Preserving Democracy: Why the Filibuster Must Go.
Within the next week or so, Texas will become the 18th state to make it harder for some people to vote. Think about that. In America, we pride ourselves on our forward-thinking, innovation, and ability to make things easier.
You can press a button on your phone and have a cheeseburger delivered within minutes.
You can run a business empire without ever leaving your bed.
But in more than a third of the country, including my home state of Wisconsin, lawmakers have decided that it should be harder to vote.
Why is that? The simple truth is that by making it harder for certain people to vote, lawmakers are making it easier for themselves to win re-election.
Voter suppression laws passed this year have all been aimed at minorities and working people. They’ve reduced polling sites in urban locations, added unnecessarily difficult new voter ID requirements, and even made it legal for partisan State Election Boards to take control local election boards and toss out ballots. This is the greatest assault on our democracy since the Jim Crow era, enabled and aided by the Supreme Court’s relentless gutting of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
That landmark legislation, which celebrates its 56th anniversary today, has been made a shell of its former self, reduced to a symbolic promise at best.
Sadly, American democracy doesn’t function much like a democracy these days. Consider the last election: Last November, Joe Biden received over seven million more votes than Donald Trump, Senate Democrats represent 41 million more voters than Republican senators. And despite gerrymandered districts in blue states like my home state of Wisconsin, Democrats were still able to retain control of the House of Representatives. If Democrats have the trifecta majority, why are Republicans effectively in control of the federal government?
With full control of the government, and a popular mandate, Democrats should have made preserving our democracy and voting rights their first priority. Any reservation against eliminating the filibuster should have disappeared at the first sign of the GOP’s ongoing assault on voting rights. New legislation blatantly attacking voting rights, compounded by Republican failure to condemn the ongoing efforts by former President Donald Trump to overturn the 2020 election should have eliminated any hesitancy by Democratic holdouts.
And yet, here we are, days away from a Senate recess, on the verge of the census department releasing data that will help cement gerrymandered districts for the next decade.
Simply put, we face a reality that is incompatible with the way our government is meant to be structured. Several Democratic senators’ desperately fight to maintain the legislative filibuster, an effort they are justifying by citing entirely misleading and flat-out wrong historical anecdotes. In particular, Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin continue to say that the filibuster reflects the genius of the founding fathers.
Let’s put aside the fact that our founding fathers included an amendment process to fix and update the constitution as the country developed and changed, even as they immediately included the ten amendments that make up our Bill of Rights. Our original constitution didn’t even include the filibuster, and the supermajority requirement the Senate has created for itself was actually flately rejected by the most brilliant of our early leaders.
In Federalist #22, one of the many documents produced to frame how our government should work, Alexander Hamilton, who was no populist himself, wrote that requiring more than a simple majority to pass legislation would be a horrible error that would make governing almost impossible.
A filibuster, he wrote, would serve to “embarrass the administration, to destroy the energy of the government, and to substitute the pleasure, caprice, or artifices of an insignificant, turbulent, or corrupt junto, to the regular deliberations and decisions of a respectable majority.”
If Hamilton were alive today, he’d undoubtedly be a fiscal conservative. And in states across the country, Republicans are using their bare legislative majorities to pass voting restrictions, which have all been green-lit by a Supreme Court that was confirmed by bare simple majority votes.
By refusing to even adjust the filibuster to protect voting rights, Democrats are unilaterally surrendering. They are allowing Republicans to dismantle our democracy and breaking the promises made to those that put Democrats in office. They are ignoring the huge number of activists, civil rights leaders, and Black legislators who are putting their bodies on the line and getting arrested over and over again to simply solidify their constituents’ right to vote and have their vote actually matter.
Voting rights are core to everything else for which we fight. Fair labor laws, Medicare for All, a Green New Deal — none of those things stand a chance of happening if Republicans gerrymander and suppress their way to power. Should that happen, we’re also guaranteed to see a rollback of a woman’s right to choose, LGBTQ+ rights, and other basic freedoms protected by ever-weakening laws and Supreme Court precedents. The future under this regime is too catastrophic to truly comprehend.
Democrats cannot be the party of civil rights if they’re party to the destruction of civil rights. They must pass the For The People Act and John Lewis Voting Rights Act now, or watch the people and policies they purport to fight for be subsumed by right-wing and racial animus. History will not look back kindly on Democrats that block this legislation and squander this opportunity. Then again, in a GOP-controlled world, regardless of what the Democrats do, “history” won’t look back kindly.