Editor’s note: In a 35-54 vote on May 28 – because of a rule requiring a three-fifths majority (60 votes) to pass a bill that is filibustered – the U.S. Senate failed to approve the creation of a bipartisan commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
May 28, 2021, was a demoralizing day for American democracy. There are moments in our country’s history that demand unified action by our elected leaders that should transcend politics. The Jan. 6 violent attack on the U.S. Capitol to block the constitutionally prescribed certification of a democratic election is one of those moments.
We cannot forget Jan. 6. Every person participating in the insurrection should be held accountable, including the disgraced former president and his enablers, the extremists and conspiracy theorists there, and any elected federal officials and staff involved. Property was destroyed, dozens of officers severely injured, five people died on that day, and two officers died by suicide in the aftermath.
As we’ve demanded in joint statements with dozens of civil rights groups, the country needs a fully empowered commission to investigate the insurrection attempt and assign responsibility. The proposed commission to investigate the events on Jan. 6 would have equal party membership with shared power to hire staff, issue subpoenas, and draft a report.
That 35 members of the U.S. Senate could ignore their oaths to the U.S. Constitution and use an outdated procedural tool to block the commission’s creation shows that in Washington, D.C., self-interest, not patriotism, drives too many political votes.
If there was ever a time in modern political history that a spotlight was put on the absurdity of the filibuster, it is this vote. Every structure and process of the proposed commission was bipartisan in nature. The votes in both houses of Congress in support of it were bipartisan – and yet, the filibuster enabled partisan, self-interested politics to win the day.
Throughout its history, the anti-majoritarian filibuster rule has been used to block legislation that would advance the civil and human rights of all Americans. Generations of senators from the Deep South were elected under a regime of racial terror that violently barred Black citizens from participating in elections. These senators used the filibuster in the U.S. Senate to perpetuate that racial order. The effect: The country never fully addressed its original sin of slavery nor was the nation successful in building a multiracial democracy after the Civil War.
Now, after the worst domestic attack on our democracy since the Civil War, the filibuster is once more being weaponized against building a multiracial democracy, with many senators continuing the shameful legacy of their predecessors.
It’s time to finally eliminate the filibuster and make the U.S. Senate a majority-rule body.
The American people already agree that Congress needs to protect our democracy; we just need 50 senators to muster the courage to do the right thing.
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