Saturday, April 17, 2021


Land of the Free Proves Filibuster as Relic of the Jim Crow Era!

April 3, 2021 by  
Filed under News, Opinion, Politics, Weekly Columns

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(ThyBlackMan.com) As a freelance journalist and a Black man, I write this story from the perspective of a teacher of Economics and History with no bias intended. In the twenty first century, now and then, we hear about instances where local, state, or even federal governments enact legislation that leaves us as God fearing, Christian people scratching our heads. We ask ourselves, are the people passing this law right in the head? Let’s take a look at what I call international stupidity. For instance, consider Singapore’s ban on chewing gum. It is illegal, for those of you who are unaware, to import and sell chewing gum in Singapore, with a few exceptions. The law’s purpose was to deal with vandals who polluted public spaces with chewing gums, leading to costly repair and maintenance. Indeed, there would be a better way to deal with such people. Nevertheless, the law still exists. A BBC reporter criticized the law as it would stifle creativity. To this, Lee Kaun Yew said, “If you can’t think because you can’t chew, try a banana.” Foolishness at its best!

While the U.S. states is notorious for laws that stifle women and civil rights, there is one thing that catches the eye of every person interested in U.S. politics – the filibuster. While this word might not seem much, it is responsible for the growing racial divide in the U.S. For those of us who lack understanding of U.S. politics and its procedures, the filibuster is where members of the Senate debate on proposed legislation with the sole purpose of delaying a vote on the bill. Political commentators refer to it as ‘talking a bill to death’ or ‘talking out a bill.’ That is what the distinguished Mr. Crockett taught me in my freshman Black History class at Chicago’s John Marshall High School. How this procedure is used as a tool against African Americans is discussed later. First, for the unversed, a brief history of this procedure is required.

History of the Filibuster

Unlike most other things, Americans cannot take total credit for the filibuster as it a practice that goes back to Ancient Rome. Even Europeans have practiced it for a long time. Interestingly, members of the House of Representatives have a limited time to speak on a bill. So, the filibuster is not a problem there. It is the Senate where countless bills filibustered as there is no limit on debates. Over the past several decades, the Senate has not acted as an independent body the founding fathers intended. Instead, it has worked as a place where civil rights legislation or any other legislation that gives rights to minorities or women go to die.

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The 60-vote requirement (Cloture Rule) to end the filibuster has proven impossible as neither the Democrats or Republicans have had the supermajority. Alexander Hamilton, one of the founding fathers, reflected that the supermajority’s purpose was to add stability to the government and prevent abuse from the corrupt. Unfortunately, in his words, “real operation [was] to embarrass the administration, to destroy the energy of the government, and to substitute the pleasure . . . of an insignificant, turbulent, or corrupt [faction for] the regular deliberations and decisions of a respectable majority.”

Unlike before, filibusters today do not involve excessive debates. Rather they include any delaying tactics preventing the bill from reaching the Senate floor for a vote. So, a filibuster can refer to any tactic that a person deploys with the sole purpose of delaying legislative action. Its most abhorrent application was during the civil rights movement.

Filibuster & African Americans

Whenever America has debated on civil rights, the filibuster occupies Center stage. One notable example of its use is during a bill that authorized territorial government in Oregon just because it had outlawed slavery. Likewise, the bills to admit California and Kansas as free states got the same reception. After the Civil War, African Americans started to wield political power at unprecedented levels. Southern officials responded by enacting all types of laws that disenfranchised black voters, blocking anti-poll legislation, the Grandfather Clause and other non-descript suppression schemes. From the 1920s to the 1960s, Senators from the South used the filibuster to stall legislation related to anti-lynching, prohibition of discrimination in employment, housing, and even voting.

Due to the filibusters against anti-lynching laws, more than 4000 African Americans lost their lives to mobs. Interestingly, there is still no anti-lynching legislation at the federal level. Another victim of the filibuster is the poll-tax which is a fee that voters pay while voting. As African Americans were economically exploited for most of their lives, they couldn’t afford to pay the fee. Hence, they could not vote even though they were eligible for voting. The purpose of the poll tax was to ensure that African Americans did not progress. Congress passed various anti-poll bills only to be filibustered in the Senate.

One of the most notorious filibusters was against the 1957 and 1964 Civil Rights Act. Senator Strom Thurmond set a filibuster record by holding the Senate floor continually for 24 hours and 18 minutes during the 1957 Act debates. Although the bill became legislation, many of its crucial points were left out due to the filibustering. Just 7 years later, opponents filibustered the Senate for 74 days in what proved to be an unsuccessful attempt to block the 1964 Act. Without a doubt, the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which empowered the Justice Department to enforce desegregation, is one of the most remarkable pieces of legislation in our country’s history.

Modern Use of the Filibuster

One would be mistaken to think that after the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the filibuster would have gone away. However, that’s no way near the truth. The filibuster is alive and well; and its usage is only increasing. Its most recent application is to voting rights. People with prior felony convictions are not eligible to vote. It might seem like an unreasonable law, but the truth is that it is not just absurd but outright racist. How? Due to the inequalities meted out to African Americans, they are arrested and sentenced at much higher rates than white people as a whole. As a result, more than 5 million African Americans cannot vote.

Similarly, efforts at making Washington D.C. a state is filibustered in the Senate. Why? According to census data, blacks are the majority there. Thus, giving D.C. the status of a State means tilting the Senate in favor of civil rights. It is something that many in the Senate would like to avoid. Interestingly, a place where people pay more federal taxes per person than any other state has no representation in the Senate. Think about that rationale for a minute.

Healthcare is another area where the Senate continues to use the filibuster. Again, the impacted party is African Americans. Black women are four times more likely to die due to pregnancy-related complications than white females; this is documented. Black infants are two times more likely to die than white infants. The coronavirus has laid bare the racial disparities in the U.S. healthcare system. Despite accounting for a lower number of Covid-19 positive cases, African Americans’ death and hospitalization rates are greater than white people by far. The filibuster did not spare the Covid-19 relief package or any attempts at healthcare reforms.

Lastly, the U.S. criminal justice system is another area where the filibuster continues to be used. Last year, we saw multiple deaths of African Americans at the hands of decadent police and other law enforcement officers. Even today, black people, specifically males, account for a majority of the population in prisons. My research at RDH University, where I serve as Professor of Leadership and Christian Education has concluded that there is no empirical data to support the contention that Black males are predisposed to violence. Unfortunately, black children are unable to escape such systematic racism either. Suspension and expulsion rates among black children are higher than others. Again, the Senate filibusters any attempt to reform the U.S. criminal and justice systems… as skewed as they are against African Americans.

Abolishing the Filibuster – Only Way Forward

The only way to move forward and enact the relevant civil rights legislation, including reforming the Voting Rights Act, the filibuster must end! The supermajority rule to bypass it is nothing short of a miracle, and its real purpose is to prevent any meaningful action. Instead, a return to simpler times is required where the majority decides which laws to enact. Filibustering or any other “delaying” tactic is a blot on America’s democracy and presence of goodwill. If not abolished altogether, the filibuster will continue to prevent action that provides much-needed rights to African Americans and people of colour. Former President Barack Obama put it aptly by calling the filibuster a ‘relic of the Jim Crow era.’ Anything associated with Jim Crow must come to an end if we are to progress as a society: “Land of the free and home of the brave”.

Staff Writer; Stanley G. Buford

Feel free to connect with this brother via TwitterStanley G. and also facebookhttp://www.facebook.com/sgbuford.


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