The Art of the Filibuster

Last Friday Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders spent more than eight hours on the Senate floor lambasting HR 4853, the Middle Class Tax Relief Act of 2010 , which is currently under consideration for passage in the Senate.
This procedure of “talking out a bill” is called a filibuster and is used to obstruct, delay or block legislative action in the Senate. A filibuster, (coming from a Dutch word meaning “pirate”) simply allows the minority political party to choose to endlessly debate a bill, stalling — and sometimes preventing — an actual vote.

In the early years of Congress both Representatives as well as Senators, were able to filibuster. But as the sheer numbers of Representatives grew over the years, it became necessary to revise House Rules to limit such 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.

In 1917 senators adopted Rule 22, at the urging of President Woodrow Wilson, which allowed the Senate to end a filibuster with a two-thirds majority vote, a device known as “cloture.”

Sen. Sanders’ filibuster was a long one, but the record for the longest individual speech on the Senate floor, goes to South Carolina’s Sen. Strom Thurmond (pictured above) who filibustered for 24 hours and 18 minutes against the Civil Rights Act of 1957.


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