Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Amber Ruffin busts the myth that the filibuster isn't super-racist

Amber Ruffin
Amber Ruffin
Screenshot: The Amber Ruffin Show

Ah, the filibuster. The legislative spanner gumming up the works of our tottering democracy has never been in more danger of being tossed onto the scrap heap of truly terrible ideas than right now, which, as Amber Ruffin noted on her Friday show, means that racists have never been so ill-informedly vocal about its utter necessity and sanctity. Ruffin explained it all in her always comically informative “How Did We Get Here?” segment on what she termed “legislative [equal opportunity terms for genitals]-blocking,” and how this legislationem interruptus came to be. (Hey, if Republicans are going to concoct bad faith bullshit about how they’re totally not using the filibuster to hurt non-white Americans, we can make up fake Latin.)


As Ruffin noted in her trip down Secessionist Gerrymandering Lane in response to the Fox News talking points your most racist relatives trot out any time the issue of abolishing the filibuster is raised, no, the filibuster isn’t in the Constitution. It was introduced (by Hamilton villain Aaron Burr, of all people) in 1806, but really became Southern lawmakers’ favorite club in their screwing over Black people bag once Senator, former Vice President, and guy whose various monuments are finally being sheepishly taken down, John Calhoun got his hands on it. A slave owner and fan of the blanket euphemism “Southern heritage” to cover all the bigotry that fact implies, Calhoun, noted Ruffin, used the filibuster to protect civil rights—of fellow slave owning lawmakers from having to give up their enslaved human beings just because 51 other senators told them to.

“But that’s ancient history!,” your least-favorite uncle might say. Well, no, it’s not (America’s not an old country, at all), and, as Ruffin went on to turn the archaic legislative practice into a prejudice piñata, the intervening years have seen mainly Republican lawmakers find new ways to use it. You know, since, as Ruffin explained, the filibuster has overwhelmingly been wheeled out since the Civil Rights Era to scuttle civil rights legislation. As Ruffin put it, “Oh, no, no, no—It’s a totally neutral thing. It somehow only ever gets used to hurt Black people. You know, like police.” Plus, as Ruffin exclaimed in her signature chipper outrage, racist senators have just gotten so lazy since the infamous Rule 22 was instituted in 1917, which meant that a supermajority of lawmakers have to vote to stop a filibuster. So, as Ruffin broke it down, until 1964, that supermajority was only ever used to stop civil rights legislation. Huh. Must be some sort of crazy coincidence.

Ha, gotcha. It’s straight-up white supremacy in action, right in the highest reaches of the Legislative Branch. As Ruffin noted, “Every other bill could pass with 51 votes, but civil rights bills effectively needed 67 to get past the inevitable filibuster.” You know, how a staggering, nation-shaming 200 anti-lynching bills have died before a vote all because some elected jackass decides to object on thinly veiled procedural grounds. And, as Ruffin goggled in amazement, white Republican lawmakers no longer even have to stand up and filibuster on their feet any more!

As Ruffin explains, all it takes is an emailed threat to filibuster (containing no explanation to the public as to why) to shut down the Senate like a high school kid’s fake bomb threat right before finals. Ruffin gave it up to noted bigot emeritus and record-holder for “most racist-sounding name,” deceased South Carolina Republican, hypocritical statutory rapist, and fervent segregationist mummy Strom Thurmond, who holds the record for putting in 24 straight hours of non-stop obstructionist bullshit to stop the 1957 Civil Rights Act.

“Do you know how much you have to hate someone to stand on your feet and talk for a whole day?,” marveled Ruffin at this old-timey display of intolerant gumption. Ruffin jokingly pointed to this feat as one possibly compromise, since, as she noted, “There is no way a racist can talk for that long without saying something racist.” In summation, Ruffin advised Democrats in control of the Senate (oh, and House, and White House) to just ditch the filibuster, already. Absent that, making Republicans out themselves as they run through their nonsense “states’ rights” index cards until the N-word slips out would at least be entertaining as it ends a few careers.

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Danny Peary's Cult Movies books are mostly to blame.