Filibustering in the Senate: Blog # 3

picThe first senate filibuster took place on March, 5th in 1841. A filibuster is the use of obstructing tactics, including prolonged speech making to delay legislative actions. A senator or series of senators, to speak as long as they wish about any topic they would like. In a nutshell, filibusters are used to stall the legislative process and prevent a vote. The first filibuster that occurred in 1841 was based on a debate on a bill to charter the second bank of the US. The longest filibuster lasted 24 hours and 18 minutes.

Filibusters are more frequently used now than ever before because as the parties drift apart in decisions during a debate, the majority party will more likely introduce legislation that the minority party can’t accept. Using the filibuster then becomes a rational response when a part finds itself in the smaller half of a polarized chamber, which is more likely to be the case today than 45 years ago.

The filibuster is a powerful parliamentary device in the US Senate, which was strengthened in 1975.  In the past decade most major legislation (apart from budgets) requires a 60% vote to bring a bill or nomination to the floor for a vote. In recent years, the majority has preferred to avoid filibusters by moving to other business when a filibuster is threatened and its attempts to achieve cloture have failed.

The Senate then adopted the “cloture” rule to limit filibustering in 1917. Initially, the rule required a two-thirds majority to limit debate, and if cloture was approved each senator was limited to one additional hour of speaking. After several modifications between 1949 and 1986, the most recent of the cloture rule allows a three-fifths majority to limit debate to a total of thirty hours for most issues, with a two-thirds majority necessary for rules changes. Senators have adopted rules and passed laws exempting a number of key issues, such as trade agreements and key budget legislation, from filibustering.

Filibusters are used now more than ever! For more info regarding filibusters click here.

For a video on “The History of Filibustering” click the link.


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