March 7, 2013
“This can be a Senate were ideas are debated in full public view – and obstruction happens in full public view as well. Or it can be a Senate where a small minority obstructs from behind closed doors, without ever coming to the Senate floor.”
Washington, D.C. – Nevada Senator Harry Reid spoke on the Senate floor today regarding the talking filibuster and on the anniversary of the Bloody Sunday civil rights march. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
My Republican colleagues love to extol the virtues of “regular order.” If only we could get back to the days of regular order, they say, the Senate would function again.
Well, yesterday we saw both sides of that. On one hand my Republican colleagues did not practice regular order. Instead they demanded a 60-vote threshold for confirmation of a qualified nominee, Caitlin Halligan, to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Republicans hid behind a cloture vote – a filibuster by another term – to prevent a simple up or down vote on this important nomination. They took the easy way out.
On the other hand, one Republican Senator did return to regular order. And, as is his right, he spoke for as long as he was able. That is a filibuster.
After 12 hours standing and talking, this is how Senator Paul ended his filibuster: “I would go for another 12 hours to try to break Strom Thurmond's record, but I've discovered there are some limits to filibustering and I'm going to have to take care of one of those in a few minutes here.” One thing I learned from my own experience with talking filibusters: to succeed, you need strong convictions but also a strong bladder. Senator Paul has both.
We should all reflect on what happened yesterday as we proceed with other nominations, including a number of judicial nominations. This can be a Senate were ideas are debated in full public view – and obstruction happens in full public view as well. Or it can be a Senate where a small minority obstructs from behind closed doors, without ever coming to the Senate floor.
Forty-eight years ago today, a young man by the name of John Lewis set out on a march across Alabama, from Selma to Montgomery. By his side were a few hundred freedom-loving men and women calling for an end to discrimination and violence against African Americans.
Today John Lewis is a distinguished member of the House of Representatives. But back then he was a young civil rights leader, determined to fight injustice and force the United States to live up to its founding principle – that all people are created equal.
John expected to be arrested that day. Instead, John and the peaceful protesters by his side were met just six blocks into their march by state troopers with dogs, fire hoses and clubs. Many of the marchers, including John Lewis, were badly beaten.
The terrible violence of that day – known as Bloody Sunday – was broadcast across the country. For the first time, the bloody reality of the struggle for equal rights was beamed into America’s living rooms. Bloody Sunday marked a turning point in the Civil Rights movement, as Americans cried out against the injustice and bloodshed they saw on their television screens.
Later that month, protesters finally completed the march from Selma to Montgomery. And more than 25,000 patriots converged on the Alabama State Capitol Building. From the steps of the Alabama Capitol, Dr. Martin Luther King spoke of the power of peaceful resistance. This is what he said: “Selma, Alabama, became a shining moment in the conscience of man. If the worst in American life lurked in its dark street, the best of American instincts arose passionately from across the nation to overcome it.”
Six months later President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The law was one of many steps to make “freedom and justice for all” more than just a maxim.
But today the change Bloody Sunday helped bring to bear with the Voting Rights Act is under attack again. Last week, the Supreme Court considered striking sections of the law barring areas with a history of discrimination from changing voting practices without federal approval.
Critics say these protections are no longer necessary. But anyone who waited hours to cast a ballot in 2012 knows that’s not the case. And anyone who has watched as state legislatures pass laws designed to intimidate eligible voters and keep the poor, minorities and the elderly from the polls knows the fight for freedom is not over.
America has made great strides to eradicate racism, thanks to men like John Lewis. But together we must guard that progress with vigilance, keeping in mind the sacrifices made by so many 48 years ago today.