Last week, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, proposed a bill to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. The proposal failed, but we expect it to succeed when the Cornyn tries again. And we hope he will.
Juneteenth remembers June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, with news that President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation had abolished slavery more than two years earlier.
There is much public support for Cornyn’s measure. Forty-seven states and the District of Columbia already recognize Juneteenth as a holiday. Texas was the first to do so in 1980. This year, J.C. Penney, the National Football League, Twitter and Newsweek all announced plans to observe the holiday with varying levels of paid time off, according to National Public Radio.
The idea has wide support among lawmakers too. Democratic congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee of Houston has proposed a similar measure in the House, where more than 150 members have signed on as cosponsors. Cornyn teamed with Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., to write the bill, and requested its adoption on July 22 by unanimous consent in the Senate. The unanimous consent piece was what got it in trouble.
That procedure allows the Senate to move more quickly than the process used to bring many bills to the floor. It’s a shortcut, a way to fast-track something that should be uncontroversial. But it also means that one senator’s dissent can prevent the bill’s passage. In this case, the dissenter was Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis. Johnson acknowledged the importance of Juneteenth but objected to the cost of adding a paid holiday for federal workers. To his credit, Johnson proposed swapping Juneteenth for Columbus Day.
Recognizing Juneteenth is the right thing to do, and we support it. But in our current political climate, we’re not surprised that even something so patently commendable stirs up snark. Some Democrats questioned Cornyn’s motives. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Texas, went so far as to suggest that Cornyn and Johnson were in cahoots to introduce but spike the measure.
We’ll leave the motive-judgment to Veasey. For our part, we’ll simply point out that Cornyn doesn’t have to take no for an answer. He can and should reintroduce the bill. And we’ll note the fact that this is a delay in the adoption of a holiday that, itself, marks the delivery of long-delayed news. The right thing to do now is push it forward again.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS