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What is a Filibuster?
ThisNation ^ | timely reports/current | Contributing Author, Shad Satterthwaite, Ph.D., University of Oklahoma

Posted on 01/31/2003 2:54:28 AM PST by .30Carbine

What is a filibuster?

Why are they permitted in the Senate but not the House? Can you do anything to stop one?
I have heard the practice of "talking a bill to death" in the Senate referred to as a filibuster. What exactly is a filibuster? Why do they happen only in the Senate? What is the purpose of allowing them? Can one Senator actually stop the entire Senate through a filibuster or is there something that can be done to bring one to an end?

The word filibuster comes from the Spanish word filibusteros; a term used to describe pirates that plundered in the seventeenth century. In the United States, the word eventually became synonymous with rebels and insurrectionists, a perfect term to describe a technique used by rebellious senators looking for ways to hold up legislation.

A classic anecdote has Thomas Jefferson asking George Washington about the purpose of the Senate. Washington responded with a question, "Why did you pour that coffee into your saucer?" "To cool it," Jefferson replied. To which Washington said; "Even so, we pour legislation into the senatorial saucer to cool it." The framers of the Constitution intended the Senate to cool legislation by being a more deliberative body than the House. It was smaller, members were older, Senators were elected for longer terms, and elections were staggered and decided by state legislatures [at that time; changed under the 17th Amendment].

The House of Representatives has a Rules Committee that places a limit on debate when a bill goes to the floor. The Senate has no such committee. As a result, a bill is informally scheduled to come up on the Senate floor where debate can be endless. A filibuster occurs when a Senator engaged in debate refuses to yield the floor and thus prevents a roll call vote from taking place. The image of a Senator standing his ground on the Senate floor is epitomized by Jimmy Stewart with his performance in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Filibusters provide a minority of Senators a way to make their voices heard.

Filibusters also give a tremendous amount of power to individual Senators. Senators have used the filibuster, or the threat to filibuster in order to maximize their leverage with the President or other Senators. In 1985, Oklahoma Senator David Boren held up Edwin Meese's confirmation vote as Reagan's Attorney General until Reagan agreed to sign an emergency farm relief bill.

South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond holds the record for the longest speech in the history of the Senate. During debate on the Civil Rights Act of 1957, he spoke for a total of twenty-four hours and eighteen minutes. His stamina has served him well, at the age of ninety-seven, he is currently the oldest serving member in the United States Senate [now retired at 100].

Filibustering has become much more common in recent years. Roughly two-thirds of all filibusters in the Senate's history have taken place in the last thirty years. Filibusters where frequently used to stop civil rights legislation from passing in the 1950s and 1960s. Since then however, filibusters have been employed to stall bills of all types. This has led some to argue that filibustering has been trivialized.

A filibuster can take place at several stages during the legislative process in the Senate. Before a bill is even introduced, a senator can place an anonymous hold on a bill through the majority or minority leaders. A hold is simply a threat to stage a filibuster if the bill comes up for a vote. A motion to bring up a bill can be filibustered. Amendments to a bill can be filibustered. Appointments to conference committees with House members to consider the bill can be filibustered. Conference committee reports on the bill can be filibustered.

How can a filibuster be stopped?

A filibuster can be stopped when the Senate invokes cloture. This can be an arduous task in and of itself. To invoke cloture, a Senator needs to do the following:

1. Wait two days after a filibuster begins.

2. Obtain sixteen signatures on a motion to invoke cloture.

3. Wait another two days before the Senate can vote on cloture.

4. Make sure that three-fifths of the Senate (sixty Senators) vote to end debate.

5. Endure an additional thirty hours of debate before the final roll call vote.

Obtaining cloture is not necessarily a guarantee that the filibuster will be over. Some Senators have discovered loopholes that can still impede the legislative process. In the spring of 1976, Senators James Allen (D, Alabama) and Roman Hruska (R, Nebraska) developed a way to "filibuster by amendment" on an antitrust bill. Under Senate rules, pending germane amendments can be considered after cloture has been invoked. Allen and Hruska simply ensured that numerous amendments were offered. Since each amendment requires a roll-call vote lasting fifteen minutes or more, the two senators were able to tie the Senate up. After seventy separate roll-call votes, it became clear that no end was in sight. The bill's sponsors finally agreed to support an amendment proposed by Allen and Hruska.

