I’m Myrlie Evers. Right before he was murdered, my husband, Medgar Evers, told me, “Don’t ever give up on those things that you believe in.” Medgar and I had a transcendent connection, and these words have lifted my spirits throughout the decades-long fight for justice against Medgar’s assassin, my time at the N.A.A.C.P. and my run for Congress against a far-right extremist. Now, those words guide me whenever I see things Medgar fought and died for being erased by misguided politicians.
I’m Scott Wallace. Nothing inspires me more than the courage of my grandfather, Henry A. Wallace, campaigning for president in the Deep South on a platform to end Jim Crow in 1948, undaunted by death threats. In my career in law and philanthropy, I have been guided every day by his fearless commitment to robust and inclusive democracy, and to an activist role for government on behalf of ordinary Americans.
Medgar Evers grew up in Mississippi during the Depression and fought on the beaches of Normandy, only to come home to witness grotesque inequality and violence against African Americans. He dedicated the rest of his life to fighting for civil rights and voting rights.
Mr. Wallace rose from secretary of agriculture to become Franklin D. Roosevelt’s third-term vice president, but was replaced on the Democratic ticket with Harry Truman in 1944. His calls to end poll taxes outraged party bosses. He never gave up fighting for progressive values and international collaboration toward world peace.
Today, Aug. 6, America commemorates the 56th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act. But in the face of a relentless assault from the right — not just on who gets to vote, and how, but on who decides which votes count — there’s more to mourn than to celebrate.
It’s been nearly six decades since Medgar’s assassination and since Henry A. Wallace’s death. Our crusading loved ones must be spinning in their graves.
As of mid-July, Republican-led legislatures in at least 17 states had enacted around 30 restrictive new voting laws, some provisions of which will disproportionately affect racial minorities. In Texas, more than 50 Democratic lawmakers fled the state to deny Republicans a quorum to ram through some of the country’s most restrictive voting laws. Threatened with arrest, they’ve been in Washington, D.C., pushing for new federal laws to safeguard elections nationwide.
The U.S. Supreme Court isn’t helping. Last month, it gutted what’s left of the Voting Rights Act. That ruling came eight years after the court’s misguided decision to kill the Act’s requirement that certain states and counties get federal permission to make changes to their voting laws.
President Biden recently denounced the G.O.P.’s “21st Century Jim Crow assault” on voting rights, and called on Congress to pass legislation to protect voting and elections.
But these bills will die. They will be strangled by the Senate filibuster, a parliamentary tactic that requires a three-fifths supermajority of senators to end debate on most legislation and advance it to a vote. If the Senate were like many other democratic legislative bodies in the world, it would take a simple majority of 51 votes to pass legislation. But today, even though Democrats have 50 votes, with Vice President Kamala Harris able to serve as a 51st vote in the event of a tie, they can accomplish little unless 10 Republicans decide to join them.
But Senate Republicans aren’t joining them. The Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, said “100 percent of our focus is on stopping” Mr. Biden’s administration. He recently led a filibuster to obstruct House-passed legislation to protect elections and voting in America.
Both of our loved ones’ crusading spirits were forged during F.D.R.’s New Deal, when the government responded to great crises with big, bold programs to help everyday Americans. F.D.R.’s example openly inspires President Biden. He keeps F.D.R.’s portrait in the place of honor above the fireplace in the Oval Office. Mr. Biden likes to say that he tells it “straight from the shoulder,” a phrase F.D.R. used when he was president. President Biden has called for the creation of a 21st Century Civilian Climate Corps, modeled on the New Deal’s wildly successful Civilian Conservation Corps.
F.D.R. got 15 major pieces of legislation passed in his first 100 days. But here’s the great irony: the bills that made up F.D.R.’s New Deal might not have passed muster under today’s Senate filibuster rules. The Senate filibuster has been used to block civil rights bills meant to combat racial discrimination, such as those outlawing lynching and poll taxes — one reason former President Obama has denounced the filibuster as a “Jim Crow relic.”
President Biden’s one major bill succeeded only because it fit a narrow exemption to the filibuster: budget reconciliation. Other House-passed legislation simply dies in the Senate. The New Deal-era “talking” filibuster — a round-the-clock talkathon to dramatize the minority’s opposition — has been replaced by a blanket minority veto of almost every remotely controversial bill.
So Jim Crow lives on, dressed in a business suit in state legislatures and the U.S. Senate. His weapon is the filibuster. And his victims are bills to strengthen democracy and justice such as the For The People Act, the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, and the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act.
The filibuster is not a creature of law or of the Constitution. It’s a procedural rule. The process of changing it is simple, and not uncommon. It only takes a majority vote of the Senate to create new exceptions to the filibuster’s supermajority requirement. Such exceptions were made 161 times between 1969 and 2014.
Elected leaders in Washington need to reform the racist filibuster and stand up for democracy by passing big, bold legislation to meet the greatest American crises since the 1930s and ’40s. We owe it to the present, the future and the past.
Myrlie Evers is chairman emeritus of the N.A.A.C.P. and the widow of Medgar Evers. Scott Wallace is an attorney and the grandson of Henry A. Wallace, the 33rd Vice President of the United States.
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