The Senate Filibuster Is Rooted in Racism and Must Be Abolished | Opinion

The following is a lightly edited transcript of remarks made by Tefere Gebre during a Newsweek podcast debate on the U.S. Senate's filibuster rule. You can listen to the podcast here:

I completely disagree with what Professor Lipson has said. First of all, it's confusing to the American people. A lot of times, people think the filibuster is embedded in our Constitution. It's not. It is a creature of the Senate itself. It's a creature of a Jim Crow-era racist role in the country, which actually keeps the minority—keeps people of color—in place. We have 50 states in this country: All of the 50 state legislatures do not require a filibuster. The U.S. House, as the professor stated, does not require a filibuster. We have a democracy that is designed to be run by the majority, and a majority should be enough to actually get things done in the U.S. Senate.

But once I call the filibuster a Jim Crow-era, white supremacist rule-keeper, it is very hard for me to go back into anything else. That is not just rhetoric—that is based on facts. The filibuster, as it exists, has been used over and over and over again to suppress the will of the people who have elected people to advance workers' rights, to advance civil rights and to advance and modernize our immigration system—basically, to advance the country forward.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) speaks
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) speaks during a news conference with House Democrats about the Build Back Better legislation, outside of the U.S. Capitol on November 17, 2021 in Washington, DC. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The filibuster, as it currently exists, is used just to limit passage of bills on issues that I mentioned. The other side passes its tax cuts for the zillionaires with 51 votes. [Editor's note: The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 was passed using the Senate's "reconciliation" parliamentary procedure.] We stack Supreme Court justices with 51 votes.

The only place that requires 60 votes in the United States Senate is if we want to modernize our voting rights, or if we want to modernize our workplace rules. That's why the filibuster has got to go. Anything other than that, and real people who show up time and time again and elect the majority into the United States Senate will never see the progress they hoped for and they were promised.

Tefere Gebre is the executive vice president of AFL-CIO.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.