South Carolina civic and political leaders called on the U.S. Senate to bypass the filibuster and pass stalled voting rights legislation on the day the country honored the birthday of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
“The leadership from the past (presidential) administration has left us with especially challenging issues or concerns related to voting rights and redistricting,” said Brenda Murphy, president of the state conference of the NAACP. “We have a journey ahead of us but we cannot stand still with silent voices. We must continue to move forward fighting for justice with persistence to ensure our voting rights are protected, moving forward to ensure equal justice in education, economics, criminal justice, and affordable housing.”
Murphy and others spoke Monday at the virtual King Day at the Dome event. It was attended by several hundred people,who urged for passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and Freedom to Vote Act, named after the late Georgia House member who was beaten by Alabama state troopers on a day that became known as “Bloody Sunday.”
The South Carolina chapter of the NAACP moved to a virtual King Day at the Dome celebration amid the recent surge of the omicron variant of COVID-19. It marked the second year in a row the event has gone virtual because of the pandemic.
The celebration took place right as the Senate debated voting rights legislation already passed in the House.
The House bill, the “Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act”, combines two pieces of legislation. It prohibits restrictions of bringing water and food to people waiting in line to vote, allows states to accept additional forms of identification where one is required to vote, restores voting rights of former felons released from prison and makes mail-in absentee voting available for all voters.
But with just 50 Democratic votes in the Senate — 10 shy needed to break a filibuster — the legislation faces an uphill battle for passage. Two Democratic senators, Joe Manchin, of West Virginia, and Kyrsten Sinema, of Arizona, have stood firm in their opposition despite pressure to change Senate rules to allow 50 votes to break a filibuster for voting rights.
“Majority rule works everywhere else,” said Leon Russell, chairman of the NAACP National Board of the Directors. “The same rule must apply in the United States Senate.”
Senate rules used to require a talking filibuster to hold up legislation, explained House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-Columbia, pointing to the late South Carolina U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond as an example.
Thurmond filibustered the Civil Rights Act in 1957 by speaking on the Senate floor for more than 24 hours.
“He had to stay on the floor, (and) had to stand there to defend the foolishness he was saying,” Clyburn said.
A talking filibuster is no longer required in the Senate, pushing Clyburn to call for a carve out for voting rights, similar to the U.S. budget.
“We need to find out whose side these senators are on. They can’t just join us in our churches on Sundays, they just can’t come to Martin Luther King Jr. rallies and talk about the dream as if we were going to stay asleep,” Clyburn said. “(King) asked us to come back and go to work, not to keep dreaming, not to stay awake, but fulfill the dream.”