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Birch Bayh

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When an actual liberal could represent Indiana in the Senate:

Former U.S. Senator Birch Bayh has been lost in the mists of time. Indeed, even his son, former Indiana governor and senator Evan Bayh, is largely a forgotten figure after the failure of his 2014 comeback bid.

But if you voted between the ages of 18 and 21 or benefited in any way from the Title IX program banning gender discrimination in higher education, the elder Bayh had an impact on your life. And he played an indirect role in the breakthrough in reproductive rights represented by the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision.

Bayh was elected to the U.S. Senate at the age of 34, after serving as the youngest-ever Speaker of the Indiana House. His first high-profile national moment came in 1964, when he pulled his colleague Ted Kennedy to safety from a plane crash that killed the pilot and a Kennedy staffer.

He soon became a power on the Judiciary Committee and chairman of its Constitution Subcommittee. In that role he became one of the last great advocates for constitutional amendments, co-authoring the 25th amendment providing for appointment of a vice president upon a vacancy in that position, and the 26th amendment lowering the voting age to 18 in federal and state elections. Bayh was also the chief Senate sponsor of the Equal Rights Amendment, which cleared Congress in 1972 only to succumb to a powerful backlash closely associated with the rising conservative movement when the drive to ratify it stalled (there’s still an effort underway to complete ratification of the ERA, though some argue the deadline for state approval is long past).

But Bayh considered Title IX, best known for its impact on opportunities for women in college athletics, his most important legacy…

R.I.P.

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