January 6, 2023

Two Years Later

Russ Feingold President

Two years ago, a U.S. President sent his supporters to the Capitol in an effort to defy voters and to cling to power in defiance of the Constitution. Two years ago, those supporters launched an insurrection on our nation’s capital. Two years ago, our democracy endured because individuals fulfilled their oath of office and protected our institutions.

Today, as we reflect on January 6th, we now have the benefit of the January 6th Select Committee’s 800-plus page report that meticulously details the events leading up to and on that infamous day. After its exhaustive investigation, the Committee’s ultimate conclusion was this: “The central cause of January 6th was one man, former President Donald Trump, who many others followed. None of the events of January 6th would have happened without him.”

With this conclusion and the full report in hand, the question looming large is, “now what?” The Select Committee sought to answer that question with its eleven recommendations for how we safeguard our democracy and ensure neither January 6th, nor anything like it, happens again. I want to highlight a couple of those recommendations as we reflect on January 6th, two years later.

The first recommendation was to reform the Electoral Count Act (ECA) to “deter other future attempts to overturn Presidential Elections.” This recommendation was implemented last month when reforms to the ECA were included in the omnibus spending bill that passed Congress and was signed by President Biden. This was a must, but it is by no means sufficient to safeguard the will of the people. We need to see a similar concerted effort to pass voting rights reform to remedy the voter suppression and gerrymandering unleashed by the Supreme Court’s partisan decisions in cases like Shelby County and Brnovich. It is not enough to erect safeguards that apply only after votes are cast. We need to similarly safeguard the right to vote.

The Select Committee’s second recommendation stressed the importance of accountability and referenced the Committee’s own historic decision to criminally refer Trump to the Department of Justice. Congressman Jamie Raskin said it well when, at the Committee’s final public hearing, he spoke about the inadequacy of prosecuting “foot soldiers” and not the people who mobilized and activated them. We agree. As I said in our statement in response to the Committee’s final report, “We cannot take for granted that our institutions will hold in the future if people, including a former president, go on to prove that they are above the law.”

This recommendation, however, goes beyond just Trump. It also states: “Those courts and bar disciplinary bodies responsible for overseeing the legal profession in the states and the District of Columbia should continue to evaluate the conduct of attorneys described in this Report. Attorneys should not have the discretion to use their law licenses to undermine the constitutional and statutory process for peacefully transferring power in our government.” With this, we also agree. State bars should investigate the conduct of lawyers who participated in events leading up to January 6th or in efforts to cover it up, including those who are alleged to have impeded the Select Committee’s investigation.

I could go on about many of the Committee’s recommendations, but will flag just one more here. The Committee’s third recommendation discusses the ongoing and very real threat posed by white supremacy and extremist groups in this country. We could not agree more with this recommendation. These groups pose an ongoing and existential threat to our democracy, to our institutions, and to our electoral officials. The Select Committee spoke at length about the importance of public servants fulfilling their oath of office - an oath that specifically refers to supporting and defending the constitution “against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” That last word mustn’t be overlooked or discounted. Law enforcement agencies need to do more to counter this threat. The validation and proliferation of white supremacy and extremist violence is an existential threat to individuals, to our elections, and to our democracy.

Last year, we spoke at length about “democracy’s moment of truth.” That moment endures. Our democracy persevered in 2023, but it is by no means in the clear. As much as we commend the January 6th Select Committee, the work to safeguard our democracy and our fundamental rights cannot stop with its report. That report is a beginning, not an end. I’m grateful to be a member of this organization and this network that is committed to meeting the ongoing challenges in our pursuit of a genuine multiracial democracy.

For more insight into the January 6th Select Committee’s final report and its impact, don’t miss this week’s Broken Law podcast, featuring Jeanne Hruska’s conversation with Joyce Vance, a new member of our ACS Board of Directors and former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama.

Democracy and Elections, January 6th