How has the filibuster stopped progress?

For over 80 years, the Jim Crow Filibuster was only used to block civil rights bills, but now it’s used to stop nearly everything — including bipartisan agreements on background checks for gun purchases and immigration reform. Each of these had the bipartisan support needed to pass, but could not be called to a final vote because of the filibuster.

The Fight to Preserve the Power of Slavery

Former Vice President and South Carolina Senator John C. Calhoun organized a filibuster to delay a bill that would have established Oregon as a free state. Calhoun was a racist who believed that slavery was a “positive good” for enslaved people. He knew that each new state that outlawed slavery further threatened the power of slave states, so he used the filibuster to delay bills that advanced the cause of abolition.


No Justice for Lynchings

After the end of chattel slavery, white supremacists used lynching to terrorize Black communities. Representative Leonidas C. Dyer introduced an anti-lynching bill that passed the House in 1922. The Dyer Anti Lynching Bill would have named lynching a federal crime, and would have punished law enforcement leaders and elected officials who allowed lynchings to take place in their states. A group of racist senators used the filibuster to block the bill. Anti-lynching bills were also blocked by the filibuster in 1937 and 1940. To this day, the United States has not enacted federal anti-lynching legislation.


Voter Suppression by Any Means Necessary

Although Black men were technically given the right to vote after the Civil War, it would take well over a century for Congress to pass a bill that protected Black people from voter suppression and intimidation. Poll taxes, payments required from Black before they voted, served as an example of one of these tactics. A 1942 bill outlawing the practice passed in the House but failed to defeat a Senate filibuster. Similar bills were filibustered in 1944 and 1946. It wasn’t until 1964, 22 years after the first poll tax bill was passed by the House, that poll taxes were eliminated through the ratification of the 24th Amendment.


A Record Breaking Speech Against Civil Rights:

Strom Thurmond, one of the most notable segregationists and white supremacists to serve in the U.S. Senate, launched the longest filibuster in history in an attempt to block the Civil Rights Act of 1957. Thurmond held the floor of the Senate and spoke for more than 24 hours against the bill which provided important protections for Black people. While the bill did pass, Thurmond still holds the record for the longest filibuster speech in the history of the Senate.


Delaying Civil Rights Protections for Black People

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is one of the most consequential pieces of legislation in American history; It ended legal segregation in all businesses and public spaces, and also provided protections for people who experienced discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion and/or gender. But before the landmark law could pass, a group of racist senators organized by Robert Byrd of West Virginia led a filibuster that nearly defeated the bill and delayed its passage for 60 days.


An Attack on the Voting Rights Act

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 outlawed literacy tests that were used to intimidate Black voters and intervened when states passed racist voter suppression laws. When it became time to renew the law in 1982, North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms attempted to block the renewal with a filibuster. He held the bill hostage for more than a week and tried to weaken protections offered to Black voters. Helms eventually relented on his filibuster and the bill passed.


A Dream Deferred

For decades, Congress has failed to enact meaningful immigration reform. Even when it comes to the country’s DREAMers, or immigrants who were brought to the country as children and whose only home has been in the United States, Congress has offered no protection. In 2010, a group of Democratic and Republican legislators introduced the DREAM Act. The bill provided a pathway to citizenship for these young immigrants and would have also cleared the way for states to allow undocumented students to receive in-state tuition at some colleges and universities. Despite having the support of a bipartisan majority of senators and the overwhelming support of the American people, the DREAM Act was killed by a Republican filibuster, and serious congressional action on immigration reform has not been considered since.


Blocking Reform in the Wake of a National Tragedy

After the tragic school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, millions of Americans were looking to Congress to pass a bill that could prevent future school shootings. Democrat Joe Manchin and Republican Pat Toomey worked together and introduced an amendment to the Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act of 2013 that would have required background checks before the purchase of any firearm. A Senate majority that included Democrats and Republicans supported the bill, but they failed to meet the 60 vote threshold to defeat a filibuster, so the bill failed.


The Fight for a Real Living Wage

The Senate’s recent move to deny a minimum wage increase may be frustrating, but it is hardly the first time senators have denied workers a fair wage. In 2014, Senate Democrats introduced a bill that would have increased the federal minimum wage to $10.10. Once again, the bill had the support necessary to pass, but a Republican filibuster blocked it from a final vote.


Senate Democrats have the votes they need to reform the filibuster and enact a bold agenda. They could also restore bipartisanship agreements around key issues where 60 senators may not agree. Democratic senators who defend the filibuster are protecting a legacy of racism, and are choosing to let obstructionists block progress on bills that would address our country’s biggest challenges. We can win this fight, but It will take all of us to send a clear message: the Senate can no longer abandon its legislative duty. Tell Senate Democrats: Reform the Jim Crow Filibuster and get to work for the American people.