the record, Armey’s claim that Paul was merely explaining that he would examine a law for constitutional problems before supporting it is false. In Paul’s lengthy interview with Rachel Maddow, he stated that he supports only “nine out of ten” parts of the Civil Rights Act, and that he would “modify” the law to accommodate his opposition to the provisions governing private actors. Lest there be any doubt about Paul’s opposition to laws prohibiting discrimination by private institutions, in a 2002 letter to the editor Paul unambiguously stated that a “free society” will maintain “the distinction between private and public property” by “abid[ing] unofficial, private discrimination — even when that means allowing hate-filled groups to exclude people based on the color of their skin.”
Even if his claims about Paul’s views were accurate, Armey’s statement that there are “constitutional issues” with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 not only places him in the lunatic fringe today, it also represented a fringe view when the Act became law more than 45 years ago.
President Johnson signed the Act into law on July 2, 1964. Less than six months later — a shockingly fast pace for major litigation — the Supreme Court handed down two unanimous decisions upholding the law against constitutional challenges. Likewise, outside of the eleven former Confederate states — where opposition to the Act was driven entirely by support for segregation — over 90 percent of Congress voted in favor of the law. A tiny handful of non-Jim Crow members of Congress did raise constitutional concerns about the law, but these fringe lawmakers cut against the unanimous view of the Supreme Court and the nearly-unanimous views of non-southern lawmakers.
It’s not clear whether Armey is referring to the non-Southerners crankish objections or the objections of unreconstructed Southern racists when he cites “constitutional issues” with the Civil Rights Act. Either way, Armey’s views would have put him well outside the mainstream even in 1964.