Home Posts Congress Could Easily Declare Juneteenth A National Holiday, But They Aren't.
Congress Could Easily Declare Juneteenth A National Holiday, But They Aren't.

Congress Could Easily Declare Juneteenth A National Holiday, But They Aren't.

A new holiday commemorating the abolition of slavery in the United States could be established by Congress, but it's unclear whether Democrats will vote on it.

Legislation to make June 19 a federal holiday already has 60 co-sponsors in the Senate, including an impressive 18 Republicans, indicating that the bill could easily overcome a filibuster and become law.

But, with June 19 coming up this Saturday, Democrats haven't announced any plans for a vote, presumably because it would take up valuable Senate floor time, and Democrats have a lot of other priorities.

For years, House and Senate lawmakers have proposed bills to commemorate June 19, or “Juneteenth,” as the end of slavery in the United States. On that day in 1865, more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, the Union Army finally arrived in Galveston, Texas, and belatedly declared that enslaved people were free, and African Americans have celebrated Juneteenth ever since.

Instead of introducing another bill merely commemorating Juneteenth, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) introduced a bill that would establish Juneteenth as a federal holiday last year, amid mass protests against the police killing of George Floyd.

“These past years of constant evidence of disparities in the African American community demonstrate that the stain of slavery has not been removed,” Jackson Lee told Stardia last year.

However, despite the fact that many other Republicans supported the Texas lawmakers' bill, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) blocked it on his own.

While on the campaign trail in 2020, Joe Biden did not take a position on whether Juneteenth should be declared a federal holiday, but he did write an op-ed for Essence magazine declaring the holiday a “day of profound weight and power—a holiday whose very existence tells us so much about the soul of America” with the ability to remind Americans of “our incredible capacity to heal, to hope, and to emerge from adversity.”

When asked if Biden supports making Juneteenth a federal holiday, the White House did not respond, nor did representatives for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) or Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).

If the bill establishing the new holiday is passed by the Senate, it is unlikely to happen soon. Senators are expected to vote on Democrats' sweeping voting and ethics reform bill next week before departing for a two-week recess in July.

Johnson has stated that he will object again, claiming that another day off for federal employees would cost the government too much money. An objection would force Democrats to go through the Senate's formal process for breaking filibusters, which can take several days.

With the Black Lives Matter protests dominating headlines last year, several large employers said they would give their employees the day off. Nike, Best Buy, Target, and JCPenney all told Stardia that their employees would still get the day off this year and in the future.

Nike stated that “in observance of Juneteenth, we will close our corporate, retail, manufacturing, and distribution operations to provide educational opportunities that honor Black history and culture.”

Legal public holidays in the United States only directly benefit federal employees, who have the day off; private employers are not required to comply, though they frequently do, especially for major holidays such as Christmas.

If lawmakers pass the Juneteenth bill, it will be only the 11th annual federal holiday, and the first since Congress established a holiday to honor Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday in 1983.

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