Many Senators have proposed changes to minimize the effect of a filibuster. The last significant reform was adopted in 1975 when the Senate voted to change the required number of votes needed to invoke cloture. Prior to this date, two-thirds of the Senate, or sixty-seven votes were needed. Under the 1975 rule, this number was changed to three-fifths, or sixty senators. Some recent proposals include limiting the filibuster to one time per bill, further reducing the number of votes to invoke cloture, and limiting the amount of time for debate once cloture has been invoked.

Opponents to reform efforts argue that they will damage the Senate's ability to be a more deliberative chamber. They also contend that reforms would come as a disadvantage to those in the minority who want to make their voices heard.

Whatever the outcome may be, it is clear that the filibuster has been a tradition in the Senate for many years. It is one of the most distinctive differences between the Senate and the House and will always have some place for better or for worse in the legislative process.

TOPICS: Constitution/Conservatism; Culture/Society; Extended News; Government; News/Current Events; Politics/Elections
KEYWORDS: bushsmandate; estrada; filibuster; infoispower; judicialnominees; lousydems; obstructionists; pickering; presidentbushlist; prolife
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Knowledge is power. The word 'filibuster' is being bandied about so much of late in reference to President Bush's judicial nominees that I thought it important for all FReepers to know exactly what it is, what it is used for, and how to overcome it. I've learned a great deal myself.
1 posted on 01/31/2003 2:54:28 AM PST by .30Carbine
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To: PhiKapMom
Here it is! Please bump to your list and thank you for your help.
2 posted on 01/31/2003 2:55:38 AM PST by .30Carbine
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To: All
Examples of the use of the word 'filibuster' in breaking news on Free Republic.
3 posted on 01/31/2003 2:58:44 AM PST by .30Carbine
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To: All
Miguel Estrada's nomination moving into full Senate for a vote.
4 posted on 01/31/2003 3:02:14 AM PST by .30Carbine
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To: All
"Democrats argued for more time to consider the nomination, but decided against trying to block Estrada in committee. Senators, however, expect a vigorous debate on the floor on Estrada, and Democrats previously have threatened a filibuster. It was not known when the full Senate will take up the nomination." AP report.
5 posted on 01/31/2003 3:04:44 AM PST by .30Carbine
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To: Bonaparte
Thank you for contributing to my education!
6 posted on 01/31/2003 3:06:46 AM PST by .30Carbine
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To: All
[W]e need to restore, against judicial usurpation, the separation of powers. That the decisions of the Supreme Court and many state supreme courts have less and less to do with the historic Constitution is undeniable. Indeed, that fact is glorified by those who urge the Court on to greater adventures in policy making. Justice Antonin Scalia accurately described the state of play: "Day by day, case by case, [the court] is busy designing a Constitution for a country I do not recognize."

The Supreme Court has created a more permissive abortion regime than any state had enacted; prohibited any exercise or symbol of religion touching even remotely upon government; made the death penalty extremely difficult to impose and execute; disabled states from suppressing pornography; catered to the feminist agenda, including outlawing state all-male military schools; created a labyrinth of procedures making criminal prosecutions ever more difficult; used racial classifications to exclude children from their neighborhood public schools; perverted the political process by upholding campaign-finance limits that shift political power to incumbents, journalists and labor unions; licensed the advocacy of violence and law violation; and protected as free speech computer-generated child pornography. These decisions are activist, i.e., not plausibly related to the actual Constitution.

Robert H. Bork, OpinionJournal.

