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June 14, 2005
Apologizing For The Filibuster

The Senate yesterday issued a historic apology to African-Americans for its refusal to act against the practice of lynching for decades, effectively sidelining the federal government while thousands of victims died at the hands of vigilantes. Unfortunately, that apology doesn't address the tool used by the Senate that allowed it to be hijacked by a handful of racists in the early 20th century, and the media coverage barely mentions how it happened:

The formal apology, adopted by voice vote, was issued decades after senators blocked antilynching bills by filibuster. The resolution is the first time that members of Congress, who have apologized to Japanese-Americans for their internment in World War II and to Hawaiians for the overthrow of their kingdom, have apologized to African-Americans for any reason, proponents of the measure said.

"The Senate failed you and your ancestors and our nation," Senator Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana, chief Democratic sponsor of the resolution, said at a luncheon attended by 200 family members and descendants of victims. They included 100 relatives of Anthony Crawford, as well as a 91-year-old man believed to be the only known survivor of an attempted lynching. ...

There have been 4,742 recorded lynchings in American history, Ms. Landrieu said. Historians suspect that many more went undocumented. Although the House passed antilynching legislation three times in the first half of the 20th century, the Senate, controlled by Southern conservatives, repeatedly refused to do so.

That version conveniently rewrites the history of the Senate and of the efforts to end lynching through federal legislation. That effort had plenty of popular support; in fact, seven presidents demanded action from Congress to put an end to lynching between the 1880s and the start of World War II. Far from being "controlled" by Southern Democrats (not conservatives!), the Senate would easily have passed the legislation on all three occasions had it not been for the filibuster. Southern Senators had to resort to the filibuster not because they controlled the Senate, but because they didn't control the Senate.

The New York Times engages in this historical revisionism because its editorial policy supports the protection of the filibuster for its own ends, namely to keep conservatives off the appellate benches and the Supreme Court. It does its readers a disservice, and it undermines its own credibility as an objective news provider with this transparent effort to slant the history of the filibuster.

The Times cheered when Senator Byrd and his co-signers of the MOU proclaimed that the "Republic is saved" after the filibuster survived its challenge a few weeks ago. Perhaps an honest recounting of how the filibuster had been applied in American history would have been more appropriate, as it would have shown that rhetoric to have been shallow and self-serving, at the very least. No one has yet pointed out the greater good that the filibuster has ever provided this nation that can balance out the thousands of known victims of the lynchings its elimination could have prevented.

Addendum: Patterico finds much the same problem at the LA Times, although their editorial board took the unusual position of arguing for total elimination of the filibuster last month.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at June 14, 2005 12:05 PM

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