By Hazel Trice Edney
(Trice Edney Wire) – President Joseph Biden is winning wide applause among the national civil rights community for his Atlanta speech this week finally pushing the Senate to move on voting rights and for the controversial filibuster to be removed.
But most also say there must now be action by the Biden Administration and the Senate to pass protection for the Voting Rights Act. “I believe President Biden set the right tone on voting rights today, and I thank him for paying homage to the life’s work of John R. Lewis who advised us that, ‘Sometimes you have to not just dream about what could be—you get out and push, and you pull, and you preach. And you create a climate and environment to get those in high places, to get men and women of goodwill in power to act,’” said House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn in a statement on President Biden’s speech in Atlanta on voting rights. Clyburn is the highest-ranking Black member of Congress.
Civil rights leaders, many of whom attended the Biden speech, also praised the speech but said Biden hasn’t done nearly enough to get the voting rights bills passed that would essentially override new laws in states across the nation that aim to diminish voting rights.
“So far, Republican legislators in 19 states have passed 34 bills that restrict access to voting for young, Black, Hispanic, Asian, disabled, and elderly Americans. These cynical bills are aimed at making it more difficult to vote – deleting voter registrations, restricting access to the ballot box, and limiting access to vote by mail. These bills are rooted in partisanship and racism, and we cannot sit idly and watch as local, state, and frankly, U.S. Senators strip us of our most sacred right,” wrote National Urban League President/CEO Marc Morial. “All Senators of all parties have a duty to vote for legislation that will protect the right to vote for all Americans. They must pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and Freedom to Vote Act. And as the President said, if it takes amending the Senate rules to limit the weaponization of filibuster to do it, so be it.”
The two laws before the Senate, both of which have broad public support, are key. The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would make any voting rule illegal if it discriminates on the basis of race, language or ethnicity. It would also empower voters’ to challenge discriminatory laws, according to PublicDemocracyAmerica.org. Secondly, the Freedom to Vote Act (S. 2747) “would solidify comprehensive voter protections, including a minimum of 15 days for early voting, mail-in ballots, and making Election Day a national holiday. The bill would set up national standards for voter identification. The bill would also establish protections for election officials against intimidation and partisan interference. To further ensure election integrity, the Freedom to Vote Act would require states to use voting systems with a verifiable paper trail and establish national standards for voter identification,” according to PublicDemocracyAmerica.org.
But even more than the two voting rights bills, civil rights advocates want to end the filibuster. In a nutshell, a filibuster is a political strategy in which one or more members of Congress speak at length on a proposed legislation for the sole purpose of delaying a vote. The filibuster was commonly used during the civil rights movement to stop civil rights legislation from moving forward.
Speaking at the Atlanta University Center Consortium with HBCU students behind him, Biden called for Senators to back the end to the filibuster as is.
“I believe that the threat to our democracy is so grave that we must find a way to pass these voting rights bills, debate them, vote,” Biden said. “Let the majority prevail,” he said to applause. “And if that bare minimum is blocked, we have no option but to change the Senate rules, including getting rid of the filibuster for this,” he said to repeated applause. “The filibuster has been weaponized and abused,” he said.
Members of the civil rights community now await the next action.
Morial concluded, “We applaud the Biden-Harris administration for today’s speech. But now we all have a responsibility to keep up the pressure on all Senators to preserve and protect the right to vote by immediately passing voting rights legislation.”