Yes, we built it; can we repair it? Pt. 11

The open housing debate had far reaching effects outside of California.  Liberal Senator Paul Douglas was up for re-election in 1966.  He had been an architect of many New Deal policies and a civil rights champion.  Martin Luther King, Jr. had once referred to Douglas as the greatest of all the Senators. His opponent was moderate Republican Charles Percy.  Percy had funded his own war on poverty in the Chicago slums and supported the Civil Rights Act of 1966 in June of 1966 which included equal housing.  However, during the campaign Percy went on CBS’s Face the Nation and said that he still “supported the ‘principle of open housing, he disagreed with Senator Douglas on one thing: housing, including ‘single family dwellings’ would be an ‘unpassable and unenforceable’ attack on property rights.  ‘Right now, we aren’t ready to force people to accept those they don’t want as neighbors.’ Perlstein wrote that in The Invisible Bridge.  Percy was able to win the election in November and focused his first bill on trying to provide home ownership to those in poverty.  The reasoning was that his campaigns had always seen the issue of adequate housing as the most important.

Gerald Ford, the House Minority Leader, blamed the open-housing struggle for law and order’s decline saying as Perlstein wrote in The Invisible Bridge, “respect for law and order is basic to the achievement of common goals within our nation…since [open housing]’s inception it has created confusion and bitterness.  It has divided the country and fostered discord and animosity when calmness and a unified approach to civil rights problems are desperately needed.”  The official Republican Congressional response to housing had changed to match the John Birch society’s response within a year of the Watts riots.

Soon after the passage of Proposition 14, the Superior Court in Orange County, found that Proposition 14 added to the California Constitution would violate the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause.  Reagan criticized the ruling.  Perlstein notes in The Invisible Bridge that Reagan was very critical of it.  He said

I have never believed that majority rule has the right to impose on an individual as to what he does with his property.  This has nothing to do with discrimination.  It has to do with our freedom, our basic freedom.

Reagan’s speech was praised by Southern Californians who have always had a streak of libertarian principles in their platforms.  Even today, the richer and whiter portions of Orange County have a strong libertarian streak in them including the county’s newspaper, the Orange County Register.

The Los Angeles Times wrote that California Democrats “now believe Ronald Reagan has an excellent chance to be the next governor of the most populous state in the union.”

The appeal to the California Supreme Court found the same thing finding that Proposition 14 required the state to become an agent of discrimination.  The argument from the supporters of Proposition 14 was that the initiative permitted private discrimination.  The United States Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the California Supreme Court.  The majority’s opinion included:

Here we are dealing with a provision which does not just repeal an existing law forbidding private racial discrimination.  Section 26 was intended to authorize, and authorize, racial discrimination in the housing market.  The right to discriminate is now one of the basic policies of the State.

The Supreme Court’s decision reinstated the Unruh Act and Rumford Act in May of 1967.

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