Ed Markey’s Ahistorical Attack on the Filibuster?Breaking News
tags: filibuster, Senate, fact check
“The filibuster was created so that slave owners could hold power over our government.”
— Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), in a tweet, March 16, 2021
Democrats who want the filibuster gone often talk about its well-known history as a tool of enslavers and segregationists.
Markey, a liberal senator who co-sponsored the Green New Deal, takes it much further by saying the filibuster was “created” so slave owners could run the government. The thing is rotten to the core, he seems to suggest.
But the filibuster’s origins are not so tainted.
Depending on which historical account you read, the earliest use of the Senate filibuster can be traced to 1790, 1837 or 1841. None of these involved enslavers’ issues.
Historians note that John C. Calhoun, a prominent Southerner and defender of slavery, was an early adopter of the filibuster as a tool to delay legislative action. Fair enough. But he didn’t create it.
Supporters say the filibuster is a necessary check on legislative excess, moderating any bill that passes through the Senate. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) warns that its elimination would grind American democracy to a halt.
In a 50-50 Senate, Markey and many other Democrats say, the filibuster gives Republicans the power to veto anything they dislike, instantly dooming ambitious projects such as an immigration overhaul, an expansion of voting rights and climate change legislation.
Markey tweeted, “The filibuster was created so that slave owners could hold power over our government.” He is referring to John C. Calhoun, who helped make the filibuster notorious as a delay tactic used for white-supremacist ends. But that’s not the same as inventing it.
A comprehensive look at history shows that the first recorded filibusters in the Senate concerned issues such as where to locate Congress, what to do about Andrew Jackson’s censure over withdrawn federal deposits, who would be appointed to a publication called the Congressional Globe and whether to create a national bank.
Markey’s office did not try to argue that these issues somehow related to enslavers’ power over the government, and we couldn’t find any historical links, either. Lawmakers dedicated to preserving slavery or segregation may have exploited the filibuster for their own purposes, but they did not create it. Markey earns Three Pinocchios.
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