Ending The Filibuster Is The Last Hope For American Democracy
The filibuster is no time-honored tradition intended to ensure bipartisanship; it’s an accidental loophole in an old, reworked Senate rule.
August 19, 2021 at 6:09 pm
Opinions are the writer’s own and not those of Blavity's.
For millions of Americans, the events of January 6 and The Big Lie that surrounded them interrupted the relief of Joe Biden’s election. But to those 81 million Americans who voted for Biden over encroaching fascism, we must be clear: America is in profoundly worse danger than before.
Donald Trump’s attempts at overturning the election were lawless, but today’s Republican party is working to legalize future election theft. Republican-led state legislatures have passed 30 restrictive laws in 18 states that will reduce turnout of the Black and brown voters who propelled Democrats to victory with record turnout in 2020. The Justice Department is suing Georgia not just for the suppressive effect of its new law but because it believes this effect is no accident. Georgia, and the states where similar laws have passed, actually intend to suppress Black voters.
On July 1, the Supreme Court dealt a stunning blow to the prospects of that lawsuit and to what remained of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) after the court began dismantling it in 2013. The bar is now so high that it will be almost impossible for the Justice Department to win in Georgia or elsewhere. The VRA — which finally gave Black and brown voters equal access — is dead.
There is a solution: the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act, which requires pre-clearance of voting law changes with the federal government, and the For the People Act, which would enshrine federal voting standards. People in more than 60 cities across America will march in the March On for Voting Rights on August 28, the 58th anniversary of the March On Washington, to demand that Congress pass both.
The For the People Act has stalled in the Senate as Republicans block it with the filibuster. But it’s two Democratic senators who could help eliminate or modify the filibuster to protect democracy — Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona — who instead stand in the way.
Most who voted for Biden don’t understand Congressional politics; they see only gridlock and partisanship where they want progress and cooperation. They don’t understand why Congress is filibustering legislation that 67% of Americans — including 61% of Republicans — want. So we believe that shining a bright light of scrutiny will illuminate for those 81 million Americans why they must demand the filibuster be eliminated or modified to pass these acts immediately.
The filibuster is no time-honored tradition intended to ensure bipartisanship; it’s an accidental loophole in an old, reworked Senate rule. It has been used for over a century to block legislation that a majority of voters want — most of it related to righting the wrongs of racism. Between the end of Reconstruction in 1877 and the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, it was used only to block bills that would protect Black voters, outlaw lynching and stop poll taxes.
Senator Sinema argues that legislation passed with bipartisan cooperation is the only way to achieve “durable, lasting results.” Her idea seems to be that any legislation passed by a simple majority of Democrats would be reversed when Republicans someday win control of the Senate, so why bother?
It is stunning to argue that we should not do what is right because someone might later try to undo it. Does one tell a surgeon not to remove the cancer because it might one day return? Does one tell firefighters to let the house burn because the arsonist might try again?
If the Republican party were foolish enough to reverse popular legislation, it would pay a heavy price in the next election. Yet rather than force Republicans into the shameful position of repealing popular laws, Sinema and Manchin are taking the hits for them.
Manchin has said that protecting the right to vote “should never be done in a partisan manner.” Does Manchin think it’s a good thing that it took 100 years after the end of the Civil War for a bipartisan group of senators to finally overcome a filibuster, pass the Voting Rights Act and end Jim Crow? Will he be content to wait another 100 years if it buys cooperation?
We can’t wait. Manchin and Sinema’s arguments are the kind of nonsense that any high school debate team could demolish, and it’s time the American people stop accepting them. Our democracy needs the 81 million Americans who voted for Joe Biden to shout from the rooftops that it’s time to eliminate or modify the filibuster now. Otherwise, we are in the dying days of democracy.