Juneteenth Bill, Marking End of Slavery as a Federal Holiday, Unanimously Passes Senate
The Senate unanimously passed a bipartisan bill on Tuesday to make Juneteenth a national holiday, celebrating the end of slavery in the U.S. on June 19.
More than 60 senators had signed on to support the bill, enough to overcome a filibuster. The measure still has to pass the House.
Also known as Emancipation Day, Black Independence Day or Jubilee Day, Juneteenth marks June 19, 1865, when Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger arrived with federal troops in Galveston, Texas, and issued an order informing the last enslaved people in Texas that they were free. This came more than two months after the end of the Civil War and 2½ years after President Abraham Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation freeing slaves in the Southern states.
It wasn’t until the ratification of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in December 1865 that slavery was abolished throughout the entire country.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) hadn’t publicly announced any plans to bring the Juneteenth bill up for a vote, so it came as a surprise Tuesday afternoon when he sought to fast-track its passage by seeking unanimous consent from all 100 senators.
Without unanimity, the process for breaking a filibuster likely would have eaten up several days. Mr. Schumer is under pressure to use that time on Democratic priorities, such as infrastructure legislation, a voting-rights and ethics bill and confirmation of President Biden’s nominees.
All it would have taken is a single senator to withhold his or her consent to scuttle the Juneteenth bill.
No one did.
“Juneteenth commemorates the moment some of the last formerly enslaved people in the nation learned they were free,” Mr. Schumer said in a statement. “Making Juneteenth a federal holiday is a major step forward to recognize the wrongs of the past—but we must continue to work to ensure equal justice and fulfill the promise of the Emancipation Proclamation and our Constitution.”
Last year, Sen. Ron Johnson (R., Wis.) was the only senator to object to an identical measure.
‘Making Juneteenth a federal holiday is a major step forward to recognize the wrongs of the past’— Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer
He said the legislation would provide an additional paid holiday for two million federal employees, and shouldn’t be passed without debate or amendments.
But on Tuesday, Mr. Johnson issued a statement saying that he didn’t intend to stand in the way of the bill again. While it still seems strange that having taxpayers provide federal employees paid time off is now required to celebrate the end of slavery, it is clear that there is no appetite in Congress to further discuss the matter,” Mr. Johnson said in the statement. “Therefore, I do not intend to object.”
Mr. Schumer brought up the Juneteenth bill for unanimous passage a few hours later.