Recent years have marked a period of deep uncertainty and danger for the health of American democracy, and a new report reveals one major reason why attempts to protect democracy could be failing: the Senate filibuster.
According to a new report from Common Cause, the Senate filibuster has been at least partially responsible for blocking the passage of 17 out of 18 pro-democracy legislative texts that have come to a vote in Congress before the House or the Senate in 2021 and 2022, according to the group’s analysis of votes for each piece of legislation. The analysis was first reported by Insider.
The 117th Congress has considered a number of pro-democracy bills and resolutions, ranging from the For the People Act, which tackles dark money in campaigns and expands voting access, to the impeachment of Donald Trump, for his attempt to stoke a violent overturn of the 2020 election.
Other bills include the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would have strengthened rules preventing racial discrimination in voting, a bill that would have granted statehood for Washington, D.C. and the Protecting Our Democracy Act, which have would placed limits on presidential power in reaction to Trump.
None of these bills have passed Congress, likely because they were either blocked by the filibuster’s 60-vote threshold or never came to a vote because of their likelihood of being blocked by the filibuster.
Many of these bills, like the For the People Act, have been hailed by voting rights advocates as crucial to bat off Republican attempts to suppress voters. Since 2021, and as of May, lawmakers in 18 states have passed 34 laws aimed at suppressing voters — many of which disproportionately affect voters of color.
Only one of the measures that Common Cause analyzed passed Congress: the Courthouse Ethics and Transparency Act, which passed unanimously in the Senate and strengthens requirements for Supreme Court and other federal judges to disclose their financial holdings and stock trades.
“In the end, with high levels of support in Congress and an overwhelming outpouring of public support, Congress ran into one of the reasons our democracy needs to be modernized: the filibuster,” Common Cause wrote of Democrats’ attempt to pass the For the People Act last year.
Even if conservative Democrats Senators Kyrsten Sinema (Arizona) and Joe Manchin (West Virginia) had been on board with the bill and given it a majority of 51 votes, “the arcane Senate procedure known as the filibuster requiring super majorities just to debate an issue, prevented the Democrats from passing major democracy reform and voting rights legislation or the Republicans from considering negotiating in good faith to get to 60 votes,” the group wrote.
The report lends evidence to the argument that progressives and some Democrats have been making for years now: the Senate filibuster is an arcane and dangerous procedure that prevents lawmakers from effectively legislating against attacks on democracy, which currently largely come from the right. Opponents of the filibuster also say that it is used to block climate action that is crucial to keeping a livable planet, action to stave off white supremacy, moves to workers’ rights, advance protections for abortion rights, and more.
In their analysis, Common Cause also tracked votes for various pro-democracy measures for each individual member of Congress. Of the 535 voting members of Congress, only 101 members earned a perfect score, voting for each measure. All 101 of those members were Democrats or progressives.
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