(Senate - May 03, 1995)

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[Pages S6028-S6030]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office []

                             THE NEAS YEARS

  Ms. MOSELEY-BRAUN. Mr. President, tonight the Leadership Conference 
on Civil Rights, one of the country's leading civil rights 
organizations, will take time to honor its executive director, Ralph 
Neas, as he leaves his position after a 14-year tenure. I would like to 
take a few moments to pay a brief tribute to this extraordinary 
individual, as he embarks on a new career after devoting the past 20-
plus years to public service.
  There is an old African proverb which says ``God made the world round 
so we could not see too far down the road.'' I think it is fitting to 
mention that proverb here, as I first met Ralph Neas years ago, when we 
were both students at the University of Chicago Law School. I do not 
think that either of us could have imagined then that, some 20 years 
later, I would be a U.S. Senator saluting my former classmate as one of 
our Nation's foremost civil rights leaders. But I always knew that 
Ralph Neas would make a real difference, and I take great pride in his 
accomplishments, and I feel very lucky to be able to call him my 
  Mr. President, when Ralph Neas finished law school, the world was his 
oyster. As one of the top graduates of the Chicago Law School, he could 
have been hired by any of the major law firms, and he could have made a 
great deal of money in the process. Instead, he chose to devote his 
life to public service. He joined the Congressional Research Service as 
a legislative attorney on civil rights, but was soon hired to a 
legislative assistant to Republican Senator Edward Brooke of 
Massachusetts, eventually becoming the Senator's chief legislative 
adviser. He stayed with Senator Brooke until his defeat in 1978, at 
which time he accepted a job as chief legislative assistant to Senator 
Durenberger of Minnesota. It was shortly after accepting the job with 
Senator Durenberger that Ralph was stricken with Guillian-Barre 
syndrome. Within weeks of contracting the illness in February 1979, he 
had been placed on a respirator and was paralyzed from the neck down. 
For nearly 100 days, he lay in the hospital, kept alive by machines, 
unable to even speak. At one point, he was administered the last rites. 
When he recovered, he took an 8-month sabbatical, spending time touring 
Europe, drafting a book about his Guillian-Barre experience, and 
helping to establish the Guillian-Barre Syndrome Foundation, now 
entitled the GBS Foundation International, which now has 15,000 members 
and 130 chapters throughout the world.
  In the spring of 1981, Ralph was offered the job as executive 
director of the leadership conference. It was not the ideal time to 
take a job as head of a civil rights organization. The Republicans had 
just captured the presidency and control of the Senate, and many of 
Ralph's friends questioned why he would want to take such a demanding 
job after the experience he had endured. But as he stated later when 
asked about his decision:

       I certainly had more than a few moments [while in the 
     hospital] to think about my life. Here I just came through an 
     experience where I had been a disabled individual, and here 
     [I was offered] a job that dealt with equal opportunity for 
     disabled people, and victims of discrimination. Whatever 
     happened in 1979 was not only important but there were some 
     reasons for it happening. I learned a lot of lessons and I 
     took the job.

  Given the fact that the majority of Ralph Neas' tenure at the 
leadership conference was spent under Republican Presidents and 
Republican Senates, it might be understandable if little was achieved. 
But the Neas years were actually among the most productive that the 
leadership conference has ever had, a fact that is a tribute to his 
leadership. Ralph Neas was able to reach out to individuals on both 
sides of the aisle, and truly make civil rights a bipartisan issue.
  But you do not have to take my word for it, Mr. President. All you 
have to do is consider just a few of the civil rights
 victories that have been achieved during the Neas years. First and 
foremost, of course, is passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1991, a bill 
that overturned a series of Supreme Court decisions that made it harder 
for victims of discrimination to have their day in court. This 
legislation codified the ``disparate impact'' standard, allowing 
plaintiffs to present statistical evidence of the composition of a 
workplace in order to help prove their discrimination claims, and for 
the first time provided monetary damages to women, persons with 
disabilities, and certain religious minorities who were the victim of 
intentional job discrimination.

