Robert Byrd

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Senate Majority Leader portrait.
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The drive for same-sex marriage is, in effect, an effort to make a sneak attack on society by encoding this aberrant behavior in legal form before society itself has decided it should be legal. [...] Let us defend the oldest institution, the institution of marriage between male and female as set forth in the Holy Bible.
— Robert Byrd in 1996

Robert Carlyle Byrd (1917–2010) was the longest-serving Senator in the US Senate, having joined the Senate on the very same day that Alaska was admitted to the Union. A Dixiecrat, Byrd was elected as a New Dealer on economics.[1] He was the only person to vote against both Supreme Court Justices Thurgood Marshall[2] and Clarence Thomas.[3] He was also a former member of the Ku Klux Klan, though he had since rebuked them. He was best known for the massive amounts of pork he brought to West Virginia and for his attempts to get his colleagues to read what they vote on.

Also, despite his racist past (and the opinions of his constituents), he endorsed Barack Obama for President of the US over Hillary Clinton.[4] In 2003, he became well-known for being one of the few members of Congress who gave speech after speech on the floor denouncing Bush's drive to invade Iraq, at a time when few were willing to dissent.[5] However, this is countered by his role in cluttering up the formerly quiet and out of the way state of West Virginia with military and federal law enforcement pork-barrel projects that may well have played a role in changing the political makeup of the state from blue to red, because of the type of people those projects inevitably attracted.

His history as a Klansman is often invoked by right-wingers and wingnuts to insist that LIBRULS R TEH REAL RACISTS. They often overlook the fact that he denounced and regretted his time with the Klan.[6] Some also share a fake picture on the internet of Byrd supposedly wearing a KKK outfit despite the fact that the head is merely photoshopped from his Senate portrait, as he had quit the Klan decades ago.[7] Other times his Klan membership is greatly exaggerated with some claiming that he was actually a former Grand Wizard of the Klan when, in fact, the highest rank he attained was that of Kleagle (a recruiter.)[8]

Time In The Senate[edit]

Byrd was typically considered a moderate Democrat by his collages, getting a rating of about sixty five percent liberal from the National Journal.[9] Given his tenure as the longest serving Senator in United States history,[10] it's unsurprising his critics have no short list of objections to make.

Race (The Bad)[edit]

Byrd took part in the filibuster against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, speaking for fourteen hours in hopes of stopping its passage.[11]

Later in his life, despite doing the best he can to make it up to the black population, Byrd still had some racist habits. In a 2001 interview with Tony Snow, Byrd talked about how "There are white niggers. I've seen a lot of white niggers in my time, if you want to use that word," in order to express his new colorblind views.[12] The use of a racial slur obviously got him into some hot water, and he later apologized for this.[13]

Race (The Good)[edit]

Byrd hired one of the first black Congressional aides in United States history in 1959.[14]

Byrd, who had called Martin Luther King Jr. a "self-seeking rabble-rouser" shortly before his assassination, supported the creation of a federal holiday named after the man, saying "I'm the only one in the Senate who must vote for this bill."[14]

LGBT Issues[edit]

Similar to his positions on race, many have described his opinions on LGBT rights as mixed. (“Over the years he’s had a very mixed record on LGBT equality,” says Allison Herwitt, director of legislative affairs for the Human Rights Campaign.[15]) Byrd originally opposed allow homosexuals to serve in the military,[16] but went on to support the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" later in life.[17] Byrd also supported DOMA.[18] although was a critic of the Federal Marriage Amendment.[19] With that said, he still had to cloud his criticism in homophobia, writing that he was no fan of same-sex marriage despite his opposition:

I believe that marriage is a sacred union between a man and a woman. I am against gay marriage. Gay marriage is banned in West Virginia, and I strongly support the state’s actions.

Marriage, in both my book and in the Good Book, is between a man and a woman. I voted for the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as between a husband and a wife and allows West Virginia to refuse to recognize any other state’s marriage that is not a union of a man and woman. That law is working. It has survived court challenges. West Virginia and every other state already has the power to ban gay marriages. That is why I would not support a Constitutional amendment on gay marriage.[19]

Other Highlights[edit]

  • He fought against a measure that would allow Congress and state governments to overturn Roe v. Wade.[20]
  • He was a supporter of campaign finance reform.[21]
  • He loosened the rules regarding what projects the National Endowment of the Arts were allowed to fund.[22]
  • He fought against the push by Republicans to give the President a line item veto, which would do nothing but greatly increase the power of the Executive Branch.[23]
  • He fought against another nonsensical push by Republicans through opposing a Constitutional Amendment requiring a balanced budget.[24]
  • He attempted to filibuster the bill which gave George W. Bush the power to invade Iraq at a time where most politicians were too scared of being seen as "pro-terrorist" to even criticize such a measure.[25]

. . . And Lowlights[edit]

  • Byrd voted in favor of the "Partial Birth Abortion" ban.[26]
  • Byrd voted against a Senate measure which could have led to the abolition of the Electoral College.[27]
  • Buying into Republican criticisms of the media, Byrd said the press was unfairly biased against poor Richard Nixon.[28]


  1. Longley, Robert (October 30, 2019). Senator Robert Byrd and the Ku Klux Klan. Retrieved March 2, 2021.
  3. THE THOMAS CONFIRMATION; How the Senators Voted on Thomas. Associated Press via The New York Times. Retrieved March 3, 2021.
  4. Byrd endorses Obama for president
  5. Byrd, Robert (February 17, 2003). We stand passively mute. The Guardian. Retrieved March 15, 2021.
  6. What About Byrd?
  7. Senator Robert Byrd in Ku Klux Klan Garb?
  8. Fact check: Photograph does not show Robert Byrd; Byrd was not the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan
  9. The Centrists
  10. Longest-Serving Senators
  11. Civil Rights Filibuster Ended
  12. Senator Robert Byrd Says White Niggers
  13. Top Senate Democrat apologizes for slur
  14. 14.0 14.1 Old as the Hill
  15. Byrd ‘evolved’ on LGBT issues
  16. Robert Byrd on Civil Rights
  17. Robert Byrd Supports Repealing 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'
  19. 19.0 19.1 Standing Up for Marriage While Defending the Constitution
  21. Senate Votes to Curb Donations From Outside Campaign Groups
  22. Senate votes to loosen NEA restrictions
  23. Senate Rejects a Line-Item Veto
  24. Byrd Predicts Senate Will Defeat Amendment for Balanced Budget
  25. Senate approves Iraq war resolution
  26. Roll Call Vote 108th Congress - 1st Session
  28. Senator Scores Newspapers For ‘Shoddy’ Production

External links[edit]