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Do not relent!
January 12, 2022
[Audio version here]
On Tuesday, President Biden urged the Senate to modify the filibuster to allow a vote on the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. Although the speech hit the right notes, it may have come too late to change the minds of reluctant Senators. But it is not too late for us to urge Senators to prioritize the voting rights of millions of Americans above an arcane and anti-democratic rule in the Senate. Until Senator Schumer forces all 100 Senators to take a stand on voting rights, we must not relent in our efforts to make our voices heard. The original Voting Rights Act faced a filibuster of sixty days, and prospects for its passage were bleak until it finally passed. Do not give up on voting rights this year—or next year, or the next. The day will come when the Senate once again stands to protect the most fundamental right of citizenship—the right to vote.
Every effort we undertake to pass voting rights legislation now will be worthwhile—even if the John Lewis VRA does not pass this month. If we succeed in changing the mind of a single Senator, that progress can be leveraged in future efforts to break the filibuster. So, please continue to exert maximal effort by calling, texting, writing, and emailing your Senators until a vote to modify the filibuster is held on the Senate floor. Contact information and talking points are here: Chop Wood, Carry Water 1/11.
As we move toward this crucial vote, we should not let the outcome divide us or defeat us. Critics have already begun assigning blame for failure (which has not yet happened). Others are understandably concerned that the inability to pass voter protection legislation this year will doom our prospects in 2022. Wrong! If we do not pass voting reform this month, we can still win in 2022. Will it be more difficult? Yes. Will it be impossible? No! Do not convert a temporary setback on voting rights (if it happens) into a permanent sense of defeatism and despair.
As noted, some critics are faulting Biden for deferring action on voting rights while the Build Back Better bill languished in the Senate. Assuming for argument’s sake that was a strategic error, it was made in good faith based on Biden’s knowledge of the Senate and the Democratic caucus. But until a vote is held on the filibuster, it will be impossible to know whether prioritizing BBB was the better choice. Even then, it may not be possible to rewind history. The critical point is that we must not let legislative strategy divide us. To pass voter protection legislation, we must remain united.
Before closing on this subject, I recommend Dan Rather’s excellent essay in Steady, Filibusted. Rather observes,
The key to [the filibuster], however, is good faith and judicious use. No one who has even casually observed the workings, or more accurately the dysfunction, of the Senate in recent years can conclude that it is a place of either of these qualities. . . To all those who say that the filibuster promotes bipartisanship, why has the Senate become less bipartisan the more it has been used? What the filibuster does is prevent votes. . . . The truth is that many senators would rather hide behind the filibuster than be called out in a roll call of votes. It has become a shield for cowardice, disingenuousness, and naked self-interest.
I also note that Robert Reich has started a campaign urging Senators who are prevented from voting on legislation to file a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the filibuster. Reich makes that point (accepted by most scholars) that the filibuster is unconstitutional. See Robert Reich, “What would the Supreme Court’s “originalists” think of the filibuster?” Reich asks readers who support his idea to “suggest it to your favorite Senator” (at his link). I would add, “And post if far and wide on social media.”
Do not give up, and do not despair. We haven’t lost, and even if we do, it is only a temporary setback that should propel all of us to greater action!
If Goldie Taub can do it, so can you.
Over the last several weeks, I have urged readers to write letters to the editor as a way to flood the media with messages that support President Biden and his agenda. A reader sent a note to say that his 98-year-old mother-in-law followed my suggestion and wrote a letter to the New Haven Register. The paper printed her letter, which addresses Joe Manchin’s refusal to support the BBB. Goldie wrote about her experiences as a kindergarten teacher, where she observed children living in homes without heat (in Connecticut!). She concludes by saying that BBB is an important step to improve the lives of children in poverty by providing education and healthcare. Well said, Goldie! And thank you for being a role model for others!
Neil Gorsuch reveals anti-vaccination bias from the bench.
At the Supreme Court hearing on vaccine mandates on January 7th, five Justices wore masks, two appeared by video, and one refused to wear a mask—Justice Neil Gorsuch. The two Justices who appeared by video are those who usually sit next to Gorsuch on the bench—Justice Sotomayor (who has diabetes) and Justice Stephen Bryer (who is the Court’s oldest Justice). Gorsuch’s failure to wear a mask is at odds with the Court’s Covid protocol for attorneys, who must wear a KN95 mask at all times—except when “presenting argument.”
