The United States Senate remains gridlocked over the passage of landmark voting rights legislation, which is crucial to offset the dozens of voter suppression bills passed into law by Republican state legislatures across the country last year.
The House, which has a narrow Democratic majority, recently passed a hybrid of the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the Freedom to Vote Act, which would establish a minimum requirement of 15 days for early voting, make Election Day a federal holiday, expands forms of identification, and creates a host of other protections ensuring the right to vote.
Though Democrats have a functional majority in the evenly divided Senate, the Senate filibuster—which requires 60 votes to end debate and bring most legislation to the floor—renders the bill essentially dead. Democrats have called for numerous ways to bypass the filibuster, from abolishing it all together to creating a carve-out for voting rights, as Republicans did in 2017 with the confirmation of Supreme Court justices and as Senators on both sides of the aisle did late last year with increases to the debt ceiling.
But two of the Senate's most conservative Democrats—Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona—have ruled any filibuster reform off the table.
In a floor speech addressing the legislation, Sinema reiterated her support for the House approved bill, but added:
There is no need for me to restate my long-standing support for the 60-vote threshold to pass legislation. There’s no need for me to restate its role protecting our country from wild reversals in federal policy. ... But when one party needs only negotiate within itself, policy will inextricably be pushed from the middle toward the extremes.
Less than a week later, Sinema issued a tweet commemorating the work of civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the federal holiday bearing his name.
Dr. King, of course, spent his life advocating for racial justice and an end to anti-Black violence and subjugation worldwide. A crucial part of this vision centered around voting rights. In King's day, Black Americans faced absurd arbitrary tests to determine whether or not they were eligible to vote, such as purposely convoluted literary tests and even being forced to guess the number of jelly beans in a jar.
King was repeatedly arrested in places like Selma, Alabama in his fight to guarantee voting rights to Black Americans, and he was present at the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965—legislation that has since been neutered by the Supreme Court as recently as 2013.
King was also extremely critical of the filibuster, once saying:
“I think the tragedy is that we have a Congress with a Senate that has a minority of misguided senators who will use the filibuster to keep the majority of people from even voting. They won’t let the majority senators vote. And certainly they wouldn’t want the majority of people to vote, because they know they do not represent the majority of the American people.”
It's the same argument made against the filibuster today. As such, King's family has invoked his opposition to it in the face of Senators voting to suppress access to the ballot box one day, then claim to celebrate King's legacy the next.
Sinema was one such Senator, and her commemoration of Dr. King reminded people of another quote of his:
"I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to 'order' than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says 'I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can't agree with your methods of direct action[.]"
Social media users surmised that Sinema is one of the white moderates Dr. King warned about.
They slammed the hypocritical post as an insult to King's teachings.
In voting rights events this past weekend, Dr. King's family repeatedly called Sinema out by name as a barrier to the passage of legislation that would honor his legacy. Sadly, she shows no signs of relenting in her bulwark against voting rights for the sake of so-called order.