Civil Rights Leaders Denounce the “Nuclear Option”

Media 05.10.05

Recipient: Bill Frist and Harry Reid

The Honorable Bill Frist
SD-461 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510-4205

The Honorable Harry Reid
SH-528 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510-2803

Dear Senators Frist and Reid:

We, the undersigned civil rights leaders, have long been committed to the enactment of effective legislation to advance civil and human rights. We are writing today to express opposition to the so-called “nuclear option” currently being contemplated by Senate Majority Leader William Frist (R-TN).

Recently we have become aware of attempts to justify the anti-filibuster strategy by claiming the precedent of the American civil rights movement. Such comparisons distort history.

The civil rights movement sought to end discrimination and to achieve equal opportunity for all Americans. However, civil rights leaders of the 1960’s never demanded that our supporters end the system of checks and balances that have been the hallmark of American constitutional government. We know from our own experience the dangers of allowing established power to flourish unchecked and of further diminishing the options that exist for minority expression. The civil rights movement of the 1960’s had a different goal: to reach the conscience of America. In peaceful non-violent marches, demonstrations, and acts of individual heroism by thousands of men, women and children who put their lives at risk, we taught the evils of racial injustice and systemic discrimination. We sought to make new legislation possible, while at the same time acting to build a new national consensus, one that enabled America to move forward together, instead of hardening divisions. At critical moments in our struggle, we benefited from decisions rendered by judges appointed in a bipartisan manner, who could not be intimidated by political pressure.

We believe that the appointment of judges with bipartisan support is critical. Judges confirmed without support across party and ideological lines would likely reflect an extreme judicial philosophy. Accordingly, the opinions they rendered would likely not reflect mainstream jurisprudence on civil rights. As a result, the progress this country has made on civil rights could be jeopardized in the future.

If the “nuclear option” is invoked in the Senate, it will set a dangerous precedent that has implications far beyond our nation’s courts. There will be nothing to stop the majority from cutting off debate on regressive proposals concerning issues such as education, civil liberties, national security, and veterans’ benefits. Further, adoption of the “nuclear option” would endanger carefully constructed programs such as Social Security and health care and pose a great threat to laws designed to protect equality of opportunity.
Leadership Conference on Civil Rights

To try to exploit the story of the civil rights movement to justify the invocation of the “nuclear option” is a disservice to the facts, and to the thousands of courageous individuals who challenged the forces of injustice and changed America for the better. Our battle was won by changing votes and not by changing the rules.

As leaders of organizations belonging to the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), we urge you to oppose the “nuclear option” and support the integrity of the Senate and the rule of law. If you have any questions, please contact LCCR Deputy Director Nancy Zirkin at (202) 263-2880, or LCCR Senior Counsel Andrea Martin at (202) 263-2852.


Barbara Arnwine
Executive Director
Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

Julian Bond

Reverend Robert W. Edgar
General Secretary
National Council of Churches

Marcia Greenberger
National Women’s Law Center

Dr. Dorothy I. Height, Chairperson
Wade Henderson, Executive Director
Leadership Conference on Civil Rights

Reverend Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.
President and Founder
Rainbow PUSH

Reverend Joseph Lowery
Chairman Emeritus
Black Leadership Forum

Marc H. Morial
President and CEO
National Urban League

Karen K. Narasaki
President and Executive Director
National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium

Ralph Neas
People for the American Way

Debra L. Ness, President
Judith L. Lichtman, Senior Advisor
National Partnership for Women & Families

Rabbi David Saperstein
Director and Counsel
Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

Theodore M. Shaw
Director-Counsel and President
NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund

William L. Taylor
Citizens’ Commission on Civil Rights

Patrisha A. Wright
Director of Government Affairs
Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund

Raul Yzaguirre
Former President
National Council of La Raza