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Stephen Gottlieb: Majority Rule, The For The People Act And The Filibuster

This week the Senate is considering the For the People Act. The House has already passed it. I mentioned the bill in my March 2 commentary. The For the People Act would:

  • restore the Voting Rights Act,
  • prohibit voter suppression,
  • end partisan gerrymandering,
  • overhaul federal ethics rules,
  • reverse the effects of the Citizens United decision which unleashed corporate treasuries on elections
  • block voter suppression bills in states trying to keep extremists in power and
  • prevent other attempts to rig the elections by keeping legitimate voters from the polls.

Thus the Act would eliminate rule by an extremist minority and forbid many ways parties suppress and gerrymander votes in order to protect their seats against the voters in each of the states. Currently, with Republicans dominating more than half of the state legislatures, they’re trying to protect their own seats in order to regain control of both the Senate and the House. That’s not democracy. As the Brennan Center has been saying, “the best way to defend democracy is to strengthen democracy.”

This is a major battle and will affect every issue in Congress now and for the next decade. Environmental legislation, social justice, rebuilding national infrastructure and the economy all depend on whether we have democracy or minority rule in America.

The other major tool of minority rule is the Senate filibuster. Republicans will filibuster to block the For the People Act. The Constitution is replete with protections for minorities but says nothing about the filibuster, which used to require that senators keep talking, sometimes by reading the phonebook, in order to block legislation. Now they need only file a piece of paper that requires 60 votes for action. Even in the older form, the filibuster largely blocked racial justice, blocked the Civil Rights Acts of the 1950s and 1960s. The filibuster protected segregation, and blocked efforts to end the reign of murder and intimidation which threatened children seeking an education, killed four young girls in a church, killed Andrew Schwerner, James Chaney, and Michael Goodman for the “crime” of helping people register to vote, and attacked the Freedom Riders in integrated busses with fire hoses, bombs, and metal pipes. Anti-lynching legislation was introduced more than a century ago but was still being blocked last year. What’s American about lynching except the persistent lawlessness of white supremacists? Thanks to the filibuster.

Steve Gottlieb’s latest book is Unfit for Democracy: The Roberts Court and The Breakdown of American Politics. He is the Jay and Ruth Caplan Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Albany Law School, served on the New York Civil Liberties Union board, on the New York Advisory Committee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, and as a US Peace Corps Volunteer in Iran.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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