By Brandon Moseley
Congresswoman Terri Sewell (D-AL07) gave a speech on the floor of the House during the Congressional Black Caucus’ Special Order Hour to call on the Senate to end the 60-vote filibuster rule. Sewell wanted to end the filibuster and pass the Democratic Party's federal voting rights legislation, including her bill - the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, H.R. 4.
“Last week, we watched as every Senate Republican voted to block debate on the Freedom to Vote Act, a common-sense bill that would ensure every American has access to the ballot box,” Sewell said. “What are they afraid of, I ask? What are they afraid of? Last week’s vote made clear that Senate Republicans are unwilling to even debate voting rights, let alone hold a fair vote.
“In order to protest and protect our democracy and the sacred right to vote, we must reform the filibuster to create a path forward for must-pass pieces of legislation,” Sewell continued. “Madam Speaker, almost three weeks ago, we saw Senator Leahy introduce S. 4, the John Robert Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, in the Senate. But unless we take action on the filibuster and take action now, this critical bill will face the same fate as the Freedom to Vote Act."
In the Senate, a filibuster is an action that a member of the senate can take in an attempt to obstruct a bill or law that has been proposed. It takes 60 votes, known as a 'supermajority,' to end a filibuster. Proponents of the filibuster, which over history have included both Democrats and Republicans, contend that the procedure protects the rights of the minority by stopping a simple majority - in the Senate, 51 votes out of 100 - from creating new law, helping to preserve constitutional principles of checks and balances and separation of powers.
The House of Representatives, of which Sewell is a member, has no filibuster rule.
Republicans oppose Sewell’s legislation, saying it would set aside states’ constitutional authority to run their own elections, eliminate photo ID requirements to vote, and expand controversial practices like mail-out ballots, paid ballot harvesting, and electronic voting.
“I hope our Senators will choose to do what’s right and do away with an archaic procedural rule that has been used for decades to block racial justice in this country,” Sewell said. “President Biden also understands the urgency of this critical moment. On Thursday, at his town hall meeting, we heard President Biden express support for reforming the filibuster to pass much-needed voting rights legislation.
“We have no other choice. We must reform the filibuster and we must do it now"
Sewell argued that the filibuster, formally known as Rule XXII or the cloture rule, is an "archaic procedural rule.
The Senate is evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. Democrats hold a one-vote advantage when the Vice President, Democrat Kamala Harris, holds the tie-breaking vote.
Democratic Senators Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona) and Joe Manchin (R-West Virginia) are under pressure from the more progressive wing of the Democratic Party to vote to change the Senate’s rules to end the filibuster or create some loophole allowing H.R. 4 to come to the floor of the Senate. It would take all 50 Democrats and the vice president to change the Senate rules and pass H.R. 4 without any Republican support.
Sewell is in her sixth term representing Alabama in the Seventh Congressional District. Sewell is the only Black woman to represent Alabama in the U.S. House of Representatives in its’ almost 202 years as a state.