Nearly 150 Advocacy Groups Call on Majority Leader Schumer to Not Allow the Filibuster to Block the For the People Act

WASHINGTON – Today, nearly 150 groups representing millions of advocates across the country sent Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer a letter calling on him to eliminate the filibuster and…

WASHINGTON – Today, nearly 150 groups representing millions of advocates across the country sent Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer a letter calling on him to eliminate the filibuster and pass the For the People Act. In the letter, the groups highlight the history of the filibuster as a tool that has blocked progress on civil and voting rights bills, and cite President Obama’s call to eliminate the “Jim Crow relic.” The letter also connects the dots between the voter suppression bills moving across the country and the need to move quickly on the For the People Act to prevent them from eroding our democracy. 

Key excerpts from the letter:

“Now that the American Rescue Act is signed into law and delivering benefits to workers, families, and communities, we urge the Senate Democratic majority, under your leadership, to move quickly to address another major crisis facing our nation by passing S.1, the For the People Act. And to make sure that can get done, we call on you to eliminate the filibuster as a weapon that a minority of senators can use to overturn the will of the majority and prevent the For the People Act from even getting an up-or-down vote.”
“…we know that if 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.”

“Senate Democrats will soon face a choice: Protect our democracy and pass the For the People Act, or protect the filibuster – an outdated and abused ‘Jim Crow relic’ that deserves to be tossed into the dustbin of history. We strongly urge you and the Senate Democratic caucus to do the right thing and not allow the filibuster to once again stand in the way of civil rights, voting rights, racial justice, and the strengthening of our democracy.”

Below is the full text of the letter:

Thursday, April 8, 2021

The Honorable Charles E. Schumer, Majority Leader
322 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
 
Majority Leader Schumer,

Thank you for your hard work and strong leadership in passing the American Rescue Act through the Senate in the face of unanimous partisan opposition by Senate Republicans. We commend you for reaching across the aisle to work with Republicans on legislation that had overwhelming and bipartisan support across the country, and for pushing past the partisan obstruction and delivering on your promises when that outreach was rejected.

Now that the American Rescue Act is signed into law and delivering benefits to workers, families, and communities, we urge the Senate Democratic majority, under your leadership, to move quickly to address another major crisis facing our nation by passing S.1, the For the People Act. And to make sure that can get done, we call on you to eliminate the filibuster as a weapon that a minority of senators can use to overturn the will of the majority and prevent the For the People Act from even getting an up-or-down vote. 

The crisis facing our democracy couldn’t be more real, and addressing it couldn’t be more urgent. Just this month Republicans passed a bill through the Georgia House that would roll back voting access and rights, including blatant attempts to specifically target and suppress Black voters. Similar attempts are being made in Arizona to suppress the vote and make voting more difficult for communities of color. And according to the Brennan Center, “as of Feb. 19, 2021, legislators in 43 states have carried over, prefiled, or introduced more than 250 bills that would make it harder to vote — over seven times the number of restrictive bills as compared to roughly this time last year. These bills primarily seek to limit mail voting and impose stricter voter ID requirements.” As the Washington Post notes, the “measures are likely to disproportionately affect those in cities and Black voters in particular.”

This shouldn’t be a partisan issue, and for the Republicans and independents across the country who support the For the People Act in poll after poll, it’s clearly not. So while the For the People Act faced unanimous partisan opposition in the House of Representatives, Republicans in the Senate should do the right thing and support it as it moves through the Senate – or at least allow the bill to move to an up-or-down vote. But we also know that the similarly popular American Rescue Act only passed because it was exempt from the partisan filibuster and could advance with a simple majority. And we know that if 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 filibuster has a long history of being used to block voting rights, civil rights, and democracy-protecting bills like the For the People Act. In fact, for most of Senate history, this was the filibuster’s primary purpose. 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 midcentury Senate, but when they happened, it was primarily for one purpose: the preservation of racial segregation, hierarchy, and violence in the South.”

President Barack Obama highlighted this fact last year in his powerful eulogy for Representative John Lewis at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church. He talked about the need to build on Representative Lewis’ legacy and continue his work fighting for civil rights, voting rights, and racial justice, and said “if all this takes eliminating the filibuster, another Jim Crow relic, in order to secure the God-given rights of every American, then that’s what we should do.”

We agree with President Obama that the filibuster is a “Jim Crow relic” that should not be allowed to stop the For the People Act from becoming law. We agree with President Biden that “democracy is having a hard time functioning” and the Senate must take action. We agree with Senator Amy Klobuchar, Chairwoman of the Senate Rules Committee, who recently said “I’m not going to let an antiquated Senate rule undermine the foundation of our democracy” and that she would “get rid of the filibuster” to pass the For the People. Act. We agree with Senator Jeff Merkley, lead Senate sponsor of the For The People Act, who said “we must not let America’s constitutional promises be held hostage in the Senate” and who understands that the filibuster cannot be an “excuse” for inaction. And we agree with you, Majority Leader Schumer, when you said “the bottom line is we’re going to come together as a caucus and figure out a way to get the bold action that the American people demand…we’re not going to be the legislative graveyard.”

Senate Democrats will soon face a choice: 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. We strongly urge you and the Senate Democratic caucus to do the right thing and not allow the filibuster to once again stand in the way of civil rights, voting rights, racial justice, and the strengthening of our democracy.
 
Signed,
 
#NoRA
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About Fix Our Senate

Fix Our Senate is a campaign and coalition fighting for the broken Senate to be fixed so that the newly-elected government can get to work cleaning up President Trump’s messes and tackling the major challenges facing families, communities, and the country. Our highest priority is the elimination of the legislative filibuster, an outdated Senate rule that has been weaponized and abused by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to block overwhelmingly popular legislation supported by a majority of elected senators.

Fix Our Senate coordinates work with allied organizations and advocates, serves as a resource for research and messaging guidance, communicates to key audiences directly and through the media, and uses any and all tools at our disposal to educate and persuade senators, candidates, and the public about the need for reform.

To sign up for Fix Our Senate’s mailing list, go to fixoursenate.org or simply email press@fixoursenate.org


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