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Is This a Fixed Fight? By Sherry Cannon

Justice only comes when those that deny justice know that there are consequences to them that deny it.  As I ponder on these words, I question, is this fight really winnable, or is it a fixed fight? 

Once again, the Supreme Court has taken a sledgehammer to the 1965 Voters Right Act (VRA).  In a 6-3 decision, in the case of Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee, the Justices weakened section 2 of the VRA, in a ruling that creates a new challenge to prove that racial discrimination exists when laws are passed to make it harder to register and vote.  This ruling comes amid an unrelenting nationwide assault on voters’ access to the ballot box.  

The Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965 to prohibit States from using literacy tests and other methods to exclude African Americans from voting. Prior to 1965, only 23% of voting-age Blacks were registered nationally, but by 1969 the number had jumped to 61%.

Section 2 of the VRA prohibits voting practices or procedures that discriminate on the basis of race, color, or membership in one of the language minority groups identified in Section 4(f)(2) of the Act. This section is permanent and has no expiration date, as do other provisions of the VRA.

Arizona’s law only allowed its citizens to vote at the precinct to which they are assigned, making provisional ballots illegal, and it bans the collection and return of mail-in ballots by a third party. Arizona and Georgia both went blue in the last election cycle, and Republicans don’t mind cheating to win.

The Democratic National Committee argued that Arizona’s ban on ballot collection disproportionately affects Native Americans, rural Latinos, and African Americans in high-density urban housing units in a state that has problems with mail service. 

The Supreme Court majority ruling voiced concern about setting a legal test that could wipe out state election laws that claim its intent is to limit election fraud, even if those laws affect racial minorities more. Must we remind the Justices, there was no election fraud in the 2020 election…

In 2013, The Court held that it was unconditional to use the formula in Section 4(b) of the VRA in Shelby v. Holder.  That ruling released states, with histories of racial discrimination, from being required any longer to pre-clear with the Justice Department any changes in voting rules. That decision has led to the enactment of a slew of voter suppression laws that allows purging voter rolls, restricting voting rights of ex-incarcerated citizens, instituting onerous voter ID laws, reducing polling places, limiting access to vote by mail, and reducing the number of early voting days.  These measures disproportionately affect people of low income and Black and brown voters.

Republicans understand that the numbers are not on their side and restricting voters’ access is their only move. They have also calculated that if they continue going along with the lie that the November 2020 election was stolen from Trump, they will return to power in 2022.  They understand the more they muster up fake outrage and fake white grievances it, motivates their base to come out to vote. 

Democrats spent the last two years asking for our vote. We delivered them the House of Representatives, the Senate, and the White House. My question to them is, “if protecting the right to vote isn’t a hill they are willing to die on, what the heck is?”

If Democrats refuse to wield the power they have and eliminate the filibuster to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, give DC statehood, and pass other key legislation of the Biden administration, it is guaranteed they will lose their majority’s in the mid-term.  Not because more Republicans will vote, but because they will not get their base to turn out in the midterms.

In 1805 after killing Alexander Hamilton in a duel, Vice President Adam Burr suggested that the Senate make a rule change and eliminate the “previous question” motion. The original rulebooks of both the Senate and the House of Representatives included the “previous question” motion that allowed a simple majority to end debate. In 1806 the Senate eliminated the rule from their rule book.  

Without a means to end debate, a senator could stall indefinitely by insisting on debating an issue forever. This became known as filibuster, which means an action, such as a prolong speech could obstruct progress in a legislative assembly in order to block or delay senate action. 

In the 1840s, Senator John Calhoun used the filibuster to protect slavery. Southern Democrats also blocked anti-lynching bills with the filibuster. Historically, the filibuster became a tool to stop civil rights legislation from being passed by southern segregationists.  

In 1917, at the urging of President Woodrow Wilson, the Senate adopted a rule called cloture that could cut off debate with a two-thirds majority vote. In 1975 the senate reduced it from two-thirds to three-fifths majority vote to end a filibuster. 

From the 1950s to the 1990s senate Republicans used the filibuster effectively to block passage of pro-labor laws. From 1875-1957 not one civil rights bill was passed by Congress. Senator Strom Thurmond has the record for the longest talking filibuster of 24-hours and 18 minutes against the Civil Rights Act of 1957. It was not until 1964 that the senate successfully overcame a filibuster to pass a major Civil Rights Bill.  

Today, a senator only has to indicate they plan to filibuster a bill and can stop it from getting a final floor vote unless there are 60 votes. Over the past two decades, Republican senators have defeated bills on climate change, campaign finance reform, gun control, immigration, equal pay, and healthcare.  

The filibuster allowed for 41 senators to prevent legislation from passing, or presidential nominations from being voted on, which is what Senator McConnell used successfully during President Obama’s administration. Because of this obstruction, Henry Reid, the senate majority leader, used a procedure in 2013 called the “nuclear option” to eliminate the 60-vote rule for presidential nominations, with the exception of Supreme Court nominations. In 2017, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell eliminated the 60-vote rule for Supreme Court nominations.

Today we find ourselves at a crossroad. President Obama recently said, “If all it takes is to eliminate the filibuster, another Jim Crow relic, in order to secure the God-given rights of every American, then that is what we should do.”

Again, I ask, will the Democratic senate majority have the moral courage to eliminate the filibuster in its entirety, or is this a fixed fight?