The Senate recently voted on the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. After Republicans deployed the filibuster, the Democrats asked that senators consider a carve-out reform to force Republicans to use a “talking filibuster,” as was required years ago. However, all 50 Republican senators, along with Democrats Joe Manchin and Kirsten Sinema, voted against amending the filibuster rules. It was voted down, 52-48, so there was no vote taken on these two important bills, which would have helped to protect and extend the voting rights of Black and Brown people.
These bills were put up for a vote in response to Republicans in dozens of state legislatures pushing to pass more than 400 bills that would further restrict the rights of minorities to vote. These pieces of legislation in the states would close down polls in working-class and minority districts; restrict the right to use drop boxes to receive votes; prevent people from giving water and food to voters forced to wait hours in line due to the limited number of polling places in poor neighborhoods; make people endure more restrictive voter identification measures; and restrict the right for people to vote by absentee ballot — which was widely used due to the pandemic in 2020.
All of these new laws are being passed because Americans voted in the largest numbers ever in this country during the 2020 election, and President Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump by more than 7 million votes. Yet Trump is still spreading lies about how the election was stolen.
Despite the fact that every Democrat and Independent senator would have voted in favor of the two bills, and despite the fact that Vice President Kamala Harris would have broken the deadlock to pass the bills, the bills did not become law because of the Senate’s arcane filibuster rule that allows the legislation to move forward only if it can garner 60 votes.
It is understandable that many people — including Democrats — are angry at Senators Manchin and Sinema for not voting to amend the filibuster. Within the past few months, the filibuster was amended to pass the debt ceiling so the country would not default on its debts.
However, it must be pointed out that not one single Republican voted to advance either of the two voting-rights measures so they would become law. Voters need to remember that as we head into the mid-term elections. Republicans are against the rights of Black and Brown people in this country to vote. Since the Republican Party doesn’t have a platform that would appeal to those voters, GOP leaders decided they will choose who their voters are — either through gerrymandering or by denying some people the right to vote.
And it is not just Black and Brown people whose rights are being taken away by this Republican Party. The rights of women to control their own bodies are being gradually stripped away. It appears that the Supreme Court, which has been turned sharply to the right by recent Trump appointees, is about to overturn the 49-year-old Roe v. Wade decision, so that a woman would no longer have the right to choose to end an unwanted pregnancy.
Now let’s look at how the Republican Party managed to turn the Supreme Court toward the right over the past few years.
In February of 2016, during the last year of the Obama presidency, Justice Antonin Scalia died. Obama then nominated current Attorney General Merritt Garland to replace him. Instead of granting Garland a hearing, then Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell decided that he didn’t have to grant a hearing for Garland, claiming that the people should decide who gets to nominate the next Supreme Court justice since there was an election that November.
Despite the fact that President Obama still had 11 months left in office, and he had been elected twice in 2008 and 2012, he was denied the right for his nominee to get a hearing.
After President Donald Trump won the 2016 election, he was allowed to nominate extreme conservative Neil M. Gorsuch as an associate justice, who was then allowed a hearing, which was voted on favorably by a slim margin, and then he was allowed to take his seat on April 10, 2017.
The only reason Gorsuch got a vote of approval was because after the Democrats held a filibuster against his nomination, then Senate Majority Leader McConnell decided to use the so-called “nuclear option” of eliminating the 60-vote requirement for Supreme Court justices. By a vote of 52-48, the Senate agreed in early 2017 to a rule change that outright eliminated the filibuster, so that Supreme Court justices could be confirmed by a simple majority vote.
In July of 2018, Justice Anthony Kennedy retired, which led to the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh by President Trump. Kavanaugh was a federal appellate court judge at the time. That was also a very controversial nomination, and the Republicans finagled to get Kavanaugh confirmed by a vote of 50-48-1.
Then, during the election year of 2020, McConnell was asked what he would do if a Supreme Court Justice passed away during the last year of Trump’s first term of office. He indicated that he would hold a hearing on any nominee Trump put forward. Even though Trump was then only a one-term president, when Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg died on Sept. 18, 2020, another very conservative Judge named Amy Coney Barrett was nominated as an associate justice of the Supreme Court. She was rushed to get a hearing and a vote and subsequently was seated on the court on Oct. 27, 2020 — less than 40 days after Justice Ginsberg died.
Were it not for Senator McConnell’s elimination of the filibuster, it is extremely unlikely that any of these three justices would have had the 60 votes necessary for approval. It is also imperative that we understand why these three justices in particular were selected by President Trump. It’s not just because they were all extremely conservative. Republicans were trying to appeal to the religious right to show how anti-abortion they were. They were intent on having a Supreme Court that would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade.
This was no accident. It’s more of the usual Republican anti-women agenda. Republicans are all about the men — particularly white, Anglo-Saxon men. Just look at who makes up their leadership.
It is also clear that a majority of people in the United States support a woman’s right to choose. So those suburban women better think twice before they abandon their newfound Democratic friends and go back to supporting the Republican Party. We all need to stand up for the rights for all of our eligible voters to cast their ballots.
Richard M. Drolet is chairperson of the New Bedford Democratic City Committee.
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