By Senator Lena C. Taylor
Should This Still Be A Question
If you turn on any local or cable news show right now, you’re likely to hear people talking about the “filibuster.” The word, which is derived from a Dutch term for “freebooter” and the Spanish “filibusteros,” which is used to define the act of pirates raiding the Caribbean islands, accurately describes a legislative maneuver intended to hijack a bill from receiving a vote. There is currently a bill, called “The 2021 For the People Act, HR1” in danger of seizure. Already passed in the U.S. House of Representatives, the bill would expand and protect voting rights. However, a filibuster in the Senate would mean that the bill is dead on arrival. And that’s why so many people are talking.
So, let’s make sure we are all talking about the same thing. According to the U.S. Senate’s website, a filibuster is an “Informal term for any attempt to block or delay Senate action on a bill or other matter by debating it at length, by offering numerous procedural motions, or by any other delaying or obstructive actions.”
Further the web pages states “the tactic of using long speeches to delay action on legislation appeared in the very first session of the Senate. On Sept. 22, 1789, Pennsylvania Sen. William Maclay wrote in his diary that the “design of the Virginians . . . was to talk away the time, so that we could not get the bill passed.” The idea was simple but not new. In fact, filibusters can be traced back to Julius Caesar and ancient Romans.
My first experience with the word filibuster came when I learned how it was used in an attempt to deny African Americans civil rights. Nearly 10 years before I was born, South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond used the tactic to try to stop the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1957. In fact, the recent discussion on the filibuster has yielded an ugly truth. This tool has not only been used to protect the institution of slavery, but also effectively employed to curtail civil and voting rights for African Americans since its use in this country.
The filibuster has impacted additional decisions to include even World War I. As we were embarking on war, then President Woodrow Wilson wanted Congress to pass a bill that would allow American merchant ships to be armed. Wisconsin Sen. Robert LaFollette and a few antiwar senators defeated Wilson’s request, through a filibuster. It was that action that helped secure passage of Rule 22 and gave us another term “cloture.” This is the ability to limit a filibuster, end the debate and call for a vote.
Before you get too excited, I need to remind you that the cloture rule requires 3/5 of the senate. This equals roughly 60 senate members to end debate on most topics and move to a vote. And this is why people are talking. Since the 2020 presidential election, Republicans have introduced and, in some cases, passed, more than 250 bills to limit access to voting. In 43 states, Republicans have sought to pass bills that would do such things as eliminate weekend or Sunday voting (Souls to the Polls and Black folks voting after church), eliminate ballot drop boxes, force stricter voter ID requirements and rules about absentee ballots. Democrats have an ability to pass legislation to not only protect these voting rights but expand them…If they do away with the filibuster. So, I’m back where I started, to filibuster or not filibuster? Should this still be a question?