Pushing to End Filibuster, Dems Point to its History in the Civil Rights EraHistorians in the News
tags: civil rights, filibuster, Senate
Democrats working to dismantle the filibuster as a major impediment to their legislative agenda say the procedural maneuver is a threat to civil rights.
They are working to reframe the push to abolish the 60-vote procedural hurdle as a fight to protect those rights and follow through on promises Democrats made to voters — particularly Black voters — who helped deliver them the White House and control of the Senate.
"The question will be for Democrats who were powered into office on the strength of Black and brown voters what they will actually do to make sure racial justice can actually rule when it comes to policies," said Rashad Robinson, president of the civil rights advocacy group Color of Change.
For many Black Democrats, such as House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, the threat of that blockade recalls a history of senators using the filibuster to block anti-lynching legislation and keep Jim Crow laws on the books.
"Their efforts are designed to gain power for their party by suppressing political participation by minorities," Clyburn said. "Today, Republicans are using the big lie about the 2020 elections as a pretext to advance a litany of minority voting suppression laws."
McConnell is correct that Democrats also used it to block legislation when they were in the minority and increased the use of the filibuster in the Trump era. But historians disagree with his framing.
Kevin Kruse, a historian and professor at Princeton University, said it's true that the filibuster was not created to block civil rights bills. But that obscures the reality of how it was used, he said.
"It's not that the filibuster itself is inherently racist, but it has been the favorite tool of racists," he said. "It certainly has a deep racial history."
Kruse said both parties used the filibuster to block bills to protect the rights of Black Americans. He said people who say the filibuster forces compromise ignore that history.
"In the 1930s, the Democrats use the filibuster repeatedly to kill anti-lynching legislation," he said. "The result of their effort, they were successful, was that that measure was dropped entirely."
Kruse listed other examples, including efforts to filibuster the Civil Rights Act of 1964.