Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) compared the civil rights of African Americans and other minorities to the rights of animals during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday, sparking outrage from lawmakers. Gohmert made the remarks as the panel considered a bill that could “prevent federal regulatory actions from being implemented.” Currently, the federal government relies on consent decrees to settle lawsuits from advocacy organizations challenging agencies for failing to take regulatory action or missing statutory deadlines. The GOP-backed bill would allow anyone whose rights are affected by the decree to intervene in the settlement, significantly delaying the action. Democrats offered an amendment, sponsored by Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN), that would have prohibited third parties from intervening in any regulatory action that prevents or is intended to prevent discrimination on the basis of race, sex, national origin, or other protected characteristic. Consent decrees had been pivotal to enforcing civil rights laws, Cohen and Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) argued, and noted that advocates used the consent decree process to protect minority communities from police misconduct and brutality. But Gohmert objected to the amendment and insisted that the bill had nothing to do with the civil rights and would primary impact rules and regulations that pertain to fish, wildlife, and the environment. He then proceeded to mock Democrats’ concerns about minorities by joking that they were interested in protecting the liberties of snails and other animals:
GOHMERT: There is nobody in this chamber who is more appreciative than I am for the gentleman from Tennessee and my friend from Michigan standing up for the rights of race, religion, national religion of the Delta Smelt, the snail darter, various lizards, the lesser prairie chicken, the greater sage grouts and so many other insects who would want someone standing for their religion, their race, their national origin and I think that’s wonderful.
The bill, however, is actually written in general terms and would therefore impact the consent decrees adopted by the Department of Justice and other offices responsible for civil rights, committee staff confirmed to ThinkProgress. Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) blasted Gohmert’s comments, noting that “this is not a snail darter’s amendment, it is not an environmental amendment, it is a civil rights amendment, and we’re talking about the civil rights of people — the civil rights of people that have been violated egregiously for generations in this country.” The amendment failed in a vote of 13 to 16, with Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-AL) joining Democrats in voting for it. The underlining bill passed the Judiciary Committee along party lines. A similar measure passed the House last year and is not expected to advance in the Senate.