Martin Luther King Jr., gives his "I Have a Dream" speech to a crowd before the Lincoln Memorial during the Freedom March in Washington, DC, on August 28, 1963. The widely quoted speech became one of his most famous. Martin Luther King Giving "Dream" Speech
Martin Luther King Jr., gives his "I Have a Dream" speech to a crowd before the Lincoln Memorial during the Freedom March in Washington, DC, on August 28, 1963. The widely quoted speech became one of his most famous.

America is at a filibuster crossroads. Do we uphold a racist Senate rule? Or do we protect voting rights?

STAFFORD-Back in 1963, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was asked about putting the fate of progressive legislation to the vote of the American people. Dr. King affirmed he would support such an approach, stating, “I think the vast majority of people in the United States would vote favorably for such a bill.” But Dr. King wasn’t done. He additionally admonished most astutely about the filibuster.

“I think the tragedy is that we have a Congress with a Senate that has a minority of misguided Senators who would use the filibuster to keep the majority of people from even voting,” King said. “They won’t let the majority of Senators vote. And certainly they don’t want the majority of people to vote because they know they don’t represent the majority of people.” 

Fast forward to 2021 and America is at a filibuster crossroads. We have a choice to make. Do we uphold a racist Senate rule, i.e. the filibuster, or do we uphold American democracy by protecting voting rights? In a recent column, West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin made clear that he intends to stand by the racist filibuster. In likewise refusing to vote to pass For the People Act—a critical bill needed to protect voting rights and voting security—Senator Manchin enables the nearly 400 voter suppression bills that Republicans continue to introduce nationwide, several of which have already passed.

The Most Illogical View

Manchin wants us to believe that the same people who inspired a deadly insurrection, then voted to block an investigation into that insurrection, will now vote to protect voting rights? This is literally the most illogical view imaginable—and our democracy is the casualty.

Meanwhile, the For the People Act, also known as HR1, is a wildly popular bill among Democrats (77%), Republicans (56%), and Independents (68%). All combined, 67% of Americans across the political spectrum support this bill. And for good cause. HR1 strengthens election security, expands voting access, and increases civic participation. That is as bipartisan as it gets. Just because the Republican political party cares more about power than even the demands of its own Republican constituents, does not validate Manchin’s claim that the For the People Act is partisan.

Moreover, we don’t even have to accuse Republicans of trying to suppress the vote to win—it’s something Republican leaders readily admit. In a recent interview, Texas’s Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton admitted that Donald Trump would have lost Texas during the 2020 Presidential election if Paxton hadn’t successfully blocked millions of mail-in absentee ballots. In other words, Texas went Republican not because it is a red state, but because it is a voter suppression state.

A Deception in the Senate

It’s also worth noting that the 50/50 Senate tie between Republicans and Democrats deceptively gives the impression that Senate Republicans and Senate Democrats represent an equal number of Americans. In reality, Senate Democrats represent about 185 million Americans while Senate Republicans represent only about 141 million Americans—Democrats represent roughly 42 million more Americans than do Republicans

However you slice it, we cannot allow, to quote Dr. King, the minority of misguided Senators to suppress the will and voting access of the majority. Such an act is entirely antithetical to the tenets of justice.

It’s Time to Remove the Filibuster

We don’t have time to waste. America is at a crossroads, but fortunately we have a clear traffic sign on which direction to proceed. The American people elected Democrats to the majority in the House, the Senate, and the White House. They have given the federal government a clear mandate to proceed past the filibuster. They want to see Congress act to protect our democracy and uphold justice.

The only question is whether people like Senator Manchin will uphold justice, or remain misguided as Dr. King warned? Now is the time to act to protect voting rights and election security nationwide. If we do not protect voting rights and our democracy, the next insurrection might be successful. We must abolish the filibuster and pass HR1, or we risk losing our democracy permanently.

Qasim Rashid is a human rights lawyer, author, and Truman National Security Project Fellow. Follow him on Twitter @QasimRashid.

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