Lorraine Longhi/The Copper Courier Protestors stage a sit-in outside Sen. Kyrsten Sinema's office to protest the filibuster on Tuesday, June 22, 2021.
Lorraine Longhi/The Copper Courier

Sinema has said she does not support abolishing the filibuster, a tool that has historically been used by the minority party in Congress to block laws related to civil rights, gun control, and immigration reform.

On Tuesday, several activists were arrested outside Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s office in Phoenix while protesting the senator’s support for a rule that has been used to block legislation from moving forward in the US Senate.

Hours later, Senate Republicans put the rule in action to block a sweeping voting rights bill.

Tuesday’s arrests mark the latest flashpoint in some Arizonans’ frustration with Sinema’s support of the filibuster, a legislative rule that allows a US senator to delay or block a bill from coming to a vote. 

It takes 60 votes—or bipartisan support in the evenly split U.S. Senate—to override a filibuster. Democrats have accused Republicans of using the rule to block legislation from moving through Congress and are calling for the rule to be abolished or changed to make it more challenging to use.

Ten people were arrested Tuesday outside Sinema’s office, according to a spokesperson with the Phoenix Police Department. They included Kai Newkirk, a progressive organizer with nonprofit For All, Patrick Morales, legislative director for the Arizona Students Association, and Emily Kirkland, executive director of Progress Arizona.

Also among those arrested were Steve Valencia with Jobs for Justice, trans activist Emma Griffiths, Gina Griffiths, Margarita Cuaron, Richard Boren, Kyle Nitschke, and Sarah Kubisty, according to a press release from The Democracy Initiative.

“There are so many ways in which our people are hurting that we can change if we can end the filibuster,” Newkirk said at Tuesday’s rally. “If they don’t understand it already, we’re gonna talk about it so they can get it into their head and into their heart about why we need to do this and do it now.”

The individuals were arrested during a sit-in outside Sinema’s office, after being warned by Phoenix police to leave the property. The Phoenix police spokesperson said all of the arrested individuals received citations for trespassing and were not detained. 

Ahead of the protest, some of the activists who were arrested said they were protesting the filibuster because it was holding up legislation that would change the lives of Arizonans, including immigration reform, universal healthcare and laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation and gender identity.

Morales said immigration reform was an issue personal to his family and others across the state.

“If immigration reform was able to move forward and we got rid of the filibuster, it would change thousands of people’s lives, and it would impact my own family and many families I know here in Arizona,” Morales said. “I’ve been disappointed, I’ve been dismayed that many of us voted for Sen. Sinema, and she’s been letting us down.”

Filibuster Blocks Voting Rights Act Hours After Protest

The rally was held just hours before the Senate was set to vote on the For the People Act, a sweeping voting rights bill introduced by Democrats that would have allowed for automatic voter registration, set unified early and mail-in voting standards, and reform campaign finance laws.

The bill ultimately failed to garner enough votes to overcome the 60-vote filibuster Tuesday, falling 10 votes short.

Last year, former President Barack Obama called the filibuster a “Jim Crow relic” that was standing in the way of voting reforms and civil rights.

But in an op-ed for the Washington Post published the day before advocates rallied outside her office, Sinema argued that eliminating the filibuster would further divide an already divided country.

Removing the filibuster could see legislation championed by Democrats easily rescinded once they were no longer the majority party, she wrote.

“I understand bipartisanship seems outdated to many pundits. But the difficult work of collaboration is what we expect in Arizona. And I still believe it is the best way to identify realistic solutions — instead of escalating all-or-nothing political battles that result in no action, or in whipsawing federal policy reversals,” Sinema wrote.

Still, Sinema conceded that the Senate should debate the legislative filibuster so that the concerns of both senators and constituents could be heard.

‘If We Don’t, Who Will?’

Daniel Hernandez, the business communications director for the Arizona Dream Act Coalition, said Tuesday that the filibuster has a history of standing in the way of legislation that is important to him.

The DREAM Act, which would have provided a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children, failed to clear the needed votes to bypass the filibuster in 2010. Five Democratic Senators voted against the legislation.

“If there’s one thing we know for sure, if it wasn’t for the filibuster, the DREAM Act would have been law,” Newkirk said during the protest. “We’re not gonna wait 10 more years.”

Hernandez said Sinema had failed to do “anything that actually matters” in answering the concerns of her constituents.

“I’m really tired of having to wait for change to happen,” he said. “We are willing to put our bodies on the line in order to have that change, in order to have those conversations. If we don’t, who will?”