Disturbing Lessons of the Rand Paul Fallout

The Republican Party's response to Paul displays an ongoing nostalgia for pre-civil rights America.

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In other words, the same power that authorizes Congress to appropriate money to build an interstate highway system gives it the right to ensure that businesses engaged in public activities benefiting from that system don't discriminate on the basis of race. (In a controversial decision in 1972, the Supreme Court later ruled that private clubs engaged in purely private functions can still discriminate.)

The good news is that some Republicans were not afflicted with the stammering hesitation of Kyl, Sessions and Lowden. Sen. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina offered an impressive mini law lecture on the constitutional basis of the act's extension to private businesses, showing once again why he remains the most respected Republican member of the Judiciary Committee. Even the normally incoherent Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele offered a cogent and impressive performance on the Sunday news shows. Abandoning hip-hop rhetoric and cute catch phrases, Steele deemed Rand Paul "out of touch" with contemporary reality. It was among his best performances (although to be fair, if Steele had gotten this one wrong, there wouldn't be much hope left for him).

It's a moment worth examining when two candidates running for Senate seats in Kentucky and Nevada find themselves unable to unreservedly support the Civil Rights Act of 1964 until pressed by media backlash. It's an even more profound moment when elected Republican leaders hesitate to articulate a full-throated embrace of the act's provisions. The apparent presence of a significant constituency of Republican voters who continue to resent the complete dismantling of racial segregation in American life, and the need demonstrated by some members of the Republican Party to mollify that constituency, is a disturbing reminder of the enduring power of the far right in the Republican electorate.

Sherrilyn A. Ifill is a professor of law at the University of Maryland and a regular contributor to The Root.

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is a civil rights lawyer and professor at the University of Maryland School of Law.