Gorsuch’s refusal to wear a mask increased the risk of infection to other members of the Court. It also made a political statement from the bench about the very subject of the oral arguments. Justice Roberts has lost control of the Supreme Court. Roberts should reprimand Gorsuch publicly and issue an order requiring Justices to follow the same rules as counsel appearing before the Court. Allowing Gorsuch to flout the rules undermines the rule of law.
More on the supposed coming “civil war.”
Yesterday, I criticized the promotion of a book by Barbara F. Walter that is generating headlines about the “next civil war” in America. I disputed the implications by Professor Walter and leading media outlets that America is on the road to civil war. The Economist published a review of Professor Walter’s book that makes essentially the same points I included in yesterday’s newsletter. See The Economist, “An expert on civil war issues a warning about America—But Barbara Walter Exaggerates.” The Economist writes,
These are all grave problems. But they do not portend civil conflict. Ms Walter mentions only fleetingly some of the reasons why today’s America is not like the former Yugoslavia or other imploding states. No country as sophisticated, modern, liberal and democratic as contemporary America has ever descended into civil war.
Upcoming Podcast with The Civics Center
Each year, nearly 4 million high school seniors become eligible to vote. Those potential new voters represent a bloc that is large enough to swing federal, state, and local elections. Most high school seniors are never asked to register, much less vote. But The Civics Center is laser-focused on that mission. On Saturday, January 15th, at 2 PM Eastern /11 AM Pacific, I will talk with Laura Brill, the Founder of The Civics Center, which promotes student-led registration drives. Those student-led drives need adults to provide guidance and mentoring—which is where you come in! If you are looking for a meaningful, impactful experience, consider volunteering (or supporting) the work of The Civics Center. Listen live and participate in the podcast on Saturday through the Callin app (on iPhone or iPad; Android version coming soon). A link to the recorded podcast will be published in the following Monday’s newsletter.
I have listed the past and future episodes of the Today’s Edition Podcast at the bottom of this newsletter. Check them out! They highlight great opportunities to become involved.
Let’s hope for the best for voting rights reform and do our utmost to will it into existence this month. But if voting reform does not happen in the short term, do not despair. Although the media and political pundits engaged in a cottage industry in 2021 of explaining that Democrats are doomed in 2022, many of the most feared outcomes did not materialize. Redistricting will likely be a wash. And although there were 400 voter suppression bills proposed, only 33 such laws were passed in 19 states—and many of those laws were narrow or mixtures of provisions that both restricted and expanded the right to vote. Moreover, as the Brennan Center notes, 25 states enacted 62 laws with provisions that expanded voting access. You never hear about those laws in the media’s hyperventilated reporting.
Voter suppression can be overcome by turnout. Yes, that is unfair—especially to minority voters, who are the targets of voter suppression legislation. But in 2018 and 2020, those voters responded to suppression efforts by exercising their right to vote in record numbers. Republicans are at their high-water mark, and it is all downhill from here for the GOP. If we can gut it out for a few more years, we will have turned the tide of history. And then there will be no turning back. The next ten days may be triumphant or disappointing. But either way, we have every reason to be hopeful and no reason to be complacent!
Talk to you tomorrow!
Today’s Edition Podcast
December 18, 2021: Chop Wood Carry Water with Jessica Craven
January 2, 2022: 31st Street Swing Left with Lisa Herrick and Jim Shelton
January 8, 2022: Field Team 6, with Jason Berlin
Future Episodes (Saturdays at 2:00 PM Eastern / 11:00 AM Pacific on the Callin app)
January 15th: The Civics Center, with Laura Brill
January 22nd: Future Now / The States Project, Melissa Walker
January 29th: Next Generation Politics with Sanda Balaban and three high school students.
February 5th: Maya Maravilla, DNC Midwest Regional Desk for the Civic Engagement and Voter Protection
February 12th: New Faces of Democracy, Nancy Bynum
February 19th: Ask Nurses & Doctors, Dr. Norbert Goldfield
February 26th: TBA
March 5th: Students for Justice, Claire Ullman & Sandy Radoff
March 12, VoteRiders with Kathleen Unger and Lauren Kunis