Pressure to End the Filibuster Is Mounting for Kyrsten Sinema as 39 Protesters Arrested During Phoenix Sit-In

Rev. Jesse Jackson (C), listens during a sit-in demonstration outside the office of Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) on July 26, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona.

Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images

By Ryan Knappenberger

July 28, 2021

Organizers have staged other similar protests. Ten people were arrested last month outside Sinema’s Phoenix office while protesting the filibuster.

PHOENIX —  Police arrested 39 protesters outside Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s Phoenix office on Monday as they called on the senator to support ending the filibuster and make way for a number of progressive bills.

Those arrested Monday included national civil rights leaders Rev. Jesse Jackson, Barbara Arnwine, and Rev. Dr. William Barber, as well as Arizona state Sen. Martín Quezada, D-Maryvale. 

A spokesperson for the Phoenix Police Department said that the 39 protesters arrested only received citations and were released from custody soon after. Officers warned protesters prior to their arrest that they were trespassing on private property.

Protesters rallied beforehand at Kachina Park, down the street from Sinema’s office, with speakers explaining the importance of ending the filibuster.

The filibuster is a rule the minority party in the Senate can use to block the passage of legislation. A three-fifths majority, or 60 votes, is required to overcome a filibuster and bring a bill to a vote. Lawmakers used to have to stand and speak for hours to delay and ultimately block a vote, but now all it takes is the threat of a filibuster to keep bills from moving forward.

‘We Deserve Better. We Deserve More’ 

Quezada said Sinema had lost touch with her constituency and what they elected her to do.

“When she weds herself to a Jim Crow filibuster, she’s telling you that the status quo that you have right in front of you is as good as it’s going to get, the status quo in front of you is as good as you deserve, and we are telling her she is wrong,” the state lawmaker said. 

Of the first 40 times the filibuster was used between 1837 and 1917, at least 10 were used to block anti-slavery measures, such as statehood for California and Kansas, as well as protection for newly emancipated Black Americans’ voting rights. In the 20th century, the filibuster also blocked efforts to investigate and prosecute lynchings, end poll taxes, and ban housing and rental discrimination.

Since the requirement to remain on the floor to filibuster was removed, its use has skyrocketed. More than 80 bills have been filibustered by Republicans since January, and both parties have used the procedural rule to block more than 1,500 bills since 2001.

Barber, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, said that because the filibuster was not included in the US Constitution, there is no reason to keep it indefinitely.

“You should not use a nonconstitutional thing to block constitutional rights,” Barber argued. “It’s never been used to bring things together; it’s always been used to bust things up.” 

The Filibuster Blocks Key Progressive Legislation

Arnwine, president and founder of the Transformative Justice Coalition, said she came to Arizona because of its connection to multiple voting rights controversies, such as the Maricopa County election audit and the Brnovich v. DNC case in the US Supreme Court. 

“There is evil in our country… vicious, evil, nefarious laws—400 of them—lurking around the country,” Arnwine said. “We’re here to say that for every evil, there is overwhelming good.” 

The “nefarious” laws Arnwine pointed to include a number of restrictive voting laws that the Arizona legislature passed in the previous session, including SB 1485—which removes inactive voters from the Permanent Early Voting List—and SB 1003—which limits the time voters have to fix signatures or inconsistencies with their ballots. 

One of the primary pieces of legislation activists are hoping to save by ending the filibuster is the For the People Act, a wide-ranging voting rights bill that would provide federal protections for voting rights and create nationwide election laws. The bill would require states to implement automatic and same-day voter registration, limit voter roll purges, improve election security, and more.

The bill was previously blocked by Senate Republicans after Democrats could not find 10 Republicans to support the bill and overcome the filibuster.

Protesters joined Monday’s march in support of policy goals beyond voting rights, including labor reform, immigrant rights, climate change, minimum wage increases, LGBTQ+ rights, and more. 

Doug Bland, the executive director of Arizona Interfaith Power and Light, a climate advocacy group, said he thinks the filibuster stands in the way of fighting climate change for people today and in the future.

“I just had my first grandchild. That’s a big reason I’m fighting to end the filibuster,” Bland said. 

Eddie Chavez Calderon, campaign director with Arizona Jews for Justice and a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipient, said the recent court ruling labeling the program as unlawful makes ending the filibuster even more urgent. 

‘We Have More to Lose Than Gain by Ending the Filibuster’ 

Sinema stands among a small number of Democrats in Congress who do not support removing the filibuster. She wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post last month defending her decision. 

She said that ending the filibuster would only be a temporary victory and that lawmakers should instead aim for “durable, lasting results” through bipartisanship. Her worry is that with the filibuster gone, if the Democrats lose the majority in Congress, they could see all their work undone without any way to stop it. 

“The filibuster compels moderation and helps protect the country from wild swings between opposing policy poles,” Sinema wrote.

Rev. William Barber II in handcuffs in a police vehicle after his arrest outside Sen. Kyrsten Sinema's office.
(Photo by Stephen Roach Knight)




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