What is a Filibuster
Filibuster is a tactic used in legislative bodies, such as the United States Senate, to delay or block a vote on a bill or motion. It is often used as a tool by the minority party to express their opposition to a measure and to try to persuade the majority party to change their position. Filibusters can be controversial because they allow a minority of lawmakers to effectively block the will of the majority, but they also serve an important role in our democratic system by allowing minority voices to be heard and by encouraging debate and compromise.
History of Filibuster
The filibuster has a long and storied history that dates back to ancient Rome. The word itself is derived from the Dutch word “vrijbuiter,” which means “pirate.” In the United States, the filibuster first emerged in the early 19th century as a way for senators to speak at length on the floor of the Senate in order to delay or block a vote.
Over the years, the filibuster has undergone several changes. In 1917, the Senate adopted a rule allowing for a two-thirds majority vote to end a filibuster, a tactic known as “cloture.” In 1975, the requirement for cloture was lowered to three-fifths, or 60 votes. Today, senators can filibuster by simply refusing to end debate on a bill or motion, effectively blocking a vote.
How a Filibuster Works
A filibuster can be initiated by any senator who wants to block a vote on a bill or motion. The senator begins by speaking on the floor of the Senate and refusing to yield the floor. Other senators can take turns speaking, but the filibuster continues as long as one senator remains on the floor speaking and refusing to yield.
Filibusters can last for days or even weeks, depending on the stamina and determination of the senators involved. In the past, senators have resorted to reading from phone books or even cooking on the Senate floor in order to prolong a filibuster.
To end a filibuster and proceed to a vote, a supermajority of senators (60 out of 100) must vote for “cloture,” which is a procedural motion to bring an end to the filibuster and proceed to a vote. Once cloture is invoked, the Senate can then proceed to a vote on the bill or motion in question, but the minority party is still allowed to debate and offer amendments.
Benefits and Criticisms of Filibuster
The filibuster serves an important role in our democratic system by allowing minority voices to be heard and by encouraging debate and compromise. It allows senators to express their opposition to a measure and to try to persuade the majority party to change their position. Filibusters also help to ensure that legislation is thoroughly debated and that all perspectives are considered before a vote is taken.
However, the filibuster can also be controversial because it allows a minority of lawmakers to effectively block the will of the majority. This can lead to gridlock and inaction in the Senate, as it becomes increasingly difficult to pass legislation.
In recent years, there has been growing debate about whether the filibuster should be reformed or eliminated altogether. Some argue that the filibuster is an important safeguard for minority rights and encourages compromise, while others believe that it is undemocratic and allows a minority of senators to block the will of the majority.
Examples of Filibuster in Action
The filibuster has been used many times throughout history to block or delay legislation. Some notable examples include:
- In 1964, a filibuster was used to block the Civil Rights Act, which prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. It took three months and a historic cloture vote to end the filibuster and pass the bill.
- In 2010, Republicans used a filibuster to block the DREAM Act, which would have provided a pathway to citizenship for certain undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children.
- In 2013, Democrats used a filibuster to block the confirmation of President Obama’s nominee for the United States Supreme Court, Judge Merrick Garland.
- In 2021, Democrats used the filibuster to block a vote on the For the People Act, a comprehensive voting rights and campaign finance reform bill.
- Reforms to Filibuster
- In recent years, there have been several proposals to reform the filibuster in order to make it easier to pass legislation. These reforms include:
- The “talking filibuster,” in which senators would be required to actually speak on the floor in order to sustain a filibuster, rather than simply refusing to yield the floor. This would make it more difficult for senators to filibuster and could encourage more dialogue and compromise.
- The “return to the two-thirds rule,” in which the requirement for cloture would be raised back to two-thirds of senators, rather than the current three-fifths. This would make it harder to end a filibuster, but could also encourage more compromise.
- The “nuclear option,” in which the Senate could change its rules by a simple majority vote rather than the two-thirds vote currently required. This option has been used by both Democrats and Republicans in the past to change filibuster rules, but it is highly controversial and has been criticized as undemocratic.
- Ultimately, the decision on whether to reform or eliminate the filibuster will depend on the views of the senators and the political climate at the time. Whatever the outcome, the filibuster will continue to be a significant and controversial part of the legislative process in the United States.