|Abstract:||This dissertation explores how southern senators, led by Georgia’s Richard Russell, forestalled civil rights legislation using the mechanisms of the Senate. The southern caucus beat back civil rights senators through a series of arguments that appealed both to the conservative nature of the Senate and their more conservative colleagues. While earlier arguments generally emphasized constitutional interpretations from southerners like John Calhoun, over time, southerners adapted their arguments to appeal to more conservative colleagues that were either skeptical of invoking cloture, or worried about the invasive nature of civil rights legislation.
Over the course of my dissertation, I explore the 1938 Wagner-Van Nuys anti-lynching bill filibuster, the 1946 Fair Employment Practices Commission filibuster, the 1960 Civil Rights Act of 1960 filibuster, and the failed effort to filibuster the 1964 Civil Rights Act. This dissertation examines how four types of southern arguments operated over time and in different contexts. First, southerners used claims based in decorum, procedural objections to civil rights forces. Second, southerners used locus of the irreparable claims, drawing from a long tradition of states’ rights scholarship. Third, southerners scapegoated civil rights groups. Fourth, southerners used reciprocity, tied to home rule and public memory of Reconstruction.
While initially these arguments worked, over time, civil rights senators began to grow weary of southern claims of oppression. Eventually, once civil rights forces marshalled efforts to develop elaborate, powerfully constructed cases in favor of civil rights legislation, opposition from the southern caucus collapsed. Decorum arguments, the last vestige of delay strategies, failed, as civil rights senators gave southerners ample time to discuss the bill, with little change in argumentative tactics. The result was total defeat in 1964.