A House panel advanced a bill Wednesday which would create a commission to examine the issue of reparations to the descendants of slaves. Currently championed by Texas Democrat Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, the bill was first proposed in 1989, but this is the first time the House Judiciary Committee has acted on the legislation.
If passed through Congress, the thirty-year old legislation would establish a thirteen-member commission to study the wrongs of slavery, subsequent racial and economic discrimination through American history, and make recommendations on appropriate next steps, possibly including compensation as a form of reparations. Jackson Lee took up the effort in 2017 after it was originally proposed by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI).
On Wednesday, the vote to advance the measure to the full House passed 25-17 after hours of intense debate.
“This is a historic, monumental, and unprecedented day!” tweeted Jackson Lee Wednesday. “America this is a real and positive opportunity for healing and restoring, in particular, the African American community and the entire Nation.”
The proposal has the backing of prominent Democratic leaders, including President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. However, prospects for the full passage of HR 40 remain slim in light of resolute opposition from Republicans. As it stands, the House bill has no Republicans among its 176 co-sponsors and would need 60 votes in the evenly divided Senate to overcome a filibuster. Republicans on the Judiciary Committee were unanimous in voting against the measure.
Jackson Lee addressed the partisan divide on Wednesday. “I ask my friends on the other side of the aisle, do not cancel us tonight,” she implored. “Do not ignore the pain, the history and the reasonableness of this commission.”