  In addition, consider the passage of the Americans With Disabilities 
Act, one of the most significant and dramatic improvements in civil 
rights law in two decades. This bill extended civil rights protection 
in employment, transportation, communications, and public 
accommodations, and greatly improved the quality of life for 49 million 
Americans with disabilities. During the Neas years, the leadership 
conference played a critical role in defeating repeated attempts to 
weaken or repeal Executive Order 11246, the Federal Executive order on 
affirmative action. I could go on, Mr. President, for there 
[[Page S6029]] is no shortage of achievements--the Voting Rights 
Extension Act of 1982, the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, the 
Japanese-American redress bill of 1988, the Civil Rights Restoration 
Act, et cetera, but I think these few examples are sufficient to 
illustrate what an extraordinary contribution that Ralph Neas has made 
to the civil rights of our Nation.
  Tonight, countless individuals from the civil rights community, from 
the administration, and from Congress will gather to pay tribute to the 
remarkable leadership that Ralph Neas has provided the civil rights 
community, the U.S. Congress, and even the Nation during the last 14 
years. This is not, however, a retirement. Ralph will continue his work 
in other ways, joining the Washington law firm of Fox, Bennett & Turner 
as counsel. While with the firm, he will establish an affiliate, the 
Neas group, that will provide strategic counseling to business and 
nonprofit institutions. In addition, Ralph will serve as a visiting 
professor at Georgetown University Law Center, teaching a course on the 
legislative process. He will continue his work on the boards of the 
Guillian-Barre Syndrome Foundation International, the Disability Rights 
Education and Defense Fund, and the Children's Charities Foundation. I 
have no doubt that he will continue to provide those of us in the U.S. 
Senate with his invaluable advice and counsel, a fact for which I am 
  Mr. President, when Ralph Neas was hospitalized with Guillian-Barre 
so many years ago, a nun at the hospital gave him a needlepoint sampler 
which read ``Nothing is so Full of Victory as Patience.'' I believe the 
real hallmark of his work has been the consistency and unwavering 
vigilance--the patience--he has brought to his efforts to assure the 
enforcement of laws guaranteeing equality of opportunity to all 
Americans. It is no exaggeration to say that millions of men and women 
of all races--who may never know you Ralph Neas by name--have benefited 
directly from his dedication and personal sacrifice in behalf of civil 
and human rights. He has made a positive, constructive difference for 
our Nation. I am pleased to have an opportunity on the floor here 
today, and at the dinner this evening, to celebrate his contributions. 
I know that I speak for many others in this body when I extend to him 
my thanks, and my best wishes for his new career.
  I ask unanimous consent that a statement by Dr. Dorothy I. Height, 
the chairperson of the leadership conference, entitled ``The Neas Years 
at the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights,'' be placed in the Record 
following my remarks.
  There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in 
the Record, as follows:

                             The Neas Years

                       (By Dr. Dorothy I. Height)

       Last summer, Ralph G. Neas announced that he would be 
     leaving as Executive Director of the Leadership Conference on 
     Civil Rights (LCCR)* in the Spring of 1995. Much too soon 
     that time has come. As Ralph completes his fourteen-year 
     tenure at the helm of the Nation's oldest, largest, and most 
     broadly-based coalition, it is an appropriate moment to 
     reflect upon his extraordinary contributions to the cause of 
     equal opportunity for all Americans and some of the reasons 
     why he has earned his reputation as an effective leader, 
     strategist, advocate, and coalition builder.
     *On May 3rd, at its Annual Dinner to be held at the Hyatt 
     Regency on Capitol Hill, the Leadership Conference will be 
     celebrating its 45th Anniversary and presenting its Hubert H. 
     Humphrey Civil Rights Award to Ralph G. Neas.

