Biden 1981: Busing Least ‘Effective Remedy’ to Integrate Public Schools

Former Vice President Joe Biden claimed busing was the least "effective remedy" to integrate public schools during an interview in 1981.
AP Photo

Former Vice President Joe Biden claimed busing was the least “effective remedy” to integrate public schools during an interview in 1981.

Biden, who is embroiled in controversy for his recent praise of segregationists, made the comments during an interview with CNN in July 1981. At the time, Biden was 39-years-old and had just been elevated to ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has purview over all civil rights legislation.

He appeared on the network to discuss an anti-busing measure he supported, which sought to “limit the power of Federal courts to issue school busing orders in desegregation cases.”

“I happen to be one of those so-called people that are labeled as a liberal on civil rights, but oppose busing,” he said. “I support the effort to curtail the ability of courts to bus.”

Biden further argued that busing was not “constitutionally required” and had no “utilitarian value for desegregation.”

“I have argued as one who grew up in the civil rights movement and ran for office as a public defender and a member of an active participant in civil rights cases,” he said. “I have argued that the least effective remedy to be imposed is the busing remedy.”

Biden added there were better ways to approach educational integration, including the “altering of school district lines,” construction of new schools, and repeal of certain laws that “prevented the movement of black students into a white school area.”

The remarks are similar to those Biden made to a local Delaware newspaper in 1975 on the topic.

“I oppose busing,” he said. “It’s an asinine concept, the utility of which has never been proven to me… I’ve gotten to the point where I think our only recourse to eliminate busing may be a constitutional amendment.”

The issue comes to back into the spotlight as Biden is facing increasing criticism for his record on civil rights. At the first Democrat presidential debate on Thursday, Biden was confronted by Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) for praising the “civility” of two ardent segregationists, the late-Sens. James Eastland (D-MS) and Herman Talmadge (D-GA), at a fundraiser in New York City last month. Biden mentioned the two men while touting his history of being able to fashion “consensus” within Congress.

“I agree with you when you commit yourself to the importance of finding common ground,” Harris said, “but I also believe and it’s personal and it was hurtful to hear you talk about the reputations of two United States senator who built their reputations and career on the segregation of race in this country.”

Although Biden has mentioned the segregationist Democrats on the campaign trail in the past, he has refrained from discussing what they were able to accomplish together. Harris, however, was quick to point that both Talmadge and Eastland were allies in Biden’s campaign against busing.

“It was not only that, but you also worked with them to oppose bussing,” she said. “There was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools and she was bussed to school every day. That little girl was me. So I will tell you that on this subject, it cannot be an intellectual debate… we have to take it seriously.”

Biden responded by claiming Harris had mischaracterized his record. Instead of providing evidence to dispute Harris’s claims, though, the former vice president only muddled his stance on busing and falsely claimed to never have offered praise for racists.

On Friday, Biden made another attempt to defend his record during a surprise appearance at Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow/Push Coalition in Chicago, Illinois. At the event, Biden tried to qualify his stance by saying he never opposed “voluntary busing.”

“I’ve always been in favor of using federal authorities to overcome state initiated segregation,” he said, highlighting his 1974 vote against the Gurney amendment, which tried to ban federal courts from mandating busing to counter segregation.

Biden also refused to apologize for his past, saying that one debate could not “do justice” to his long record on civil rights.

“I heard and I listened to and I respect Senator Harris,” he said. “But we all know that 30 seconds and 60 seconds on a debate exchange can’t do justice to a lifetime committed to civil rights.”

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