The statute that among many other things marked the beginning of employment law as a discipline, passed a major hurdle 50 years ago today when it passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 290 to 130.
According to a study of the Civil Rights Act’s legislative history, The Longest Debate by Charles and Barbara Whalen, the final vote was 290 to 130.
Supporting the bill were 152 Democrats and 138 Republicans. Opposing it were 96 Democrats (including 86 from the 11 states of the Confederacy) and 34 Republicans, including 10 from the South.
Hard to imagine in light of today’s partisan divide in both chambers of Congress.
Regarding Title VII, the bill that was passed and sent to the Senate was actually stronger than the one originally introduced. It had gone beyond enforcement by persuasion to creating for the first time a private cause of action, albeit one that was much more limited than it would become with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1991.
While the passage by the House of Representatives was a major feat standing alone, it was by no means certain that it would amount to more than a grand gesture as the bill now went to the Senate where it awaited a certain filibuster.
I am quite certain that on this date 50 years ago when I was looking forward to the end of 8th grade at Sulphur Springs Junior High School, and the prospect of actually being in high school, I had no idea that legislation which would change the world as we knew it had achieved such a major step. And certainly no thought that legislation was moving through Congress that would create a new field of law that would ultimately be the way I would spend my entire professional life.