Labor, Enviro, Civic Groups to Schumer: Fix or Nix the Filibuster

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

For Immediate Release:
Amy Shenker,

Labor, Enviro, Civic Groups to Schumer:
Fix or Nix the Filibuster

"The need for action is urgent, but obstruction in the Senate has only gotten worse."

WASHINGTON DC — Fifty-two labor, environmental and civic groups called on Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer to “take all steps necessary” to fix or nix the Jim Crow filibuster, which is blocking action on urgent federal legislation.

“Our country is reeling from intersecting crises that undermine public health, racial justice, the economy, our climate, and our democracy,” the organizations stated in a joint letter to Sen. Schumer. “These crises have accelerated growing inequities in our system, especially for Black and brown communities and working people. The need for action is urgent, but obstruction in the Senate has only gotten worse.”

The joint letter was originated by the Democracy Initiative (DI), a unique intersectional coalition which brings together organizations representing more than 45 million people, and is available at It is part of a nationwide campaign, joined by DI members groups and allies, to end gridlock in Washington DC and revitalize our democracy. On July 26, 39 people were arrested at Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s office, including Rev. William Barber, Rev. Jesse Jackson, and United Domestic Workers Executive Director and DI advisor Doug Moore, calling on her to reverse her position supporting the filibuster.

“Some of us support the full elimination of the filibuster and all of us believe changes are necessary,” the organizations stated. “The minority should be prohibited from blocking even the opening of debate on a bill… those wishing to obstruct the final vote should be required to hold the floor and explain themselves so that their colleagues and the American people know who to hold accountable.”

The option known as the “talking filibuster” was recently endorsed by President Biden, during a town hall event in Cincinnati. 

“The filibuster has an ugly history, as a racist remnant of white supremacy used to block any and all civil rights legislation” said Charly Carter, executive director of the Democracy Initiative. “And it’s being used in an ugly fashion today, to protect wealth and privilege. We can’t allow endless obstruction in the Senate to keep people from having the right to vote, to keep people from having clean air, clean water, to keep people from dignity on the job and having the ability to earn a fair wage and take care of their families.”

The filibuster is a Senate rule which can be changed at any time by an up-or-down majority vote. As recently as the 1970s and 1980s, there were only a few dozen filibusters each year. Now there are hundreds. This creates a supermajority requirement of 60 votes—not found anywhere in the U.S. Constitution or any federal statute—to pass any substantive legislation. 

“The clock is ticking as legislation that will help rebuild the middle class and ensure that everyone has a fair opportunity to vote remains stuck behind filibuster rules,” said Chris Shelton, president of the Communications Workers of America. “These rules, rooted in white supremacy, are used to protect the political and economic power of a wealthy, elite minority. We encourage Majority Leader Schumer to take action now to enable the Senate to debate and vote on these critical bills.”

The non-stop abuse of the filibuster has left the U.S. Congress unable to perform the most basic legislative functions, even when bills have the support of majorities in both chambers. A bill to create an independent commission to investigate the January 6th attack on Congress itself had support from 54 senators, but was killed with a filibuster by just 35 GOP senators.  

“Mitch McConnell stated that his top priority this Congress was blocking the For the People Act, and the only way he can do that is through the anti-democratic and racist filibuster,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, President of Common Cause and Democracy Initiative board co-chair. “We have long pushed to abolish the filibuster, which has frequently been used to block civil rights and social justice legislation. As President Biden ramps-up his use of the bully pulpit and engages with senators, we urge him to make clear that the Senate minority’s use of the filibuster—a Jim Crow relic, in the words of former President Obama—must never stand in the way of the freedom to vote.”

“Biden and congressional Democrats won power last year with populist promises to expand access to healthcare, lower prescription drug prices, fight for $15 and give workers the right to join a union,” said Joseph Geevarghese, executive director of Our Revolution. "Failure to turn these promises into policy—and to confront the rising threats to voting rights across the country—will have terrible electoral consequences next year."

"The American voters elected senators to pass laws—not use outdated, arbitrary rules with a history of racist ties to obstruct our democracy," said Virginia Kase Solomón, CEO of the League of Women Voters of the United States. "As long as senators can hide behind the filibuster, they are not beholden to the American people. We the people are tired of seeing this archaic tool used and abused to delay progress. It is time to amend the filibuster for the health and safety of our democracy."

The Democracy Initiative is a coalition of 75 organizations with a collective 45 million members fighting for workers, civil rights, social justice and the environment. DI partner organizations are united in their commitment to realizing the promise of American democracy where all people have an equal seat at the governance table.