The one-year anniversary of the death of civil rights icon John Lewis prompts a deeper examination of our nation’s voting rights emergency – and the urgent need for federal action to protect voting rights. In an op-ed for The Philadelphia Inquirer, People For the American Way board member Mary Frances Berry writes that the rash of voter-suppression measures being passed in Republican state legislatures threatens Lewis’s legacy and must be rolled back. “With every day that goes by,” writes this distinguished professor of American social thought, history, and Africana studies at the University of Pennsylvania, “the new legal and legislative edifice of voter suppression is being built higher.”
President Joe Biden, who called on Americans to rally behind the issue in a speech Tuesday in Philadelphia, has declared voting rights “the most significant test of our democracy since the Civil War.” That means we must pass the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. And to do that, we must remove the Senate filibuster as a barrier to the legislation. The president needs to say so, and he needs to exert all his influence — publicly and behind the scenes — to ensure the Senate lets nothing stand in the way of protecting our democracy.
If Republicans continue to avoid negotiating in good faith, reluctant Democratic and Republican senators must conclude that the filibuster today is not just a tool to preserve Senate comity by giving a voice to the minority party. It is instead a tool of oppression being wielded by a party fighting a rear-guard action to defend its own power.