Public Papers

Remarks on the Civil Rights Act of 1991


Welcome to the White House. And may I salute the members of the Cabinet who are here today, Members of the Congress, many Members of Congress, distinguished guests.

Today we celebrate a law that will fight the evil of discrimination while also building bridges of harmony between Americans of all races, sexes, creeds, and backgrounds.

For the past few years, the issue of civil rights legislation has divided Americans. No more. From day one, I told the American people that I wanted a civil rights bill that advances the cause of equal opportunity. And I wanted a bill that advances the cause of racial harmony. And I wanted a bill that encourages people to work together. And today I am signing that bill, the Civil Rights Act of 1991.

Discrimination, whether on the basis of race, national origin, sex, religion, or disability, is worse than wrong. It's an evil that strikes at the very heart of the American ideal. This bill, building on current law, will help ensure that no American will discriminate against another.

For these reasons, this is a very good bill. Let me repeat: This is a very good bill. Last year, back in May of 1990 in the Rose Garden, right here with some of you present, I appealed for a bill I could sign. And I said that day that I cannot and will not sign a quota bill. Instead, I said that the American people deserved a civil rights bill that number one, insisted that employers focus on equal opportunity, not on developing strategies to avoid litigation. Number two, they deserved a bill that was based upon fundamental principles of fairness, that anyone who believes their rights have been violated is entitled to their day in court, and that the accused are innocent until proved guilty. And number three, they deserved a bill that provided adequate deterrent against harassment based upon race, sex, religion, or disability.

I also said that day back in 1990 that this administration is committed to action that is truly affirmative, positive action in every sense, to strike down all barriers to advancement of every kind for all people. And in that same spirit, I say again today, ``I support affirmative action. Nothing in this bill overturns the Government's affirmative action programs.''

And unlike last year's bill, a bill I was forced to veto, this bill will not encourage quotas or racial preferences because this bill will not create lawsuits on the basis of numbers alone. I oppose quotas because they incite tensions between the races, between the sexes, between people who get trapped in a numbers game.

This bill contains several important innovations. For example, it contains strong new remedies for the victims of discrimination and harassment, along with provisions capping damages that are an important model to be followed in tort reform. And it encourages mediation and arbitration between parties before the last resort of litigation. Our goal and our promise is harmony, a return to civility and brotherhood, as we build a better America for ourselves and our children.

We had to work hard for this agreement. This bill passed both Houses of Congress overwhelmingly with broad support on both sides of the aisle. A tip of the hat goes to Senator Kennedy and former Congressman Hawkins, who, way back in February of 1990, got the ball rolling. And I congratulate and thank particularly Senators Dole, Danforth, and Hatch, Congressmen Michel, Goodling, and Hyde for ensuring that today's legislation fulfills those principles that I outlined in the Rose Garden last year.

No one likes to oppose a bill containing the words ``civil rights,'' especially me. And no one in Congress likes to vote against one, either. I owe a debt of gratitude to those who stood with us against counterproductive legislation last year and again earlier this year, as well as to those who led the way toward the important agreement we've reached today. I'm talking about Democrats, I'm talking about Republicans, and those outside the Congress who played a constructive role. And to all of you, I am very, very grateful, because I believe this is in the best interest of the United States.

But to the Congress I also say this: The 1991 civil rights bill is only the first step. If we seek -- and I believe that every one of us does -- to build a new era of harmony and shared purpose, we must make it possible for all Americans to scale the ladder of opportunity. If we seek to ease racial tensions in America, civil rights legislation is, by itself, not enough. The elimination of discrimination in the workplace is a vital element of the American dream, but it is simply not enough.

I believe in an America free from racism, free from bigotry.

I believe in an America where anyone who wants to work has a job.

I believe in an America where every child receives a first-rate education, a place where our children have the same chance to achieve their goals as everyone else's kids do.

I believe in an America where all people enjoy equal protection under the law, where everyone can live and work in a climate free from fear and despair, where drugs and crime have been banished from our neighborhoods and from our schools.

And I believe in an America where everyone has a place to call his own, a stake in the community, the comfort of a home.

I believe in an America where we measure success not in dollars and lawsuits but in opportunity, prosperity, and harmony. I believe in the ideals we all share, ideals that made America great: Decency, fairness, faith, hard work, generosity, vigor, and vision.

The American dream rests on the vision of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In our workplaces, in our schools, or on our streets, this dream begins with equality and opportunity. Our agenda for the next American century, whether it be guaranteeing equal protection under the law, promoting excellence in education, or creating jobs, will ensure for generations to come that America remains the beacon of opportunity in the world. Now, with great pride -- and thanks to so many people here in the Rose Garden today, especially the Members of Congress with us -- with great pride I will sign this good, sound legislation into law. Thank you very much.

[At this point the President signed the Civil Rights Act of 1991.]

Note: The President spoke at 1:18 p.m. in a signing ceremony in the Rose Garden at the White House. S. 1745, the Civil Rights Act of 1991, was assigned Public Law No. 102 - 166.