Tag Archives: Sen. Wayne Morse

[US Politics] Filibuster

James Stewart in "Mr Smith goes to Washington", 1939.

James Stewart in “Mr Smith goes to Washington”, 1939.

Yesterday, my 16 year old son was astonished to read that U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who recently entered the race to the White House, talked out for more than 21 hours in 2013 on budget compromise against Obamacare.

Such obstruction is called filibustering, also known as “talking out a bill” or “talking a bill to death.”

The origins

A filibuster is a parliamentary procedure where debate is extended, allowing one or several members to delay or entirely prevent a vote on a given proposal. It characterizes as a form of obstruction in a legislature or other decision-making body. The English term “filibuster” is derived from the Spanish filibustero, itself deriving from the Dutch vrijbuiter, meaning “pirate”, “robber”.

The term in its legislative sense was first used by Rep. Albert G. Brown, D-MS, in 1853, referring to Abraham Watkins Venable’s speech against “filibustering” intervention in Cuba.


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. The rules to stop a filibuster changed several times over the time. In 1917, senators adopted a rule (Rule 22) that allowed the Senate to end a debate with a two-thirds majority vote, a device known as “cloture.” Even with the new cloture rule, filibusters remained an effective means to block legislation, since a two-thirds vote is difficult to obtain. Over the next five decades, the Senate occasionally tried to invoke cloture, but usually failed to gain the necessary two-thirds vote. Filibusters were particularly useful to Southern senators who sought to block civil rights legislation, including anti-lynching legislation, until cloture was invoked after a 60 day filibuster against the Civil Right Act of 1964. In 1975, the Senate reduced the number of votes required for cloture from two-thirds to three-fifths, or 60 of the current one hundred senators.

The 5 Most Famous Filibusters

1. U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond, 1957 — Filibuster length: 24 hours, 18 minutes

Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C. spoke for 24 hours and 18 minutes, reciting the Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights, President George Washington’s farewell address and other historical documents along the way, before concluding with the line, “I expect to vote against the bill.”

2. U.S. Sen. Alfonse D’Amato, 1986 — Filibuster length: 23 hours, 30 minutes

U.S. Sen. Alfonse D’Amato of New York spoke for 23 hours and 30 minutes to stall debate on an important military bill. It was but one of D’Amato’s most famous and longest filibusters, though. In 1992, D’Amato held forth on a “gentleman’s filibuster” for 15 hours and 14 minutes, and quit his filibuster only after the House of Representatives had adjourned for the year, meaning the legislation had died.

3. U.S. Sen. Wayne Morse, 1953 — Filibuster length: 22 hours, 26 minutes

U.S. Sen. Wayne Morse of Oregon spoke for 22 hours and 26 minutes to stall debate on the Tidelands Oil bill, according to U.S. Senate archives.

4. U.S. Sen. Robert La Follette Sr., 1908 — Filibuster length: 18 hours, 23 minutes

U.S. Sen. Robert La Follette Sr. of Wisconsin spoke for 18 hours and 23 minutes to stall debate on the Aldrich-Vreeland currency bill, which permitted the U.S. Treasury to lend currency to banks during fiscal crises, according to Senate records.

5.  U.S. Sen. William Proxmire, 1981 –Filibuster length: 16 hours, 12 minutes

U.S. Sen. William Proxmire of Wisconsin spoke for 16 hours and 12 minutes to stall debate on an increase of the public debt ceiling. He was concerned about the nation’s rising debt level. The bill he wanted to stall action on authorizing a total debt of $1 trillion. His detractors in the Senate pointed out that taxpayers were paying tens of thousands of dollars to keep the chamber open all night for his speech.

And now we can add U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who on September 23, 2013 vowed to “speak in support of defunding Obamacare until I am no longer able to stand.” His 21-hour and 19-minute filibuster allowed him to enter at the fourth rank of the most famous and longest filibusters!

Source: United States Senate