A filibuster is a tactic used in the United States Senate to block or delay action on a piece of legislation.
It is often associated with prolonged speeches, but can also take the form of other tactics such as threatening to read long lists of irrelevant material or refusing to yield the floor.
Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-SC) holds the record for the longest filibuster in his attempt to block the 1957 Civil Rights bill. Though he held the floor for 24 hours and 18 minutes, the bill passed just two hours after he stopped talking.
Origin of “Filibuster”
The term “filibuster” comes from the Dutch word “vrijbuiter,” which means “pirate” or “freebooter.” This name was given to early American pioneers who roamed the western frontiers of the United States, and was later applied to the Senate tactic because it was seen as a way to hijack the legislative process and disrupt the normal functioning of the Senate.
The filibuster is not mentioned in the United States Constitution, but it has evolved as a way for senators to express their opposition to a bill and to prevent it from being passed.
The filibuster is used when a senator or group of senators wish to block a vote on a piece of legislation, either by talking it to death or by using other tactics to delay the vote.
From the Senate Historical Office:
Using the filibuster to delay or block legislative action has a long history. The term filibuster — from a Dutch word meaning ‘pirate’ — became popular in the 1850s, when it was applied to efforts to hold the Senate floor in order to prevent a vote on a bill.
In the early years of Congress, representatives as well as senators could filibuster. As the House of Representatives grew in numbers, however, revisions to the House rules limited debate. In the smaller Senate, unlimited debate continued on the grounds that any senator should have the right to speak as long as necessary on any issue.
To overcome a filibuster, the Senate must first hold a vote to invoke “cloture,” which is a procedure that limits the amount of time that senators can speak on a bill. If three-fifths of the senators (usually 60 out of 100) vote in favor of cloture, then the Senate can move forward with a vote on the bill.
However, the filibuster has its critics, who argue that it allows a minority of senators to block the will of the majority and can lead to gridlock in the Senate. In recent years, there have been efforts to reform the filibuster or to eliminate it altogether, but these efforts have been unsuccessful.
Use of “Filibuster” in a sentence
- The senator’s filibuster of the bill has lasted for over ten hours, with no end in sight.
- The filibuster is a tactic used by members of the Senate to block or delay legislation by continuously speaking for extended periods of time.
- The Senate recently changed its rules to make it more difficult for senators to launch a filibuster, requiring them to actually hold the floor and speak continuously rather than simply threatening to do so.
Taegan Goddard is the creator of the Political Dictionary.
Goddard spent more than a decade on Wall Street as managing director and chief operating officer of a prominent investment firm in New York City. Previously, he also served as a policy adviser to a U.S. Senator and Governor.
Goddard is also co-author of You Won – Now What?: How Americans Can Make Democracy Work from City Hall to the White House, a political management book hailed by prominent journalists and politicians from both parties.
His essays on politics and public policy have appeared in dozens of newspapers and magazines across the country.
Goddard earned degrees from Vassar College and Harvard University.
He lives in New York with his wife and three sons.