The World’s Longest Question

By September 14, 2005General

At yesterday’s morning confirmation hearing for Judge Roberts, Sen. Kennedy arguably asked the World’s Longest Question of Chief Justice nominee John Roberts.

So long was it that Kennedy tried to interrupt Judge Roberts as he began to answer, at which point Sen. Specter even remarked, “Let him finish his answer. That was a quite long question. Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Senator Kennedy just propounded a very, very long question.”

Here is the question that got it all started:

KENNEDY: Let me, if I could, go to the Civil Rights Restoration Act. In 1981, you support an effort by the Department of Education to reverse 17 years of civil right protections at colleges and universities that receive federal funds. Under the new regulations, the definition of federal assistance to colleges and universities would be narrow to exclude certain types of student loans and grants so that fewer institutions would be covered by the civil rights laws. As a result, more colleges and universities would legally be able to discriminate against people of color, women and the disabled. Your efforts to narrow the protection of the civil rights laws did not stop there, however. In 1984, in Grove City v. Bell, the Supreme Court decided, contrary to the Department of Education regulation that you supported, that student loans and grants did indeed constitute federal assistance to colleges for purposes of triggering civil rights protections. But, in a surprising twist, the court concluded that the nondiscrimination laws were intended to apply only to the specific program receiving the funds and not to the institution as a whole. Under that reasoning, a university that received federal aid in the form of tuition could not discriminate in admissions but was free to discriminate in athletics, housing, faculty hiring and any other programs that did not receive the direct funds. If the admissions office didn’t discriminate, they got the funds through the admission office, they could discriminate in any other place of the university. A strong bipartisan majority in both the House and the Senate decided to pass another law, the Civil Rights Restoration Act, to make it clear that they intended to prohibit discrimination in all programs and activities of a university that received federal assistance. You vehemently opposed the Civil Rights Restoration Act. Even after the Grove City court found otherwise, you still believed that there was, quote — and this is your quote — a good deal of intuitive appeal to the argument that federal loans and grants to students should not be viewed as federal financial assistance to the university. You realize, of course, that these loans and grants to the students were paid to the university as tuition. Then, even though you acknowledged that the program-specific aspect of the Supreme Court decision was going to be overturned by the congressional legislation, you continued to believe that it would be, quote, too onerous for colleges to comply with nondiscrimination laws across the entire university unless it was, quote, on the basis of something more solid than federal aid to students. Judge Roberts, if your position prevailed, it would have been legal in many cases to discriminate in athletics for girls, women. It would have been legal to discriminate in the hiring of teachers. It would have been legal not to provide services or accommodations to the disabled. Do you still believe today that it is too onerous for the government to require universities that accept tuition payments from students who rely on federal grants and loans not to discriminate in any of their programs or activities?

We checked the Guinness Book of World Records to see if there is a category for the longest question and sure enough, no such category exists. At 514 words, we think the above question is a whopper and ought to hold the record, hands down.

Here is a link to Guinness’ nomination form, in case anybody wants to nominate Senator Kennedy for the title.