Sen. Elizabeth Warren claimed Thursday that the Senate’s filibuster, which is preventing Democrats from quickly passing legislation, “has deep roots in racism.”
“The filibuster has deep roots in racism, and it should not be permitted to serve that function, or to create a veto for the minority,” the Massachusetts Democrat told Axios.
“In a democracy, it’s majority rules.”
A filibuster is a loosely defined term for an action designed to prolong debate or delay a vote, according to the official Senate website. A three-fifths majority, or 60 votes, is needed to end the filibuster by cloture — a vote to place a time limit on the consideration of legislation.
Democrats don’t currently have the votes to get rid of the filibuster on a party-line vote, as both moderate Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have said they oppose taking such measures, The Hill reported.
Senate Democrats are worried that several of President Joe Biden’s big campaign promises will not get through because they need the support of 10 Republican senators in order to pass any legislation with the 60-vote filibuster rule still in place.
Warren told Axios that during the Constitutional Convention, “the founders debated whether to require a supermajority in either House of Congress, and decided that government would function more effectively if both the Senate and the House worked by simple majority.”
“When they didn’t want a simple majority, for example in an impeachment, they said so specifically,” Warren said.
“The filibuster is a later creation that was designed to give the South the ability to veto any effective civil rights legislation or anti lynching legislation.”
Democratic Rep. Hank Johnson of Georgia added that moderate Democrats on the fence should consider helping change the Senate rules.
“It’s important that we not continue to allow the filibuster to be a tool used to suppress the right to vote, that black people have fought and died for,” the congressman told Axios.
Although this understanding of the filibuster is driving calls to abolish the practice, it is not historically accurate.
A filibuster appeared in the very first session of the Senate when a senator used a long speech to delay action on legislation, according to the Senate Historical Office.
The cloture rule was not adopted until 1917 when a two-thirds majority vote was needed to end a filibuster. The rule was changed in 1975 and now three-fifths of the majority is required for cloture.
The Senate Historical Office noted that filibusters were “particularly useful to Southern senators who sought to block civil rights legislation, including anti-lynching bills.”
The longest filibuster speech was given by former Democratic Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina who spoke for 24 hours and 18 minutes against the Civil Rights Act of 1957.
Another friend of the president, the late Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd — a former member of the Ku Klux Klan — additionally gave an exceptionally long filibuster speech of 14 hours and 13 minutes to protest the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The West Virginian senator died in 2010, and Biden delivered a lengthy eulogy at Byrd’s funeral.
The Senate Historical Office noted the body was unable to successfully overcome a filibuster to pass a major civil rights bill until 1964.
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.