Scrap 'Weaponized' Filibuster—MLK's Son Tells Joe Biden, Senate

Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.'s eldest son has compared the fight to pass voting rights legislation with the civil rights battles faced by his father nearly six decades ago.

In an op-ed, Martin Luther King III called on elected officials "to legislate, not celebrate" on Monday's federal holiday on the anniversary of his father's birth.

Over the last year, 34 laws which adversely impact voters of color have passed in 19 GOP-led states, according to the liberal-leaning Brennan Center for Justice.

"The same forces that schemed to oppress Black and Brown Americans when Dad was assassinated in 1968 are alive and well today," King wrote in an op-ed co-written with his wife, activist Arndrea Waters King, and published by CNN on Monday.

He those forces "are systemically blocking access to the ballot box for people of color."

King said that the Senate and Biden should be "doing everything in their power" to pass federal voting rights legislation "to stop the assaults we're seeing in states nationwide."

"That includes removing the filibuster as a blockade to justice and equality."

The Senate rule requires 60 members to end debate on most topics and move to a vote.

King said that Republicans "have weaponized" the filibuster to "block even debating legislation on the Senate floor."

He said it was used to uphold appendages of slavery during Jim Crow, and that it is "now being used to block the right to vote for Black and Brown Americans."

Ahead of an expected showdown in Congress over two bills—now combined into the "Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act"—King drew a historical comparison to the fight for enfranchisement spearheaded by his father as he said that the filibuster's chequered history meant it "must go."

King wrote that after the 1964 Civil Rights Act, then President Lyndon B. Johnson told Dr. King "he didn't have the political power to get voting rights done."

But this was followed by the marches in Selma, Alabama, in 1965, and mobilizations led by his father, civil rights icon John Lewis and other leaders across the South "to get President Johnson the power he needed."

He noted how that year, the Voting Rights Act passed into law. It aimed to overcome barriers preventing African Americans from exercising the right to vote in one of the most important pieces of civil rights legislation in U.S. history.

"In 2022, following the passage of the infrastructure bill, President Biden has a similar historic opportunity to tap into the power we've organized," to boost voting rights, King wrote, "the power is there."

In an impassioned speech in Atlanta, Georgia last week, Biden also used the word "weaponized" in describing how the filibuster was being used as he called for a change to Senate rules to sidestep the 60 votes needed to pass the voting rights legislation.

However, this would still require all 50 Senators who caucus with the Democrats to back the move and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) have reiterated last week that they do not support changes to the 60-vote hurdle.

Following Monday's March, King's 13-year-old daughter, Yolanda Renee King, told a press conference, "Senator Sinema, Senator Manchin, our future hinges on your decision and history will remember what choice you make."

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