Eight years after the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, Congress could finally set things right. But legislation that could improve access to the ballot and strengthen democracy depends on whether the Senate can remove the filibuster, which has a history rooted in racism.
Voting rights advocates and Black elected officials ramped up calls to abolish the filibuster, or at least create a special exception for voting rights. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signing a restrictive bill inspired by Donald Trump’s “big lie” about election fraud makes the case against the filibuster even more urgent.
Sen. Raphael Warnock tweeted Friday evening that voters aren’t asking questions about matters of procedure. He said voters want to know how he and his colleagues will make progress on legislation affecting voting rights, health care and education. Calling the filibuster a “Jim Crow” relic, Warnock said it was time the Senate acted in the best interest of the people.
In an interview with Politico, Rev. Dr. William Barber called on President Joe Biden‘s administration and Democrats to get rid of the filibuster. Through his work with Repairers of the Breach and the Poor People’s Campaign, Barber says fighting voter suppression is critical to ending poverty.
“And you’re never gonna get living wages done… and health care if you don’t push and fight against voter suppression,” Barber told Politico.
Stacey Abrams, the voting rights advocate and 2018 Democratic gubernatorial candidate in Georgia, called for Congress to create an exemption or special carve-out to address voting rights.
“I fundamentally believe that Congress alone has the ability to create a unified threshold for democracy in our country,” Abrams said in a recent interview with Politico.
The filibuster has been preventing progress since the 1840s. Created to protect pro-slavery planters, the modern filibuster is more than a simple procedural move.
In a recent op-ed, MSNBC contributor Keisha M. Blaine explored the racist history of the filibuster. Blaine, a history professor, recounted the introduction of the filibuster by Sen. John C. Calhoun in 1841. She pointed to the use of the filibuster to delay anti-lynching legislation and several attempts to pass civil rights legislation.
The need for a supermajority to pass legislation may make sense in a body that can compromise. But compromise cannot exist when one side is focused on legislating based on Trump’s lies. Sen. Strom Thurmond holds the record for the longest filibuster in 1957 when he spent 24 hours going off about the Civil Rights Act of 1957. Southern Dixiecrats used the filibuster to delay the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.