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Jan-20-2022 16:27printcomments

Two Democrats and 50 Republicans Doom Voting Rights Legislation

Once upon a time, voting rights was a bi-partisan issue.

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(SAN FRANCISCO, CA.) - On a party line vote, the House of Representatives on January 13 passed "Freedom to Vote: John 3 R. Lewis Act" that combines the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Amendment Act. However, the democrats in the Senate did not have the votes to change the filibuster rule to allow passage by a simple majority.

Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) voted against changing the filibuster rule. However, Manchin and Sinema are not solely to blame for the failure to pass the voting rights legislation; they share the blame with the 50 Republican senators who voted against the legislation.

Once upon a time, voting rights was a bi-partisan issue. Remember, the 1965 Voting Rights Act passed the House by a 328–74 vote (Democrats 217–54, Republicans 111–20), and the Senate passed it by a 79–18 vote (Democrats 49–17, Republicans 30–1).

The U.S. Senate filibuster is an archaic rule not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution. Originally it required a procedure (a cloture motion) to end the debate and take a vote. It took 2/3 (67) of the Senate to overcome a filibuster; it was later changed to 60 votes.

It meant that a minority of the Senate could defeat a motion by the majority. This is not what the framers of the U.S. Constitution envisioned. They repeatedly stated that majority rule was the “first principle” of a Republic.

One of the primary uses of the filibuster during the 20th century was to block civil rights legislation, especially during the Jim Crow era.

Of the 30 measures that were derailed by the filibuster between 1917 and 1994, exactly half of them involved civil rights such as anti-lynching bills proposed in 1922 and 1935; the Civil Rights Act of 1957; and legislation that would have prohibited poll taxes and outlawed discrimination in employment, housing, and voting.

Unfortunately, in 1913 the U.S. Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder gutted the 1965 Voting Rights Act, holding that it is unconstitutional to use the coverage formula in Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act to determine which jurisdictions are subject to the pre-clearance requirement of Section 5 of the Act before implementing any changes to their voting laws or practices. The ruling upended legal protections for minority voters.

In 2021, using the baseless claim that the 2020 presidential election was stolen (the “Big Lie”), 19 states enacted 34 laws that made voting harder, while many blue states expanded access, particularly by mail voting. We can expect more such restrictive laws this year.

These voter-suppression laws permit more partisan control over election administration and make it easier to cast doubt on future election results through partisan ballot reviews. President Joe Biden, called such restrictive laws in Georgia, "Jim Crow in the 21st Century.”

This wave of restrictions was made possible by the Supreme Court’s Shelby County v. Holder decision, that placed limits on the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Remember when Republican Sens. Mitt Romney (R-UT) Utah voted to convict former president Donald Trump in the first impeachment trial and in the second impeachment trial when Sens. Richard Burr (R-NC), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Susan Collins (R-ME), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Ben Sasse (R-Neb) and Pat Toomey (R-PA) joined Mitt Romney in voting to convict?

Today, the principled republicans have been silenced, too afraid to speak out against Trump for fear of alienating him or his base. Now the faces of the GOP seem to be unprincipled republicans like Reps. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), Paul Gosar (R-AZ), and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX).

The failure to enact the voting rights legislation will hurt President Biden even though the legislation didn’t pass because of the filibuster and the obstruction by the divided Senate Democrats and the Senate Republicans.

As we marked Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the family of the late civil rights leader cut through the usual lofty invocations to make a specific ask: No celebration without legislation.” Yet, there was no voting rights legislation passed.

In a 1963 interview, Martin Luther King is on point in the aftermath of the Senate vote, “I think the tragedy is that we have a Congress with a Senate that has a minority of misguided senators who will use the filibuster to keep the majority of people from even voting.”

Sens. Manchin and Sinema and the 50 Senate Republicans are those “misguided senators” who derailed "Freedom to Vote: John 3 R. Lewis Act."

The GOP has handed the party to Trump. It is now an authoritarian party with an authoritarian policy agenda. If we are not careful, we will end up with an authoritarian minority party running our country.


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