Buckling to political pressure from his white constituents who wanted to keep things the way they were, Biden established himself as a leading Democratic opponent of busing in the Senate. Concluding that busing was a “bankrupt concept,” he found himself principally aligned with consummate civil rights opponent Jesse Helms (R-NC) who was unabashed in his commitment “to put an end to the current blight on American education that is generally referred to as ‘forced bussing.’” Biden joined conservatives and increasing numbers of liberals who were determined to limit the scope of Title VI of Civil Rights Act of 1964 and its prohibition on school segregation, and to hamstring the federal government’s power to compel localities—under the threat to withhold federal funds—to desegregate their schools.
Biden supported a measure sponsored by Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV), a former Klansman who had held the floor for more than 14 hours in the filibuster against the 1964 civil rights bill, that prohibited the use of federal funds to transport students beyond the school closest their homes that passed into law in 1976. And in 1977, he co-sponsored a measure that further restricted the federal government from desegregating city and suburban schools with redistricting measures like school clustering and pairing. This measure won the approval of a majority of his Senate colleagues, and President Jimmy Carter later signed the provision into law, significantly narrowing legislative avenues for reform. Meanwhile, the Warren Burger-led Supreme Court, and its four recently appointed conservative members, proved less and less sympathetic to civil rights activists’ claims about constitutional violations and unwilling to demand busing remedies.