MLK's Son: Joe Biden Should Consider Using Executive Power on Voting Rights

President Joe Biden should consider using his executive power to instigate voting rights legislation, Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.'s son has said, after a bill aimed at protecting rights at the ballot box failed to advance in the Senate.

Speaking to Newsweek, Martin Luther King III said Biden "has got to be looking at" using executive orders to "help ensure that people's voting rights are protected, preserved and expanded."

King's call comes as the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act was held up in the Senate.

That federal bill would help allow automatic voter registration, mail ballots and an easing of voter ID laws. The bill would act as a countermeasure to 19 state laws that critics say restrict voting rights and adversely affect people of color.

Republican Senators are able to block the act using the Senate's filibuster rule, which requires 60 members to allow a vote on most legislation.

Biden has been arguing for scrapping the filibuster in order to pass voting legislation in the 50-50 tied Senate. But Democrats Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) and Joe Manchin (D-WV), who have backed the John Lewis Act, have opposed reducing the filibuster threshold.

King said he was "greatly disappointed" the filibuster had not been reformed to help ease the passing of the federal act.

"We never saw this as a sprint," King said in a phone interview on Thursday, "we hoped that it would be, but we also knew that it was possible that it was going to be a marathon."

Biden may have to take a different approach following the filibuster setback, King said.

In a speech in Atlanta last week, Biden said he was "tired of being quiet" about voter legislation and urged the Senate to pass voting legislation to help "protect our democracy."

Biden's speech has been criticized by some for comparing opposition to voting rights legislation with segregationists. But the speech was praised by King.

"His point was that if you want to stand in the way of voting rights, legislation and protections, then you're standing on the same side as George Wallace and Bull Connor."

"We're talking about saving our democracy," King said, "so I do believe his tone was right."

That fight, King said, would also be continued at a local level by his own campaign group which would continue its battle to protect voter rights.

Give Us The Ballot, which has raised more than $1.2 million since it was set up last year, focuses on nonprofits working at a local level to combat voter suppression.

"There's no substitute for protections being put in place at the federal level to ensure that all eligible Americans have the ability to vote," former congressman and GUTB co-founder Joe Kennedy III told Newsweek last month.

"But we also have to keep in mind that much of the operations of elections... is actually delegated to the states."

Yet additional federal reforms can allow for higher voting rights by mail or early voting, Kennedy said. "Those are two that obviously should be codified and protected."

Given that it took 10 years between the Montgomery Bus Boycott spearheaded by his father and the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, King is aware change does not come quickly.

King vowed "this is not an issue we're giving up on," adding that if his father were still alive, "he'd be very excited about the fact that there are young people engaged in these fights all over our country."

"After the tragic death of George Floyd, in every state in our nation, there was a demonstration, and these were young people," King said, "that same energy can be galvanized to protect and preserve voting rights."

"My Dad would be right in the forefront of this struggle."

Martin Luther King III
Martin Luther King III speaks at press conference following the Peace Walk in celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Washington, DC at Union Station on January 17, 2022 in Washington, DC. Getty/Brian Stukes