The filibuster must go on the subject of voting, civil rights | Opinion

“It used to be … that you got up when you were a filibuster. It had a physical dimension; When you are exhausted, you have to get off the ground. “

– Thomas Udall, former US Senator (D-NM)

Hello downstream,

“Mr. Smith is going to Washington.”

Many of us have seen, or at least heard of, this classic Jimmy Stewart movie where the hero gets up and speaks for hours (and hours) trying to defeat a law.

(Spoiler alert: He eventually collapses from exhaustion.)

For many of us, this was the introduction to the so-called “filibuster” – a purely senatorial invention supposedly intended to ensure cross-party support for legislation.

It takes 60 votes to override a filibuster. The logic is that if advocates can get some from the other side to end the filibuster, we (yay!) Are non-partisan.

Of course, the filibuster has a darker, more realpolitical side, as it has been used throughout history to block otherwise popular or noble laws of a minority opposed to change.

That was the case in 1957 when South Carolina Democratic Senator Strom Thurmond – a “Dixiecrat” who later switched parties – filibustered that year’s civil rights law through 24-hour, 18-minute talks.

The longest filibuster in Senate history.

A note on the story: For those unfamiliar with the term, “Dixiecrats” were born in 1948 when the Conservative Southern Democrats split from President Harry Truman over integrating the military and taking other measures to promote African American civil rights To block.

You see, these Dixiecrats were determined to protect the rights of the southern states and uphold racial segregation.

And if the phrase “rights of states” sounds familiar, it was (and is) used as a defense of the protection of slavery by the South and its “cause” in the civil war.

In 1964, Democratic Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia finished second after Thurmond’s Filibuster when he spoke out against the Civil Rights Act of 1964 with 14 hours and 13 minutes.

Note on history: Byrd remains the longest-serving U.S. Senator in history and was the longest-serving Congressman until our own John Dingell set the new service record.

In both cases, these senators tried to block civil rights legislation by doing what Jimmy Stewart did: stand and talk as long as possible to obstruct the vote.

But that was it then.

These days, no senator needs to break a sweat when it comes to calling up a filibuster. You just have to threaten to block the legislation, not really stand up and talk until you lose your voice or break down.

Hardly any brave profiles.

I won’t go into the nuances of the filibuster process except to explain one thing:

A filibuster does not work when someone gets up and speaks, thereby blocking the action on the bill, but because it takes 60 votes to stop a filibuster.

This is where the power of the minority comes into play: if the majority does not have a majority of 60 votes, the minority can effectively block what it wants.

In short, the filibuster has turned into a weapon that the minority uses to block the majority – making elections almost pointless as there are no consequences for winning or losing.

And since our country is roughly evenly divided, we’ll likely never see a super-major in the Senate again, which means very little will be done in the future – except for laws that only require 51 votes.

(Again, I won’t go into the nuances, but I’m sure you’ve heard of “reconciliation” and the “nuclear option”.)

So is it time for the filibuster to go the way of the horse and the buggy?

Probably – or at least it’s time to change its usage, which the Democrats are considering: exempting certain types of laws from the filibuster (or bringing back the long speeches).

In particular, Dems is considering an exemption for bills that affect civil and voting rights – like HR 1.

On March 3, the US House passed this bill, which contains five elements. It’s now being hampered by Senate Republicans who fear the protections that come with it – and for good reason.

If you remember, it was South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham who famously said, “If we don’t do anything about the (controlling) postal vote, we’ll lose the ability to elect a Republican in this country.”

In fact, the GOP has lost the referendum in seven of the last eight presidential elections.

As a result, Republican-led state legislatures across the country are currently in the process of enacting law after law to restrict – not expand – access to voting.

All in the name of the 21st Century Big Lie: a stolen choice.

So here’s what HR 1 would do – and before anyone starts yelling about states’ rights to control their own elections, the Constitution says this:

“The times, places, and manner in which elections for senators and representatives are held are determined by law in each state. However, Congress may legislate or amend these provisions at any time, except in places where Senators are cursed. “

And it is this second clause that allows Congress to legislate to regulate these elections.

This is where HR 1 comes into play; it would remove the patchwork system of voting that changes from state to state. (Of course, you can expect legal challenges, but I’m not going to go there now.)

HR 1 would:

• Establish a number of national standards for voter registration and inbox voting.

This would include ensuring same-day voter registration, at least 15 days early voting, and restricting the manner in which states would clear voting lists.

Internally, of course, states and local jurisdictions would continue to control their own elections, but elections for national office would now come under federal law.

• Ask each state to set up an independent commission to draw congressional districts – something we already have in Michigan.

This provision is intended to partially eliminate wandering by removing lawmakers from the process. The commissions would require five dems, five republicans, and five independents.

In Michigan, we have 13 residents on the commission: four Dems, four Republicans, and five Independents.

• Encourage so-called “Super PACS” and “Dark Money” groups to make their donors public.

The law would establish a public funding game for small-dollar donations, funded by a fee to corporations and banks that pay civil or criminal penalties.

Oh, and it would also require Facebook and Twitter to publicly report the source and amount of money spent on political ads. (Good.)

• Establish a code of ethics for Supreme Court justices, end an unethical practice in Congress, and control lobbying.

This unethical practice currently allows a member of Congress to resolve a sexual harassment or discrimination claim with taxpayers’ money (in certain cases).

In the future, the member would be personally on the hook.

The law would also put more control over lobbyists and foreign agents – which would certainly tighten control over foreign participation in our presidential elections.

Speaking of presidential elections …

• Finally, the law would require presidential candidates to disclose their tax returns.

Overall, HR 1 is the most comprehensive voting protection we’ve seen in this country since the 1960s – and, given the abuses we’ve witnessed across the country and the threat of further abuse, it’s long overdue.

Given Republicans’ alleged fear of never winning an election again if voting rights are expanded and protected, a filibuster in the Senate is a given.


Apart from the fact that only 51 votes are required to draft a filibuster exemption for the electoral and civil rights law.

And the Democrats can.


If they can simply accept that elections have and should have consequences; If you win, you have been given authority by the people to do what you promised.

Unfortunately, however, too many have held onto fears that if the filibuster disappears – or is “watered down” – if the majority shifts (if it shifts), things will go bad for those who were earlier in power become.

But isn’t that why we hold elections?

Don’t we choose people who we want to act in our best interests and who match our beliefs?

But if they don’t act – for fear of expected (not actual) effects – why run at all?

Here too, elections should have consequences. Wouldn’t acting in the best interests of your constituents (damn filibusters) actually increase the turnout of those who agree with you?

Sure, it will also bring forth those who oppose you – but that’s why we have election day.

The sad fact is that HR 1 – which is apparently intended to expand and protect the voting rights of minorities – is being blocked by a minority in the Senate.

Can you spell irony

The truth is that the GOP certainly knew how to exercise power when it controlled the House, Senate, and Presidency; It is high time the Dems acted too.

Starting with HR 1.

• •

CORRECTION: Last week I reported that three of our downriver communities were not receiving stimulus money from the US relief plan.

I was wrong – as pointed out by a retired Lincoln Park firefighter who found another source of data on the expected distributions.

So my thanks to him. Here is an updated table that includes not only these three wards, but also our neighbors in Dearborn and Dearborn Heights.

covid relief-michigan-3-24-21.JPG

This updated table now includes all downriver communities as well as neighboring Dearborn and Dearborn Heights.

Craig Farrand is a former editor-in-chief of The News-Herald Newspapers. He can be reached at [email protected].

Comments are closed.