                  the bipartisan legislative successes

       Ralph Neas took over as Executive Director of the 
     Leadership Conference, the legislative arm of the civil 
     rights movement, on March 31, 1981, after eight years as a 
     chief legislative assistant to Republican Senators Edward W. 
     Brooke and Dave Durenberger. Ronald Reagan had just been 
     sworn in as president. Senators Strom Thurmond and Orrin 
     Hatch had just replaced Senators Edward Kennedy and Birch 
     Bayh as chairs of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the 
     Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution, respectively. The 
     previous year, Senator Hatch had successfully filibustered to 
     death the Leadership Conference's top legislative priority, 
     the Fair Housing Act of 1980. Many feared that a similar fate 
     awaited the Conference's top priority in the 97th Congress, 
     the legislation to extend the Voting Rights Act of 1965, 
     which was to be introduced in early April of 1981.
       No small wonder then that many friends of Ralph, who just 
     two years earlier had been totally paralyzed, on a 
     respirator, and near death in a Minneapolis hospital room, 
     told him that this was not their idea of a brilliant career 
     move. But Ralph believed that his professional training in 
     the Senate, where he had been the senior staffer on civil 
     rights issues, and his bout with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, 
     which had profoundly influenced his life, had prepared him 
     for such a professional challenge.
       The situation in the Spring of 1981 demanded 
     bipartisanship, creativity, pragmatism, and leadership. Ralph 
     and his LCCR colleagues showed an abundance of these 
     qualities during the arduous eighteen month campaign to enact 
     the 1982 Voting Rights Act Extension. Many people argued that 
     the time for federal control over local voting processes had 
     ended. But LCCR advocates demonstrated a continuing need and 
     their efforts helped pass the extension by votes of 389 to 24 
     in the House of Representatives and 85 to 8 in the Senate, 
     leaving President Reagan with no choice but to sign the 
     historic measure into law. That law not only extended the 
     Voting Rights Act for 25 years, but also extended the Act's 
     bilingual assistance provisions and overturned a 1980 Supreme 
     Court decision by reinstating the results standard in the 
     Voting Rights Act.
       The remarkable victory against great odds set the tone for 
     the next fourteen years for LCCR. Indeed, the 1982 Voting 
     Rights Act Extension campaign embodied several of Ralph's 
     principal legislative theorems. Theorem number one is to 
     always put together the strongest possible bipartisan bill 
     that can be enacted into law. During the twelve years of the 
     Reagan-Bush presidencies, that usually meant having at least 
     two-thirds majorities in both Houses. Theorem number two is 
     that any successful national legislative campaign must 
     effectively integrate grassroots, Washington lobbying, and 
     media strategies. If one component is absent, the legislative 
     campaign is likely to fail. And third, it is essential that 
     the coalition always remains cohesive and united, never 
     allowing adversaries to successfully use the tactics of 
     divide and conquer. If these basic principles are understood, 
     then one can comprehend the success of the 1982 Voting Rights 
     Act Extension and the legislative victories that followed.
       And there were many other LCCR legislative successes. No 
     one could have predicted that more than two dozen LCCR 
     legislative priorities would be enacted into law during 
     Ralph's years at LCCR. In addition to the 1982 Voting Rights 
     Act Extension, Ralph coordinated many of these legislative 
     achievements for the Leadership Conference, including the:
       Civil Rights Act of 1991--Overturned eight Supreme Court 
     decisions which had made it much more difficult for victims 
     of discrimination to get into court and to prove 
     discrimination (the first time Congress has ever overturned 
     more than one Supreme Court decision at one time). It also 
     codified the ``disparate impact'' standard. And it provided 
     for the first time monetary damages for women, persons with 
     disabilities, and certain religious minorities who are 
     victims of intentional job discrimination.
       Americans with Disabilities Act (1990)--Perhaps the most 
     significant and dramatic improvement in civil rights law in 
     two decades. Provided civil rights protections in employment, 
     transportation, communications, and public
      accommodations for the 49 million Americans with 
       Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988--Provided for the first 
     time an effective enforcement mechanism. Also prohibited 
     discrimination against persons with disabilities and 
     discrimination against families with children.
       Japanese-American Redress Bill (1988)--Apologized to 
     Japanese-Americans interned in prison camps in the United 
     States during World War II and authorized $20,000 to each of 
     those who are alive.
       Civil Rights Restoration Act--Congress overrode a 
     presidential veto and overturned the 1984 Supreme Court Grove 
     City decision. The Civil Rights Restoration Act restored the 
     broad coverage of the four major civil rights laws that 
     prohibit the federal funding of discrimination against 
     minorities, women, persons with disabilities, and older 
       The final passage votes on all these laws averaged 85% of 
     both the House and the Senate. In recognition of that 
     extraordinary bipartisan success, Senator Edward Kennedy has 
     called Ralph ``the 101st Senator on Civil Rights.''
       Ralph also managed the successful campaigns to preserve the 
     Executive Order on Affirmative Action in 1985-1986 and to 
     defeat the Supreme Court nomination of Robert Bork. The Bork 
     campaign was perhaps the most forceful statement of the 
     determination of the coalition that the civil rights gains of 
     three decades would not be rolled back.
       Other LCCR legislative priorities enacted into law over the 
     past fourteen years include the Family & Medical Leave Act, 
     the Motor Voter Bill, the South African Sanctions 
     Legislation, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the 
     Voting Rights Language Assistance Act of 1982, the Elementary 
     and Secondary Education Act of 1994 (including Chapter One 
     reform), the Martin Luther King Holiday Act, three disability 
     measures which overturned Supreme Court decisions, the Age 
     [[Page S6030]] Discrimination in Employment Claims Assistance 
     Act, the Gender Equity in Education Act, the Voting 
     Accessibility for Disabled and Senior Citizens Act, the 1989 
     Minimum Wage Increase, the Hate Crimes Statistics Act, and 
     key provisions of the Economic Equity Act.
       Without question, the past decade and a half has been, 
     legislatively, a bipartisan reaffirmation of civil rights 
     laws and a bipartisan repudiation of the right-wing legal 
     philosophy. Indeed, the right wing did not enact one major 
     item on its regressive civil rights agenda during that time. 
     The LCCR victories are even more remarkable when
      one considers that during this time two branches of 
     government were hostile to civil rights.
       While the civil rights coalition and its congressional 
     allies achieved considerable success, there was a serious 
     downside to the Reagan-Bush years. We had to refight the 
     civil rights battles that had been won during the 1960's and 
     the 1970's. While these battles were won once again, 
     Congress, the civil rights community, and the Nation had to 
     devote an inordinate amount of time, energy and resources in 
     waging these rearguard actions. Consequently, while the legal 
     achievements of the past 30 years were preserved and in a 
     number of instances, strengthened, the Nation by and large 
     was unable to address the unfinished agenda of the civil 
     rights movement--the quest for social and economic justice.
       For years, Ralph and his LCCR colleagues have been 
     advocating that economic justice must be the civil rights 
     coalition's top priority. Our legislative efforts should 
     focus primarily on such issues as health care; affordable 
     housing; economic security, especially for women and 
     children; child care; Head Start and other early educational 
     opportunities; employment opportunity, including job creation 
     and job training; and economic empowerment issues. 
     Regrettably, just as this economic opportunity agenda seemed 
     to be moving to the front of the legislative line, once again 
     we may have to devote our energies to resisting efforts to 
     dismantle the legislative achievements of the past several 
       While the battles will be hard fought, I remain confident 
     that LCCR and its allies will once again defeat the efforts 
     of the right wing, whether the issue be affirmative action or 
     the economic security net for millions of Americans. Indeed, 
     the same type of bipartisanship, creativity, and pragmatism 
     that characterized our efforts in the 1980's and early 1990's 
     will lead us to victory in the last half of the 1990's.

