Scott, Robert C. 1947–
Robert C. Scott 1947–
Robert C. “Bobby” Scott is the first African American member of Congress from Virginia since the Reconstruction Era following the Civil War. First elected to the House of Representatives in 1992, Scott represents Virginia’s third district, a varied area which includes portions of the cities of Richmond, Norfolk, Hampton, and Newport News, plus parts or all of rural and suburban Surry, Charles City, New Kent, Isle of Wight, and Henrico Counties. Scott’s main interests as a legislator are defending the Bill of Rights, maintaining a strong national defense, promoting health care coverage for all, widening educational opportunities, providing more job training, and expanding crime prevention programs. Congressional Quarterly’s Politics in America 2000, describes Scott as “a pillar of the Democratic left, challenging a wide range of conservative initiatives.” Rahm Emanuel, a former Clinton White House advisor who worked with Scott on crime legislation, told David Lerman of the Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service that Scott is “a very straight-up kind of guy, very thoughtful. He’ll tell you exactly what he thinks.”
Robert Cortez Scott was born in Washington, D.C. in 1947 and raised in Newport News, Virginia. His father was a doctor and his mother was a teacher. Scott attended the Groton School, an exclusive Massachusetts preparatory school that counts Franklin Delano Roosevelt among its alumni Scott later attended Harvard College, where he was a classmate of Vice President Al Gore. Scott’s impressive academic credentials underscore his efforts to make educational opportunities available to all. In 1993, during his freshman term in Congress, Scott led a successful effort to keep 33 traditionally Black colleges exempt from penalties against high student loan default rates. These institutions were scheduled to be cut from Federal student loan programs due to default rates exceeding the maximum allowable level of 25 percent. As quoted in Jet, Scott defended the exemption by saying—“Many of these schools will be denied a primary source of financial aid, one that helps pay the fare to a better way of life… Some schools will have to close, limiting the options of many students who wish to attain a college degree.”
After receiving his bachelor’s degree from Harvard, Scott enrolled at Boston College Law School, from
Born Robert Cortez Scott on April 30, 1947 in Washington, DC; son of Charles Waldo (a physician) and Mae Hamlin Scott (a teacher). Education: Bachelor’s degree from Harvard College, Cambridge, MA, 1969; law degree (J.D.) from Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA, 1973. Politics: Democrat, Religion: Episcopalian.
Career: Private practice attorney in Newport News, VA, 1973-91; president of Newport News branch of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, 1974-80; served in the Virginia house of delegates, 1978-83; Virginia state senate, 1983-93;US. House of Representatives, 3rd district, Virginia, 1993-, Member of House Judiciary Committee and Education and the Workforce Committee.
Awards: Virginia Young Democrats Virginian of the Year award, 1983; National Conference of Christians and Jews Brotherhood Citation, 1985; Virginia Fraternal Order of Police Service Award, 1987; Southern Health Association Outstanding Legislator Award, 1989. Also recipient of awards from the March of Dimes, American Academy of Pediatrics, National Alliance of Research Centers of Excellence, United Association of Private Career Schools, and National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education, Honorary doctorates in humane letters from St Paul’s College, Livingstone College, and Florida Memorial College. Honorary doctorates of law from Virginia State University and Virginia Union University.
Addresses: Home—Newport News, VA, Office—2464 Rayburn Office Building, Washington, DC 20515-4603
which he graduated in 1973. During his years in law school, Scott served in the Massachusetts National Guard. He later served in the U.S. Army Reserve. One area where Scott parts company with fellow left-wing Democrats is defense spending. Scott’s advocacy of increased spending on defense may be seen as old fashioned “pork barrel” politics since his district includes large military bases, many defense-related industries, and is home to a large population of active and retired military personnel. Congressional Quarterly’s Politics in America 2000 called Scott “the leading pro-Pentagon voice in the Congressional Black Caucus and seeks to advance the cause of military bases and shipbuilding facilities in the third [Congressional district], where Newport News Shipbuilding and the Army’s Fort Eustis are major employers.”
In 1973, with his law degree in hand, Scott returned to Newport News where he set up a private law practice and became involved in local civic affairs. In 1974, he began a six-year tenure as president of the Newport News branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Scott served in the Virginia state legislature from 1978 to 1993, spending five years in the House of Delegates and ten years in the Senate. During his tenure in the state legislature, Scott sponsored bills increasing Virginia’s minimum wage law and establishing the Neighborhood Assistant Act, which provides tax credits to businesses that make donations to approved social service programs. He also supported measures to expand government health care for infants and children, and introduced legislation creating the Governor’s Employment and Training Division. William C. Wampler, a Republican who served in the Senate with Scott, told R.H. Melton of the Washington Post —“I think the world of him [Scott]. Even if you disagreed with him, his word was always good.” In 1986, the ambitious Scott challenged incumbent Republican Herbert Bateman for the U.S. Congressional seat from Virginia’s First District. Scott lost to Bateman, garnering 44% of the vote to Bateman’s 56%, but gained name recognition that would help him in future elections.
After the 1990 U.S. Census, Virginia’s delegation to U.S. House was increased from ten to eleven members. The additional seat caused district lines to be redrawn. Under pressure from then Governor L. Douglas Wilder, the nation’s first elected African American governor, the state legislature deliberately created an African American majority congressional district. Although one in five Virginia voters was African American, Virginia had not sent an African American representative to Congress since in the nineteenth century when Republican John Mercer Langston, a lawyer and educator, was a member of the delegation. The newly drawn third district was a 225 mile-long, scorpion shaped area stretching from Richmond in the northwest to Newport News in the southeast. Sixty-two percent of registered voters in the district were African American.
