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.
For the better part of a generation, there was broad agreement within the American mainstream about the legitimacy and utility of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It wasn't until quite recently that some prominent Republican lawmakers began approaching the landmark law in a very different way.
Perhaps the most striking example came in 2010, when then Senate candidate Rand Paul (R-Ky.) initially said he disagreed with parts of the Civil Right Act. In one especially memorable exchange, Rachel asked Paul on the air, "Do you think that a private business has the right to say, 'We don't serve black people'?" Paul replied, "Yes."
Four years later, Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) wasn't willing to go quite this far, but Scott Keyes noted that the congressman isn't convinced the Civil Right Act is legally permissible.
The correct answer is, "Of course it is." Regrettably that's not what Yoho said.
"Is it constitutional, the Civil Rights Act?" the Florida Republican replied. "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."
The "law of the land" reference presumably suggests Yoho doesn't intend to repeal the Civil Rights Act, but the congressman is nevertheless unsure of the law's constitutional legitimacy.
In case anyone's forgotten, let's set the record straight: the Supreme Court heard a challenge the Civil Rights Act 50 years ago in a case called Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States. Yoho may not be able to answer the question "100 percent," but the justices had far less trouble: in 9-0 ruling, the high court upheld the law.
Incidentally, if Yoho's name sounds familiar, he's the same congressman who wants to impeach Attorney General Eric Holder and who recently argued that if the United States defaulted on its debt, it "would bring stability to the world markets."
Now, Yoho will probably be known for something else.