The time to stop judicial activism is now. We must not allow the obstructionist use of the filibuster by Democrat Senators to prevent men and women of sterling character and proven history from being appointed to the judiciary.

7 posted on 01/31/2003 3:14:09 AM PST by .30Carbine
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To: MeeknMing; JohnHuang2
Will you please help to spread the word? The guarantee of President Bush's great legacy will depend upon his judicial appointments as much as his handling of the War on Terror. Both have far-reaching implications to the continuation of peace and stability at home and abroad.
8 posted on 01/31/2003 3:19:14 AM PST by .30Carbine
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To: All
Marching Orders:

"I fully expect pro-choice senators to filibuster any nominee
who does not affirm a woman's constitutional right to choose,"
NARAL President Kate Michelman warned.

9 posted on 01/31/2003 3:26:04 AM PST by .30Carbine (Inside Politics, thanks to Greg Pierce)
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To: TigersEye
Here is a continuation of the discussion we had a couple of days ago, with some solid answers.
10 posted on 01/31/2003 3:27:59 AM PST by .30Carbine
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To: *President Bush list; *Pro_Life
We must fight judicial activism, support President Bush's judicial nominees, and do all we can to help our Republican senators fight the Democrat's filibusters.
11 posted on 01/31/2003 3:31:34 AM PST by .30Carbine
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To: .30Carbine
If the dumbocrats strategy is to stage filibusters, they are walking a political tightrope without a net. Their whole party may be at stake.

The people have seen enough of their obstruction. They would be wise to learn a lesson from their defeat at the polls last November.

But then, we're talking dumbocrats here, and stupid is, as stupid does.

12 posted on 01/31/2003 3:36:38 AM PST by Bullish
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To: Bullish

True, NARAL lost something like 99% of their well-sponsered battles for pro-choice candidates in the last election. I hope that trend continues.

The Dems are either stupid or evil or both. They are not trying to hide their obstructionism or their pro-death stance. Rush was right: when the liberals are not in power they get even weirder.

13 posted on 01/31/2003 3:45:33 AM PST by .30Carbine
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To: .30Carbine
Frist should INSIST that they actually DO filibuster. It's like someone saying they will take the FIFTH so the committee doesn't make them come in to do it.....I say MAKE them do it in front of the world.
14 posted on 01/31/2003 3:46:44 AM PST by Claire Voyant ((visualize whirled peas))
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To: RikaStrom; xsmommy; Slip18; Gabz; SeaDragon
Word for the Day fodder! (I'm late for work again, too.)
15 posted on 01/31/2003 3:49:04 AM PST by .30Carbine (LOLuv)
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To: Claire Voyant
I'm awful glad Frist is in there now, to lead us through these battles.
16 posted on 01/31/2003 3:50:14 AM PST by .30Carbine
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To: .30Carbine
Rush was right: when the liberals are not in power they get even weirder.

Boy, aint' that the truth?

They go crazy when they can't control everything. And the funny part is, they couldn't manage a Taco-Bell in the real world.

They would have this country bankrupted 100 times over if it weren't for some fiscal conservatives on the right.

17 posted on 01/31/2003 3:51:36 AM PST by Bullish
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To: Bullish
And the funny part is, they couldn't manage a Taco-Bell in the real world.

That is both very funny and very true.

18 posted on 01/31/2003 3:56:15 AM PST by .30Carbine
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To: All
In my most recent hard-copy issue of Human Events, in the Capital Briefs section, I read that "Hatch announced last week that he would drop the requirement that both senators from a given state submit positive reviews - or 'blue slips' - for a nominee to receive committee consideration.....if committee Republicans go along with Hatch, Democrats will have only the filibuster as a recourse against conservative judges."
19 posted on 01/31/2003 4:18:29 AM PST by .30Carbine (last bump before work)
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To: .30Carbine
What I want to know is, what's a fili and why would anyone want to bust one?
20 posted on 01/31/2003 5:17:39 AM PST by scooter2
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