During the campaign for the third district seat in 1992, Scott faced opposition from two Democratic primary opponents-Jean W. Cunningham, a member of the House of Delegates, and Jacqueline G. Epps, chairman of the Virginia State Retirement System. Both women were African American. Epps positioned herself as a moderate while Cunningham, whose views on abortion rights and opposition to capital punishment paralleled Scott’s, campaigned as a liberal. Despite the fact that Epps and Cunningham were backed by the state Democratic Party leadership, Scott’s popularity in the Tide-water region helped him win the primary election by a comfortable margin. In response to criticism that his middle class background gave him little understanding of the needs of the district’s large number of economially disadvantaged residents, Scott pointed to endorsements of his campaign by the Rainbow Coalition and the Virginia AFL-CIO. In the November general election, Scott sailed to an easy victory over a weak Republican candidate, Daniel Jenkins, winning 79% of the vote to Jenkins’ 21%.
Scott entered Congress in January 1993 with education, job creation, health care, and crime prevention at the top of his agenda. As a member of the Education and Workforce Committee, Scott denounced government voucher programs, designed to assist in the payment of tuition at private schools, as a method of resegregating the educational system. He has also objected to a proposed Constitutional amendment that would guarantee the right to religious expression in public schools, on the grounds that the amendment would blur the separation of church and state and thrust the government into religious affairs. “We are seeking to solve a problem that doesn’t exist by creating problems that will exist,” Scott was quoted as saying in Congressional Quarterly Almanac 1998.
As a member of the Judiciary Committee, Scott has been a vocal advocate of crime prevention programs and an opponent of capital punishment. In 1994, he annoyed the Clinton administration and many of his Democratic colleagues by voting against a Democrat-backed crime bill that called for expanded use of the death penalty. Scott’s objection to the death penalty was based, in part, on its being disproportionately applied to African Americans. “I’d like to see a crime bill passed. I’m just not going to accept sixty new death penalties and no provisions they be applied fairly,” Scott remarked to Lerman of the Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service.
Scott’s position as the first African American congressman from Virginia in more than a century has made him especially conscious of his state’s African American history. In 1995, Scott and fellow Virginia representative, Thomas Bliley, backed legislation giving official recognition to the contribution of African American soldiers at the Battle of New Market Heights during the Civil War. Fourteen African American soldiers in the battle were awarded the Medal of Honor. “The Battle of New Market Heights forever refuted the fallacy that Blacks did not belong in the Army. The bravery of these men was extraordinary,” Scott told Jet.
In 1998, Scott was the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary subcommittee that considered charges against President Clinton concerning his relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Scott approached the matter from a legal perspective. “I’m defending the Constitution. If the President deserved to be impeached, he would be impeached. I think the burden is on me to insist on a fair process,” Scott said of his subcommittee duties to Lerman. Scott believed that the charges against Clinton, which included lying under oath, were not impeachable offenses because they did not undermine the constitutional structure of government. He told Melton that the Republican-controlled House had turned the inquiry into a “partisan charade.” In a statement before the subcommittee that was quoted in Congressional Quarterly Almanac 1998, Scott said—“We [should] consider the standards of impeachment before we go further. And even if we don’t adopt a standard, we should at least take a moment to consider the history in prior cases of impeachments, rather than simply blurt out unreasoned, partisan feeling about whether or not we want the President to continue in office.” Scott assisted Representative Rick Boucher, a fellow Virginian, in drafting a Democratic Party proposal to limit the scope of the inquiry. The proposal was rejected in favor of a Republican plan, which called for a broad inquiry. Scott opposed censuring the president, a compromise measure supported by every other Democrat on the subcommittee, on the grounds that the three branches of government are equal and thus cannot censure one another. Although his defense of Clinton failed and an impeachment trial was held in the Senate, Scott’s work on the subcommittee drew praise from colleagues. “He’s done a terrific job in a very tough spot. He’s really earned a role as someone who takes the Constitution seriously. I think people on both sides appreciate that he plays it straight,” said Representative Barney Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat and a senior member of the House Judiciary Committee, to Lerman.
In February of 1997, a Virginia court declared Scott’s majority-African American third district unconstitutional on the grounds that race had been the primary factor in its creation. Later in 1997, the United States Supreme Court upheld the lower court ruling, and Virginia’s congressional district lines had to be redrawn before the 1998 election. Changes to the district’s boundaries turned out to be less significant than expected, and African Americans still comprised a majority of 54 percent. Scott, who had won easy reelections in 1994 and 1996, ran unopposed in the 1998 Democratic primary. In the general election, he easily defeated an independent challenger. The Republicans did not field a candidate in the election.
Divorced with no children, Scott enjoys tennis and racquetball, and is an active member of St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church in Newport News. Politics, however, takes up almost all of his time. Because of his dedication, moderate stances on defense spending and anti-tobacco legislation, and appeal among voters, Scott has been tapped as a possible candidate for the governorship of Virginia or a seat in the United States Senate.
Almanac of American Politics 1998. Washington, DC: National Journal, 1997.
Congressional Quarterly Almanac 1998. Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly, 1999.
Congressional Quarterly’s Politics in America 2000. Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly, 1999.
Congressional Quarterly, January 16, 1993, p. 141; February 15, 1997, p. 446.
Economist, August 16, 1997, p. 23.
Jet, May 9, 1994, p. 22; July 10, 1995, p. 20; March 3, 1997, p. 51.
Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, November 9, 1998, p. K1147.
Washington Post, February 12, 1997, p. B3; June 28, 1997, p. B3; October 18, 1998, p. A20.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from Representative Robert C. Scott’s website at www.house.gov/scott.
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