The stall method, a method of delaying or halting the progress of a bill through lengthy speeches, was developed in both houses of the US Congress in the 19th century. The US House of Representatives got rid of obstruction at the end of that century. But in the Senate, disruption became more common after Reconstruction.
Senators have used the Senate Block on a variety of issues, including the Gold Standard, the New Deal, and wartime production, to name a few. It has also been prominently used against civil rights and voting rights projects. Here are six major bills the Senate helped kill in US history.
1891: Federal Elections Bill
In 1890, the House of Representatives passed the Federal Elections Act, which would have provided federal oversight for state elections that select members of the House of Representatives. The intent of this act was to ensure that black men in the South could vote in these elections. But she died in the Senate in early 1891, when Democratic senators led a week-long indemnity against him.
Gregory Cougar, chair of the University of Miami’s Department of Political Science and author of Disruption: A Political History of Obstruction in the House and Senate.
“I think they expected them to vote against it, not like it,” he says. “But they did not anticipate the ferocity with which the senators would fight the bill.”
1922: Bill Dyer Anti-Murder
One of the tactics white Southerners used to suppress black voices was lynching, and activists such as Ida B. Wales this link in their campaigns to ban it. Congress began introducing legislation referring to lynching as early as 1901, but an anti-lynching bill wasn’t passed in the House until 1922.
This bill was the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill, first introduced in 1918 by Congressman Leonidas C. Dyer, a Missouri Republican. Senate Democrats blocked the bill in 1922, 1923, and 1924, preventing it from voting in their House.
1934: Costigan-Wagner Anti-Murder Bill
The crusade against lynching continued into the Great Depression with the support of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. However, her husband did not share her mission with her. Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt claimed that Southerners in his party would block New Deal legislation to death if he upheld the lynching law.
Whether or not this is true is debatable, since there is a lot of stalling against new bills (often, these stalls were intended to force an amendment to the bill in question or force action on another bill, rather than killing the legislation outright). In any event, Senate Democrats used stalling to kill the Costigan-Wagner anti-homicide bill introduced in 1934; And in 1938, they murdered Bill Wagner-Van Nuys against murder with a 30-day delay.
4. 1942: Anti-Voting Tax Bill
When the civil rights movement gained momentum in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, many white Southern senators focused on stalling civil rights bills. One example is a bill first introduced in 1942 targeting the poll tax. These taxes, which required citizens to pay a tax before they could vote, disproportionately affected black registered voters. Southern senators killed the bill by stalling, and continued to block anti-ballot tax bills from passing throughout the rest of the decade.
5. 1946: Fair Employment Practices Bill
In 1946, Senate Democrats also used stalling to kill the Fair Employment Practices Act. During World War II, Roosevelt used an executive order to create the Commission on Fair Employment Practices. But because it expired after the war, Congress drafted a new bill to make employment discrimination illegal.
In effect, the bill was merely to make war policy permanent, says William B. Jones, professor of history at the University of Minnesota and signer of the Scholars for Reform open letter.
“It looks like it’s going to pass — there was majority support for the bill,” Jones says. But the minority of senators who opposed it succeeded in stopping it with obstruction. Senators’ support reintroduced the Fair Employment Practices Act “in nearly every Senate between 1946 and 1964, and continues to be rejected, until it is included in the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”
6. 1970: Amendment to abolish the Electoral College
The 1950s and 1960s were a turning point in which some major civil rights legislation survived disruption. The record-breaker Strom Thurmond by 24 hours – the longest continuous disrupter by a single person – failed to stop the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1957. Stalling against the Civil Rights Act of 1964 also failed to prevent this legislation from being passed.
There was momentum during this period that led to Washington, D.C. winning the suffrage for president, electing a mayor and city council (which it hadn’t been able to do for the past century), and a “redistricting revolution” on the Supreme Court that helped make districts In this climate, the United States came close to abolishing the Electoral College, an indirect voting system originally designed to give southern states more power due to the enslaved black population.
In September 1969, the House of Representatives voted 338 to 70 in favor of a constitutional amendment that would have abolished the Electoral College. The huge margin by which the vote was won reflects the fact that, according to a 1968 Gallup poll, 80 percent of Americans believe that American citizens should elect their president directly.
However, in 1970, a group of Southern senators succeeded in killing the bill by blocking it. More than 50 years later, the Electoral College is still the way the United States elects its president and vice president.