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Birch Bayh
United States Senator, 1963-1981
Senator Birch Bayh, one of the most accomplished and admired American lawmakers of his generation, is the only person since the Founding Fathers to draft more than one Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. He has devoted his life, both inside and outside government, to championing the rights of all Americans – especially women, minorities, young people, and others whom history had too long pushed to the margins. During his three terms representing Indiana in the Senate (1963-1981), Senator Bayh was a moving force behind some of the most successful and influential congressional legislation of the past half-century. Deeply respected by colleagues in both parties for his idealism and integrity, he has also been the architect of pathbreaking bipartisan initiatives that have fueled advances in American higher education, scientific innovation, and economic growth.
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Championing Civil Rights
Arriving in Washington in the Kennedy years, the young Senator from Indiana stepped into the vanguard of efforts to secure civil rights for African-Americans, co-sponsoring the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act. Later, as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he led the successful efforts to defeat the nominations of two segregationist judges to the Supreme Court.
As chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence in the 1970s, Senator Bayh drafted the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, protecting citizens from eavesdropping by the federal government while strengthening the nation’s intelligence-gathering capability. He also worked to reform the military justice system, defending the rights of the men and women who defend our country. Senator Bayh was the architect of the Juvenile Justice Act, which mandates the separation of juvenile offenders from adult prison populations; the legislation also established pivotal programs for the rehabilitation of juveniles.
The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights has honored Senator Bayh with its highest award for “his unyielding dedication to human equality and civil freedom.”
Strengthening the Constitution: The 25th and 26th Amendments
As Chairman of the Constitutional Subcommittee throughout his 18 years in the Senate, Senator Bayh was the principal architect of both the 25th and 26th Amendments. No other American since James Madison has drafted more than one successful Constitutional Amendment.
In the wake of President Kennedy’s assassination, Senator Bayh addressed the Constitution’s dangerously weak and vague provisions for Presidential and Vice-Presidential succession. The resulting 25th Amendment (passed by Congress in 1965 and ratified in 1967) created a process for an orderly transition of power in the case of death, disability, or resignation of the President, and a method of selecting a Vice President when a vacancy occurs in that office. It proved its value to the nation only a few years later, when it guided the transfer of Presidential and Vice-Presidential power in the wake of President Nixon’s resignation.
Senator Bayh’s passionate belief in extending the civil rights of young Americans – a cause he had fought for since his earliest days as a state legislator – led him to spearhead efforts to lower the national voting age from 21 to 18. The resulting 26th Amendment was passed and ratified in 1971. At the stroke of a pen, it enfranchised 11 million Americans who previously had been considered old enough to die for their country in war but too young to vote for their president. In the four decades since the amendment’s passage, it has allowed countless others to participate in the political process.
In addition to these two successful Amendments, Senator Bayh was also the Senate’s principal sponsor of the Equal Rights Amendment, which would have barred discrimination on the basis of sex. It passed Congress but failed to be ratified by three-fourths of the states.
Opening the Gates of Higher Education: Title IX
Senator Bayh could justly be hailed as a hero on every American college and university campus. He authored and introduced Title IX of the Higher Education Amendments of 1972, which for the first time prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex in the classroom and on the athletic field, protecting both students and faculty. Prior to Senator Bayh’s legislation, women students were denied equal opportunities under the law in academics; women applicants were routinely denied equal access to medical, law, and other graduate schools; and women athletes were denied equal participation in sports. Similarly, female faculty members were denied equal compensation and promotion.
Today’s rise of women in all academic disciplines and in sports at every level is, in many ways, a direct outgrowth of the landmark Title IX legislation. The statistics are astonishing. Women’s participation in college sports has increased more than fivefold since the law’s passage. Before Title IX, women’s sports received less than 2 percent of college athletic budgets; they now receive 37 percent. Women’s representation among law school students has risen from 7 percent to 43 percent; among medical school students, from 9 percent to 41 percent. On college and university faculties, the proportion of women professors has risen from 18 percent to almost 40 percent. Women now account for more than half of the nation’s undergraduate and graduate students overall.
