Joe Biden voted to allow racially segregated private schools to keep their tax exempt status in the late ’70s, a stance that put him at odds with the Carter administration and drew criticism from civil rights groups at the time.
Biden was among 54 senators who voted in 1979 to keep the “Dornan rider”—a provision that barred the IRS from revoking the tax-exempt status of segregated private schools, sometimes called “white flight academies,” that had appeared in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 1954 ruling integrating public schools.
Biden’s vote is one of multiple instances in which the then-senator actively opposed federal school desegregation efforts in the 1970s and 1980s, a position that has raised problems for him at a time when the Democratic Party is grappling with unrest over historical racial inequalities. During the Democratic primary, Sen. Kamala Harris (Calif.), now a prospective vice-presidential candidate, took aim at Biden’s history on busing and called his work with pro-segregation senators “hurtful.” And while black southern voters helped propel Biden to the nomination, that support could be upended by the protest movement for racial justice sweeping the nation.
Sen. Jacob Javits (R., N.Y.), who introduced the amendment to strike the Dornan rider, argued at the time that segregated private schools “continue routinely to get tax exemption to which under law or morality they are not entitled.”
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