Biden's track record on busing: In 1977, he called it a 'bankrupt policy'

Biden's statement can be seen and heard on an ABC News video from the time.

June 28, 2019, 4:24 PM

During a news conference on June 28, 1977, then-Sen. Joe Biden, explaining his views on busing, said it was harmful to the civil rights movement in America.

“I happen to think the one way to ensure that you set the civil rights movement further back is to continue to push busing, because it’s a bankrupt policy,” Biden said at the time, as heard and seen in an ABC News video.

Biden's past views and statements on busing have drawn new attention after he got in a heated exchange with Sen. Kamala Harris at Thursday night's Democratic debate.

Biden told reporters in 1977 that busing wasn't a "North versus South" issue, but rather a "rural versus urban" issue. Biden said that most of the busing was taking place in rural areas.

A reporter asked Biden: "No matter what your intentions are, there are going to be those who say it's a segregated thing, it's a question of race, and that you have set back the movement of desegregation in schools. How would you answer that?"

Biden replied, "The way I answer that is I predict that the young black leadership of America will overwhelmingly decide with me. I predict that in 1980, and '84, my position will be totally vindicated by the sociologists and by the civil rights activ -- you know, I come from that side of the track. That's where I'm from. I was a defense lawyer. I handled civil rights cases ... You know, I’m not from the other side of this."

Biden then went on to say that the policy was only hurting the civil rights movement.

Biden had also said that he didn't "include myself with pro or anti-busing forces" and said that "the only group that can determine whether or not a constitutional violation exists is the federal courts."

He also said federal courts must find a specific intent to segregate before busing can be ordered. "A Federal Court of the United States of America determining the violation of the Constitution with regard to school desegregation cases must find that there is a specific intent to segregate before they can order busing."

In Biden's memoir, "Promises to Keep: On Life and Politics," he discussed being a "fairly vocal opponent of busing," particularly in his home state of Delaware, calling the practice a "liberal train wreck" that was "tearing people apart."

"White parents were terrified that their children would be shipped into the toughest neighborhoods in Wilmington; black parents were terrified that their children would be targets of violence in the suburban schools," Biden wrote. "Nobody was happy."

Biden has repeatedly highlighted his Senate vote in 1974 against the anti-busing Gurney amendment, which would have have banned federal courts from using busing as a remedy to counter segregation, as proof that he has never been against busing.

"I've always been in favor of using federal authorities to overcome state-initiated segregation. In fact, I cast a deciding vote in 1974 against an amendment called the Gurney Amendment, which would have banned the right of the federal courts to be able to use busing as a remedy. And you might guess, in the middle of the most extensive busing order in American history in my city and my state, it wasn't what you would call the most popular vote in the country at the time,” Biden said on Friday, trying to clarifying his position after the debate.

However, Biden has highlighted that did vote in favor of one piece of legislation called the Scott-Mansfield amendment, that limited the federal role in busing.

The Scott-Mansfield amendment, which narrowly passed in Senate by a 47 to 46 vote, denied the use of federal funds for busing except at the request of local authorities, ordered federal authorities to refrain from ordering busing if it would impair the health of a child or take him to a school worse than the one in his/her neighborhood; and delayed, pending appeal, enforcement of any court decision ordering desegregation across school district lines, according to the New York Times.

As Biden stated in his memoir, his vote on this amendment was significant because it acknowledged that "every effort should be made to ensure that schoolchildren could attend the school nearest their home but leaving the constitutionality of busing up to the courts."

Federal busing ended in 1991 after the Supreme Court ruled that is was time to return full control of schools to local officials even if it resulted in "primarily on-race schools" and that court-ordered desegregation was intended only as a "temporary measure to remedy past discrimination."

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