Ex-Sen. Birch Bayh dies at 91

Ex-Sen. Birch Bayh dies at 91
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Birch Bayh

Birch Bayh, a three-term US senator whose tenure left a lasting mark on the Constitution and the world of sports, died Thursday, his son, Evan, said.

Bayh was 91 and was suffering from several illnesses, Evan Bayh told CNN.

Originally a farmer, he was elected to the Indiana state House before running for the US Senate and winning in 1962 at age 34.

“He was a champion of equality for all Americans and opportunity for those in need of it,” his son Evan, a former US senator himself, told CNN Thursday. “He will be remembered as someone who wanted opportunity, equality, justice … regardless of station or birthright.”

Soon after assuming office, Birch Bayh would assume chairmanship of a key subcommittee on constitutional amendments — a rarity for a freshman. One of the major achievements he will be known for is serving as the principal author of two successful constitutional amendments. The 25th Amendment, which passed in 1967, updated the succession of the presidency and vice presidency and what happens when the President is incapacitated. He also played a central role in the establishment of the 26th Amendment, passed in 1971, which lowered the voting age from 21 to 18.

A principal reason he sought to lower the voting age was the Vietnam War, and the reality that many who fought in it were not old enough to vote for the presidency.

Bayh also played a hand in helping to put together several landmark pieces of legislation, most notably the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Separately, he was chiefly responsible for Title IX — an amendment to a 1972 education act — which said no one in the US, on the basis of sex, should be excluded from participating or be denied benefits or subjected to discrimination to any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.

His son also pointed to the 1974 Juvenile Justice Act, which provided federal protections for the treatment of youth in the justice system, and the Bayh-Dole Act, co-sponsored by Bayh and Republican Sen. Bob Dole, which enabled universities, nonprofit research organizations and small businesses to own and bring to the market inventions developed under federally funded research programs and prompted a growth in American technology sector.

The elder Bayh also introduced the Senate version of the Equal Rights Amendment in 1972.

“We had giants as leaders in those days,” his son told CNN, recounting how important it was for his father to have relationships with colleagues from across the aisle and to prioritize bipartisanship. “It was a different era … trying to reconcile differences across party aisles.”

Bayh, who unsuccesfully sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 1976, lost his bid for a fourth Senate term in 1980 to future Vice President Dan Quayle. He later served as a lobbyist and practiced law in Washington, DC.