How the Racist History of the Filibuster Lives on Today

Apr 29, 2024 | by
  • Description

Since the end of the 19th century, the filibuster—a political procedure used in the U.S. Senate by one or more members to delay or block legislation—has emerged as a preeminent institutional tool used to deny rights and liberties to tens of millions of Black and brown Americans. Over the past two centuries, it has been abused repeatedly during some of the darkest periods of America's history to prevent the passage of legislation that would protect the civil rights and voting rights of Black Americans, including to block anti-lynching legislation.

This legacy, however, is not a relic of the past; it is alive and well today through the repeated use of the filibuster to prevent the passage of critical voting rights legislation, including the Freedom to Vote Act (FTVA) and the reauthorization of the monumental Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA). This latest chapter in the filibuster's history comes at a time when many states are enacting targeted measures to prevent historically disenfranchised communities from accessing the ballot box.

This issue brief provides an overview of the ways the filibuster has historically been used to suppress the rights of Black and brown Americans before detailing recent voter suppression efforts. It then describes the Senate's use of the filibuster, as well as the filibuster's monumental influence on the legislative process, today.