Democrats have launched a full-scale campaign to abolish the Senate filibuster as they pursue legislation they claim will expand voter rights, but Republicans would likely filibuster.
Now, Democratic lawmakers, like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), are claiming the filibuster is "racist" — an assertion one legal expert rebuked.
What did Warren say?
Warren claimed Thursday the filibuster — which requires 60 votes for most legislation in the Senate — is seeped in racism, and must be abolished because it gives minority political parties too much power.
"The filibuster has deep roots in racism, and it should not be permitted to serve that function, or to create a veto for the minority. In a democracy, it's majority rules," Warren told Axios.
In fact, Warren — who, ironically, has used the filibuster herself — claimed the filibuster is a vestige of America's Jim Crow past.
"The filibuster is a later creation that was designed to give the south the ability to veto any effective civil rights legislation or anti lynching legislation," Warren said.
Other Democrats have made similar claims.
Former President Barack Obama, for example, claimed last year the filibuster is a "Jim Crow relic" that should be eliminated to protect voter rights. Texas Rep. Joaquin Castro (D) repeated the characterization this week.
Democrats are ultimately worried that Republicans will use the filibuster to block H.R. 1, a comprehensive voting reform bill passed by the House in early March down party lines.
How did legal experts respond?
In response, Hans von Spakovsky, manager of the Heritage Foundation's Election Law Reform Initiative and senior legal fellow at the Meese Center for Legal and Judicial Studies, condemned Democrats and their characterization of the filibuster.
"That is an absurd claim and historically inaccurate," von Spakovsky told the Washington Examiner. "It has nothing to do with Jim Crow. In fact, remember, it started in 1806, when slavery was legal throughout the United States."
In fact, the filibuster came about as the result of "a simple housekeeping matter," according to the Brookings Institute:
[I]ts emergence was made possible in 1806 when the Senate—at the advice of Vice President Aaron Burr—removed from its rules a provision (formally known as the previous question motion) allowing a simple majority to force a vote on the underlying question being debated. This decision was not a strategic or political one—it was a simple housekeeping matter, as the Senate was using the motion infrequently and had other motions available to it that did the same thing.
Ultimately, von Spakovsky said abolishing the filibuster would prevent the Senate from being a deliberative body, which the founding fathers intended.
"It will turn the Senate into the House, and that's not a good thing," von Spakovsky said.
"There's going to be disrespect for laws that are passed by only one political party because they're going to be seen as partisan and not something that is intended to apply to all Americans," he added.