The effects of Title IX have reached far beyond campus as well. A 2006 study sponsored by the National Bureau of Economic Research credited the legislation with a significant increase in physical activity and improvement in weight and body mass among adolescent girls and young women since the 1970s, lowering their risk of many medical problems. No other American public health program can claim similar success, the study’s authors found.
“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” Thanks to these simple words that Senator Bayh drafted, barriers and inequalities that seemed almost insuperable a few decades ago seem inconceivable to the young women of today.
Fueling Innovation: The Bayh-Dole Act
Together with his colleague Senator Robert Dole (a 1997 recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom), Senator Bayh was the author and co-sponsor of the Bayh-Dole Act (1980), a bipartisan initiative that The Economist has called “possibly the most inspired piece of legislation to be enacted in America over the past half-century.”
Bayh-Dole enables universities and small businesses to gain ownership of federally funded inventions so they can be developed into new products, jobs, and businesses through partnerships with U.S. companies, thus benefiting the taxpaying public. It has energized the free-enterprise system, helping launch thousands of new high-tech companies; contributing hundreds of billions of dollars to the U.S. Gross Domestic Product; creating hundreds of thousands of new, high-paying jobs; and aiding the development of dozens of new drugs and vaccines. The law is considered the international best practice for research-and-development partnerships between the public and private sectors.
Before the Act’s passage, despite the investment of billions of dollars invested in public-sector research each year, resulting discoveries were taken away from inventing organizations by the federal government. Some 30,000 patents sat idle; not a single new drug had been developed while the government owned the invention. Bayh-Dole allowed our universities and federal laboratories to partner with American industry, not only unleashing the development of new inventions, but also spawning entirely new industries, such as biotechnology.
Promoting Energy Independence
Nearly four decades ago, with the country reeling from the 1973 oil crisis, Senator Bayh envisioned a future of clean, inexpensive alternative fuels. While supporting development of the nation’s oil resources, he also successfully worked to initiate federal support for research and development of ethanol and other alcohol-based energy sources. As the first chairman of the National Alcohol Fuels Commission, he created the framework for grants, contracts, and tax incentives for alcohol fuel production. The United States now produces some 58 percent of the world’s ethanol fuel (more than 13 billion liquid gallons annually), and 90 percent of all gasoline sold in this country is blended with ethanol.
Rebuilding Communities: Disaster Relief
After a lethal tornado swept through Indiana in 1965, Senator Bayh sponsored legislation granting emergency federal loans to disaster victims. In the succeeding years, he pushed to expand such assistance, laying the foundations for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which has rebuilt dozens of stricken American communities in recent decades. As chairman of the Special Subcommittee on Disaster Relief, he led the effort to unify disaster relief activities, establish communication centers, form emergency support teams, and secure federal aid for loans and reconstruction, as well as aid to farmers. Senator Bayh’s work culminated in the Disaster Relief Act of 1970, which he crafted and introduced and which was signed into law by President Nixon. Successor legislation established FEMA in 1979.
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Birch Bayh’s Life and Career
Birch Evans Bayh, Jr., was born on January 22, 1928, in Terre Haute, Indiana. He grew up on his grandparents’ farm and served in the U.S. Army in Europe just after World War II, from 1946 to 1948. After his military service, he graduated from Purdue University with a degree in Agriculture and later earned a J.D. from Indiana University’s School of Law. He excelled in sports, competing as a Golden Gloves boxer in college and taking part in two Major League Baseball tryouts before launching his political career.
Bayh was elected to the Indiana General Assembly at the age of 26 and was elected Speaker at the age of 30. In 1962, at the age of 34, he was elected to the U.S. Senate, where his early mentors included Lyndon Johnson and Everett Dirksen. For more than four decades, throughout his entire career in politics, he continued to manage the growing of corn and soybeans on his family farm in Shirkieville, Indiana.
After leaving the Senate in 1981, Senator Bayh continued to fight for the principles he had championed there. From 1984 to 1994, he was the founding chairman of the National Institute Against Prejudice and Violence, which laid the groundwork for federal and state hate-crime laws across the country. Since 2006, he has been a senior fellow at Washington College, where he mentors and teaches undergraduates in History and Political Science.
Adam Goodheart, Hodson Trust Griswold Director
C. V. Starr Center for the American Experience
Washington College 

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