GOP blocks proposed hairstyle discrimination bill after NJ wrestler forced to cut dreadlocks

House Republicans on Monday blocked legislation making it a federal crime to discriminate against someone because of their hairstyle or hair texture.

Although the measure received support from a majority of lawmakers, it failed to secure the two-thirds of the vote needed to pass a fast-track measure usually reserved for non-controversial bills. Monday’s count does not mean the bill is dead, but rather that it will have to return to the House under the usual rules and can be passed by a simple majority.

The vote was 235 to 188, with only 15 Republicans supporting the bill sponsored by U.S. Representative Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-12th Dist.

Both New Jersey Republicans, Reps. Jeff Van Drew, R-2nd Dist., and Chris Smith, R-4th Dist., voted against their New Jersey colleague’s legislation. All 10 New Jersey Democrats voted yes.

The legislation would have blocked discrimination against hairstyles associated with race or national origin, including coiled or curly hairstyles, locs, cornrows, twists, braids, bantu knots and afros. It is known as Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair, or CROWN, Act.

“House Republicans chose to cave to the climate of division and obstruction and block the CROWN Act, a bill to end racial hair discrimination, on the last day of Women’s History Month. Blacks,” Watson Coleman said.

“Despite this temporary setback — and though I regret that Republicans chose to miss an opportunity to show unity against racial discrimination — we will bring the CROWN Act back and pass it by simple majority.”

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, who led the fight against the bill, said existing civil rights laws already prohibit such discrimination.

“Democrats are prioritizing this legislation, a bill to outlaw behavior already illegal under our law, for political messaging,” he said during the debate.

It passed by vote in the House in September 2020, with neither Van Drew nor Smith opposing it, but never made it to the Senate, where the bill is sponsored by U.S. Senator Cory Booker.

Watson Coleman and Booker reintroduced the bill in March 2021. Booker spokeswoman Maya Krishna-Rogers said the Senate version of the legislation, with 23 co-sponsors including Robert Menendez, is now before the Judicial Committee.

“We will continue to work to build support for this bill, which has already been passed by 13 states across the country,” she said.

New Jersey passed its own bill in December 2019, a year after referee Alan Maloney told Buena High School student Andrew Johnson he couldn’t wrestle with dreadlocks. Johnson cut his hair. Maloney was subsequently suspended.

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Jonathan D. Salant can be attached to [email protected]. Follow him on @JDSalant.

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