Dear Senator Synema,
You have stated that you will not support modifying the filibuster to accommodate the Democratic Party’s agenda on the issue of voting rights. In taking this stand, you have been consistent with your longstanding views that the filibuster is essential to maintaining the constitutional function of the Senate. I am writing to you today, from the State of North Carolina, to suggest that keeping the filibuster in place despite rising attacks on our nation’s democracy is, in fact, antithetical to the oath you and 99 other Senators took to protect the Constitution of the United States and the American experiment writ large.
That democracy is under attack by authoritarian forces cannot be denied. Even in your home state, Republicans have sought to eviscerate the functioning of the democratic process for partisan gains that contradict the spirit of free elections. But today I will focus not on the antidemocratic trends sweeping such States as Arizona, Texas, Georgia, and Wisconsin. Instead, I will make a case–and a plea–based on the experience of a State that has seen the most virulent assault on democracy of any American political unit since the days of Reconstruction and Southern Redemption. That is my state of North Carolina.
Ever since taking control of the General Assembly in 2010, North Carolina Republicans have set about undermining democracy in the state. Democracy in North Carolina was, in fact, in its infancy; for hundreds of years prior to the Voting Rights Act, we had been a white supremacist polity in which the vast majority of African Americans and, until the 1920s, women, were excluded from the electoral sphere. Thus, our democracy was vulnerable–and the N.C.G.O.P. have more or less eviscerated it.
The first move they made was to pass the most gerrymandered legislative and Congressional maps in American history. In 2012, the first election to take place under GOP maps, Democrats won 51% of the popular vote for U.S. House but only four of the state’s 13 Congressional districts. For the rest of the decade, Republicans held 10 of 13 seats despite seldom winning the popular vote by more than 2 or 3 points. The story of the General Assembly paralleled the federal results almost perfectly. Even in 2018, when Democrats won the popular vote for state legislature, Republicans maintained large majorities and were only a seat away from a veto-proof majority in the state Senate. In effect, we do not have free or fair elections for the legislative branch of government in North Carolina.
Even as gerrymandering was the authoritarian weapon of choice, Republican autocrats have attacked the franchise. African Americans fought and even died to bring equal voting rights to the South, but, heedless of this history, North Carolina Republicans sought to reestablish the white supremacist status quo ante in Tar Heel voting. Literally 48 hours after the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its decision in Shelby County v. Holder, North Carolina Republicans passed a gargantuan voter suppression that a federal judge would later describe as targeting African Americans with “almost surgical precision.”
Though the so-called Monster Voting Law was struck down, Republicans continued to target minorities’ and young people’s right to vote like Ahab pursuing his white whale. Republicans also closed polling places, shortened voting hours, attempted to take control of the state Board of Elections from the state’s Democratic governor, and otherwise sought what one GOP operative called “party-line changes” in order to suppress the votes of non-Republican North Carolinians.
But the most innovative–and influential–of Republicans’ anti-democracy tactics came in their assaults on the fundamental structure of North Carolina government. North Carolina, like America as a whole, depends upon a separation of powers to hold the tyranny of any one branch in check. But Republicans immediately sought to strip duly invested powers from the Democratic governor, made Supreme Court elections partisan in an effort to strengthen GOP candidates, attempted to ban a Supreme Court candidate from running as a Republican in an effort to protect their preferred nominee, and, most recently, have made rumbling about impeaching Democratic justices. The GOP has sought to run North Carolina as what my colleague Thomas Mills called a “legislative cartel,” in which a few (white, male) legislators could make any decisions they wanted unencumbered by accountability from voters or from the other branches of government.
Senator Sinema, I respectfully ask you to reconsider your position on the filibuster for voting-rights legislation. If the above abuses are what North Carolina Republicans did to democracy in my state even before the Big Lie, imagine what they will do in the antidemocratic climate that former President Donald Trump has created in the country. North Carolina has been home both to some of the most horrifying assaults on democracy in our country’s history–a coup in 1898, the assassination of a Black county commissioner by Ku Klux Klansmen in the Reconstruction era–and of some of the most inspiring efforts to overcome this history. I, and many other North Carolinians, believe that the outlook for democracy in the state as in the county will darken profoundly if Democrats do not pass a voting-rights bill now. From the perspective of this American citizen, I ask you to support firm safeguards on liberal democracy in the United States at an extremely low point for our country. I ask you to support changing the filibuster.
Alexander H. Jones
Chapel Hill, NC
Alexander Jones is an original contributor to PoliticsNC.