Advocacy update for January 4, 2022: Bearing witness in the new year

Advocacy update for January 4, 2022: Bearing witness in the new year

Advocacy update for January 4, 2022: Bearing witness in the new year 150 150 Episcopalians in Connection

Congress, the Ohio Legislature, and local elected officials get back to work this week.  In the spirit of Presiding Bishop Curry’s call to all Episcopalians to build the Beloved Community, these posts will continue to follow policy issues that affect safety and equity for all people, and the condition of the land, air, and water on which we and Earth’s other living creatures depend.

Voting Rights on the front burner

Epiphany marks the first anniversary of the assault on the US Capitol as members of Congress were preparing to certify the Electoral College votes in the 2020 presidential election. The huge conflicts roiling our country include these questions: can we ensure that every vote counts equally, and can we trust the responsible officials to tell us the truth about the tallies?

As the Ohio Supreme Court continues to hear cases challenging the constitutionality of new district maps predicted to create a partisan supermajority in both the Ohio Legislature and our Congressional delegation, the U.S Senate has been prevented by the filibuster rule from even starting debate on two bills – the Freedom to Vote Act and the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act – designed to ensure fair, representative districts in every state and equal access for all eligible voters. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced that the Senate will vote by Martin Luther King Day on plans to carve out a voting rights exception to the filibuster rule that has meant that legislation in the Senate needs 60 votes to pass.

Drawing on decades of work and resolutions by the Episcopal Church to protect voting rights, the Office of Government Relations asks Episcopalians to urge Congress to pass voting reforms and provides a link for writing to your Senator. In the December OGR newsletter, Director Rebecca Linder Blachly wrote that, while the Episcopal Church has not passed any resolutions on the filibuster,  “we can continue to underscore the importance of voting and the need for federal legislation to counteract recent bills in many statehouses that have sought to restrict or limit the right to vote. At the most recent meeting, Executive Council reaffirmed the Church’s commitment to voting rights for all of those eligible.”

Many advocates see a voting rights carve-out for the filibuster as a feasible and efficient way to prevent voter suppression and extreme partisan gerrymandering.  The Brennan Center for Justice reports that between 1969 and 2014, the Senate has approved 161 exceptions to its rule requiring a supermajority of 60 votes to pass legislation. On December 9, the Senate approved another to allow a simple majority vote to raise the debt ceiling and prevent a national default.

The Brennan Center article says that the filibuster has no constitutional basis and was not used till 1837.  “Critics of the filibuster have pointed to its fundamentally antidemocratic character and its use to block civil rights legislation — most infamously before and during the civil rights era, when southern segregationists used it to block anti-lynching legislation, anti-poll tax legislation, and to delay the Civil Rights Acts of 1957, 1960, and 1964.” The Freedom to Vote Act provides a consistent national remedy to extreme partisan gerrymandering, as well as standards for voter access. The John R. Lewis Act restores protections in the Civil Rights Act that were eliminated by Supreme Court rulings in recent years.

Advocacy briefings are compiled by Ariel Miller, a member of Ascension & Holy Trinity, Wyoming, and a member of the diocesan Becoming Beloved Community Leadership Team. Connect with her at arielmillerwriter@gmail.com