Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

There are less than 72 hours left in this Mid-Year Campaign and our independent journalism needs your help today.
If you value our work, please support Common Dreams. This is our hour of need.

Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year. Without your help, we won’t survive.

Kill-the-Fillibuster

Demonstrators call for the abolition of the Senate filibuster at a June 10, 2021 protest in New York City. (Photo: Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images)

To Honor MLK's Birthday, Senate Must Override Jim Crow Filibuster

The filibuster has long been used to derail civil rights legislation in the Senate, and now is no different.

Amy GoodmanDenis Moynihan

 by Democracy Now!

U.S. democracy is in crisis, as Republican supporters of the January 6th Capitol insurrection restrict or even eliminate democracy's core tenet of one person, one vote. Former President Donald Trump is driving democracy's demise, spouting the Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen from him through massive voter fraud. Countless audits, over 60 court cases and both Democratic and Republican state Secretaries of State confirmed President Joe Biden trounced Trump by over seven million votes.

As we mark what would have been Martin Luther King, Jr.'s 93rd birthday, now is the time to demand that the U.S. Senate override the Jim Crow filibuster and pass meaningful voting rights legislation.

Nevertheless, Republican shills up and down the party power structure, from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to operatives at the state and local level, have embraced Trump's Big Lie, ramping up voter suppression, gerrymandering and the use of dark money to ensure they can grab power and hold it indefinitely, even as the GOP is shrinking as a share of the electorate.

Two bills are currently before the Senate to stop this slide into authoritarianism: the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. Similar versions have already passed in the House. Senate Democrats must first overcome Republican filibusters, though. The filibuster has long been used to derail civil rights legislation in the Senate, and now is no different.

It normally takes 60 of the 100 senators to defeat a filibuster, currently an insurmountable barrier in the face of Republican opposition. Democrats could use a targeted override of the filibuster, a "carve-out," which would need the votes of all 50 members of the Senate Democratic caucus along with the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Kamala Harris. But two conservative Senate Democrats, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, have indicated they likely won't support the maneuver.

"Do you want to be on the side of Dr. King or George Wallace," President Biden asked at a speech Wednesday in Atlanta, advocating for the temporary filibuster override needed to advance these voting rights bills. "Do you want to be on the side of John Lewis or Bull Connor? Do you want to be on the side of Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis?"

Bull Connor was the brutal, white sumpremacist Commissioner of Public Safety in Birmingham, Alabama during most of the civil rights era. Biden's reference to Bull Connor echoed a Nation Magazine article written by Martin Luther King, Jr., in March, 1964, as activists were pushing passage of the Civil Rights Act:

"As had been foreseen, the bill survived intact in the House. It has now moved to the Senate, where a legislative confrontation reminiscent of Birmingham impends. Bull Connor became a weight too heavy for the conscience of Birmingham to bear. There are men in the Senate who now plan to perpetuate the injustices Bull Connor so ignobly defended. His weapons were the high-pressure hose, the club and the snarling dog; theirs is the filibuster. If America is as revolted by them as it was by Bull Connor, we shall emerge with a victory."

The essay appeared four months after President Kennedy's assassination and nine months before King received the Nobel Peace Prize.

"It is not too much to ask, 101 years after the Emancipation, that Senators who must meet the challenge of filibuster do so in the spirit of the heroes of Birmingham," King continued in that piece, invoking the powerful memory of the four young African American girls killed in the racist bombing of The Sixteenth Street Baptist Church on September 15th, 1963, and two more youth killed in rioting that immediately followed. "There could be no more fitting tribute to the children of Birmingham than to have the Senate for the first time in history bury a civil rights filibuster. The dead children cannot be restored, but living children can be given a life. The assassins who still walk the streets will still be unpunished, but at least they will be defeated."

That filibuster eventually failed, and the Civil Rights Act became law, followed by the monumental Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA). The VRA revolutionized African American political participation in the U.S., especially in the Deep South. The rightwing never stopped attacking it. Two recent Supreme Court decisions, Shelby v. Holder in 2013 and Brnovich v. the DNC in 2021, gutted the VRA, unleashing a flood of gerrymandering and laws designed to reduce voter turnout, disenfranchising millions of voters from Democratic-leaning urban centers and other communities of color.

"Frederick Douglass told us a long time ago: 'Power concedes nothing without a demand,'" Georgia-based activist Cliff Albright, co-founder of Black Voters Matter, said Thursday on the Democracy Now! news hour. As we mark what would have been Martin Luther King, Jr.'s 93rd birthday, now is the time to demand that the U.S. Senate override the Jim Crow filibuster and pass meaningful voting rights legislation.


The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Amy Goodman

Amy Goodman

Amy Goodman is the host and executive producer of Democracy Now!, a national, daily, independent, award-winning news program airing on over 1,400 public television and radio stations worldwide.

Denis Moynihan

Denis Moynihan

Denis Moynihan has worked with Democracy Now! since 2000. He is a bestselling author and a syndicated columnist with King Features. He lives in Colorado, where he founded community radio station KFFR 88.3 FM in the town of Winter Park.

Just a few days left in our crucial Mid-Year Campaign and we might not make it without your help.
Who funds our independent journalism? Readers like you who believe in our mission: To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. No corporate advertisers. No billionaire founder. Our non-partisan, nonprofit media model has only one source of revenue: The people who read and value this work and our mission. That's it.
And the model is simple: If everyone just gives whatever amount they can afford and think is reasonable—$3, $9, $29, or more—we can continue. If not enough do, we go dark.

All the small gifts add up to something otherwise impossible. Please join us today. Donate to Common Dreams. This is crunch time. We need you now.

Markey, Bowman Join Climate Coalition in Urging SCOTUS Expansion

"We cannot sit idly by," said Markey, "as extremists on the Supreme Court eviscerate the authorities that the government has had for decades to combat climate change and reduce pollution."

Brett Wilkins ·


Ocasio-Cortez Says US 'Witnessing a Judicial Coup in Process'

"It is our duty to check the Court's gross overreach of power in violating people's inalienable rights and seizing for itself the powers of Congress and the president."

Brett Wilkins ·


Critics Say Biden Drilling Bonanza 'Won't Lower Gas Prices' But 'Will Worsen Climate Crisis'

"President Biden's massive public lands giveaway in the face of utter climate catastrophe is just the latest sign that his climate commitments are mere rhetoric," said one campaigner.

Kenny Stancil ·


Grave Warnings as Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Case That Threatens 'Future of Voting Rights'

"Buckle up," implores one prominent legal scholar. "An extreme decision here could fundamentally alter the balance of power in setting election rules in the states and provide a path for great threats to elections."

Brett Wilkins ·


Biden Urged to Take Emergency Action After 'Disastrous' Climate Ruling by Supreme Court

"The catastrophic impact of this decision cannot be understated," said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, but "we cannot accept defeat."

Kenny Stancil ·

Common Dreams Logo