My Letter to Senator Sinema

As a social worker I implore you to reconsider your staunch opposition to amending the current Senate practice of requiring a 60-vote threshold to allow a motion to end debate in the United States Senate and allow a vote on the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. While there is little hope that you will change your position given the floor speech you delivered on January 13, two days before the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I believe social workers have the responsibility to make our voices heard on this issue. In your speech, you pride yourself on your ability to listen due to your training as a professional social worker. Please listen to me.

I find it difficult to accept your treatise that the filibuster ensures broad-based support for policy. Are you suggesting that its use to preserve slavery, to deny voting rights to millions of Black Americans over the course of this country’s history, or its use to prevent federal investigation and prosecution of such pernicious crimes as lynching ensured broad-based support for these policies? The filibuster is not—as you stated—a critical tool needed to safeguard our democracy from threats in the years to come. Should state bills recently introduced to suppress and subvert the vote be allowed to become law that line will already be crossed.

The filibuster is not a founding Constitutional practice. The original rules of the Senate allowed a simple majority of legislators to make a motion to end debate. Although there was no rule prohibiting extended speech, it was considered unseeming to do so. There was little use of the filibuster before the Civil War. Senators from southern states used it extensively to block measures that threaten White landowners’ ability to use slave labor. In recent years, it has not been used to protect the rights of minorities but has been weaponized by the Republican party to deny full citizenship to millions of Americans.

The Republican Party has demonstrated that they are neither willing nor interested—as you suggest—to sit down with the other party and genuinely discuss how to re-forge common ground on issues. Yes, as you stated, we should invest in recruiting and supporting state and local candidates for office who represent the values in our Constitution. That can only happen in a democratic society which currently is under threat. Your thinking makes sense only if we take measures—which some may consider drastic—to reduce and eliminate those threats which in this case requires the passage of federal legislation to protect the voting rights of all Americans.

I do not seek to demonize you for what you may believe to be a truly principled stand. However, I hope that you recognize the insurmountable obstacles for people of color and others that are being set in place to deny us our constitutional right to a fair and free vote. If a controlling party in a state can decide electoral outcomes regardless of the vote count, democracy will already be dead. Please remember that you represent the people. We are asking you to allow a vote on this legislation. This is still a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.


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