GAINESVILLE, Florida — Last week, former presidents and dignitaries celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, which bans many forms of employment discrimination and whites-only lunch counters, among other things. This week, a Republican congressman declared that he’s not sure if the Civil Rights Act is even constitutional.
Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL), a freshman congressman aligned with the Tea Party, held a town hall Monday evening in Gainesville where he fielded a wide range of questions from constituents. One such voter was Melvin Flournoy, a 57-year-old African American from Gainesville, who asked Yoho whether he believes the Civil Rights Act is constitutional.
The easy answer in this case — “yes” — has the benefit of also being correct. But Yoho found the question surprisingly difficult.
“Is it constitutional, the Civil Rights Act?” Yoho repeated before giving his reply: “I wish I could answer that 100 percent.” The Florida Republican then went on to strongly imply it may be unconstitutional: “I know a lot of things that were passed are not constitutional, but I know it’s the law of the land.”
FLOURNOY: Do you think that any part of the Civil Rights Act of 1965 [sic], do you think any part of that is constitutional? And then if you’d discuss why. […]
YOHO: This country grew through a lot of growing pain. We’re going through it again. As we grow as a country and prosper, we’re going to go through it again in the future. That’s why I’m so thankful for the Constitution because it allows us to do that. Is it constitutional, the Civil Rights Act? I wish I could answer that 100 percent. I know a lot of things that were passed are not constitutional, but I know it’s the law of the land.
Yoho is not the only Republican on Capitol Hill still uncomfortable with the constitutionality of the country’s premier landmark civil rights law. During the 2010 campaign, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) famously declared his opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Yet, while Yoho is unsure about the legality of the Civil Rights Act, he has no problem invoking the memory of civil rights leaders in his party’s zeal to repeal Obamacare. “It only takes one with passion — look at Rosa Parks, Lech Walesa, Martin Luther King,” Yoho said while discussing the GOP’s attempt to defund Obamacare, which led to a government shutdown last year.
Flournoy was less than pleased with his congressman’s response. “I wasn’t surprised,” he told ThinkProgress after the town hall, “but I was disappointed that he doesn’t support the Civil Rights Act,” noting that it’s one of the most important pieces of legislation in American history.
Two days after this story was published, Yoho released a statement saying he believes the Civil Rights Act is, in fact, constitutional: “The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is one of the most significant, and constitutional, pieces of legislation in the past 100 years. After going through the constitutional process of being passed by Congress, signed by the President, and upheld by the Supreme Court, it is the law of the land. Our country is better off and stronger because of Civil Rights Act of 1964.”