Robert Byrd, the longest-serving member of the U.S. Senate, has died at the age of 92. Byrd represented the state of West Virginia in the Senate for over 50 years, running important committees, serving as the Democrats’ Senate leader for 12 years, and bringing home lots of federal money for his state. Originally a conservative Democrat who joined a coalition of conservative Democrats and Republicans in filibustering the 1964 Civil Rights Act (and who briefly belonged to the Ku Klux Klan), he moved leftward on racial issues later in his career, getting high ratings from African-American groups. His politics could sometimes be hard to pinpoint: he was one of the most vocal opponents of the Iraq War when most Senators
voted for it, but he also voted in favour of both of George W. Bush’s Supreme Court nominees. Mostly, however, he was “a creature and defender of Congress,” always sticking up for the importance of the Senate and defending the types of appropriations and bills that others dismissed as “pork.” His replacement in the Senate will be appointed by West Virginia’s democrat governor Joe Manchin.