    the explosive institutional growth of the leadership conference

       While the legislative successes are critically important, 
     it is also important to point out the institutional successes 
     as well. The fourteen years Ralph has spent managing LCCR 
     have been characterized by explosive growth. The budget of 
     the Leadership Conference has grown seven-fold since 1981. 
     And the Leadership Conference, always the Nation's largest 
     coalition, has added more than 50 new national organizations, 
     during this time. Some of the new members are the American 
     Association of Retired Persons (AARP), the Association of 
     Junior Leagues, the Disability Rights Education and Defense 
     Fund, the American Association of University Women, the 
     Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the 
     Service Employees International Union, the Congress of 
     National Black Churches, the American Nurses Association, the 
     Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, Families USA, 
     the National PTA, People For The American Way, the United
      Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, the Human 
     Rights Campaign Fund, Citizen Action, and the National 
     Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium. There are now 180 
     national organizations, with memberships totaling more 
     than 50 million Americans, who belong to the Leadership 
     Conference on Civil Rights.
       Such institutional growth has meant also the expansion of 
     LCCR priorities. In addition to minority, gender, religious, 
     and age issues, the Leadership Conference has forged a 
     consensus on disability and gay and lesbian civil rights 
     issues. The exceptional growth of the coalition, while 
     generating new challenges, has made the Leadership Conference 
     stronger and even more effective.
       Throughout the years, Ralph has masterfully maintained 
     unity among the diverse elements of the LCCR coalition. And 
     through his work in LCCR, on Capitol Hill, with the Executive 
     Branch, and with the business community, Ralph has earned 
     respect for his ability to build bridges between disparate 
     communities of interest and across the spectrum of political 
       Ralph has also managed the Leadership Conference Education 
     Fund (LCEF), an independent organization that supports 
     educational activities relevant to civil rights. Along with 
     Karen McGill Arrington, LCEF's Deputy Director, he has 
     supervised projects such as an award winning public service 
     advertising campaign promoting tolerance and diversity; a 
     children's anti-discrimination campaign; and the publication 
     of books and reports on emerging civil rights issues.

                           ralph's new career

       To say the least, things have not slowed down during 
     Ralph's final months as LCCR's Executive Director. He was a 
     key strategist in the successful effort to defeat the 
     Balanced Budget Constitutional Amendment. Presently, he is 
     coordinating the campaign to save affirmative action. In 
     addition, Ralph is lecturing one day per week on the 
     legislative process at the University of Chicago Law School.
       In May, Ralph will embark on a new phase of his 
     professional life. He will join the Washington law firm of 
     Fox, Bennett, and Turner, where he will be Of Counsel. At the 
     law firm, he will set up an affiliate, The Neas Group, which 
     will provide strategic counseling to business and non-profit 
     institutions. In addition, Ralph will be a Visiting Professor 
     on a part-time basis at the Georgetown University Law Center 
     where he will teach courses on the legislative process.
       Among the boards on which he will continue to serve are the 
     Guillain-Barre Syndrome Foundation International, the 
     Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, and the 
     Children's Charities Foundation.
       On behalf of everyone in the Leadership Conference, I want 
     to express our deepest gratitude to Ralph and wish him well 
     in all his new endeavors. We will miss the personal qualities 
     that made Ralph so effective in his job--his cheerfulness and 
     optimism even when facing great challenges, his patience in 
     working with people to resolve differences within the 
     coalition, and the respect he accorded to everyone's point of 
     view. But we know that there will be many opportunities to 
     work with him as we confront the challenges ahead of us. 
     There is no question in my mind that Ralph will continue to 
     be one of the drum majors for justice.