Nearly 150 progressive organizations put new pressure on Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer Friday to abolish the filibuster, saying the Senate rule is blocking democracy-strengthening reforms and must be “tossed into the dustbin of history.”
“The crisis facing our democracy couldn’t be more real, and addressing it couldn’t be more urgent,” the groups wrote.
Their letter to the New York Democrat was organized by the progressive Fix Our Senate campaign. Signatories include prominent national groups like Indivisible, Public Citizen, and MoveOn.
Getting rid of the Senate filibuster, which requires 60 votes for most legislation to advance, is crucial for passage of S. 1, the For the People Act—sweeping pro-voter rights legislation the groups say is necessary to counter the slew of Republican-led voting rights attacks making their way through state legislatures.
The letter singles out a recent Georgia state House bill that includes “blatant attempts to specifically target and suppress Black voters.” But that GOP effort is far from alone; the letter points to Brennan Center data showing more than 250 voter suppression bills advancing in 43 states.
The widely popular American Rescue Plan (ARP), the $1.9 trillion relief bill, only passed the Senate because it avoided the filibuster rule by going through budget reconciliation and thus needed a simple majority, the groups wrote. “And we know that if [Senate] Minority Leader McConnell can use the filibuster as a weapon to keep our democracy rigged and prevent President Biden and Senate Democrats from delivering on their promises, then the For the People Act is unlikely to become law.”
The coalition also highlights the filibuster’s racist past. They note:
Invented by pro-slavery senators before the Civil War, the filibuster prevented the passage of over 200 anti-lynching bills over the years. Between the end of Reconstruction and the passage of the 1957 Civil Rights Act, the filibuster prevented numerous civil rights bills from passing—including several that had majority support in the House of Representatives, majority support in the Senate, and presidents ready to sign them into law. In fact, until 1964, civil rights bills were the only category of bills routinely stopped by the filibuster. Even the Civil Rights Act of 1964, one of the most important pieces of civil rights legislation in American history, was blocked for more than two months before the filibuster was finally broken. In his case for eliminating the filibuster, columnist Ezra Klein notes that “filibusters were rare in the mid-century Senate, but when they happened, it was primarily for one purpose: the preservation of racial segregation, hierarchy, and violence in the South.”
In light of that history, the groups say former President Barack Obama gave an apt description of the filibuster when he called it a “Jim Crow relic.”
“Senate Democrats will soon face a choice,” the groups wrote. “Protect our democracy and pass the For the People Act, or protect the filibuster—an outdated and abused ‘Jim Crow relic’ that deserves to be tossed into the dustbin of history.”
The letter was released two days after the Battle Born Collective and the Sunrise Movement—both signatories to the Schumer letter—joined Justice Democrats and Data for Progress in issuing a joint statement that declared using “reconciliation to pass an infrastructure package while letting the filibuster kill other critical policies privileges a Jim Crow relic over delivering results, and misreads the lessons of the ARP.”
“It’s clear Republicans in Congress don’t want to help pass policies that improve people’s lives, rebuild our nation’s crumbling infrastructure, and meet the scale of the crises we face. Democrats have a mandate from voters to move forward on their own. There’s no reason to delay abolishing the Senate filibuster,” the four groups said.
Nuking or reforming the filibuster, however, would require the support from all Senate Democrats, and rightwing Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) this week reaffirmed in his opposition to getting rid of the rule.
In a Wednesday op-ed at the Washington Post, Manchin described the filibuster as a “critical tool” and said “there is no circumstance in which I will vote to eliminate or weaken the filibuster.”