Encyclopedia > Filibuster

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A filibuster is an extremely long speech that is designed primarily to stall the legislative process and thus derail a particular piece of legislation, rather than to make a particular point per se. The term first came into use in the United States Senate, where senate rules permit a senator or a series of senators to speak for as long as they wish on any topic they like. Under senate rules, the speech need not be relevant to the topic under discussion, and there have been cases in which a senator has undertaken part of a speech by reading from a telephone book. Legendary Senator Strom Thurmond set a record in 1957 by filibustering a civil rights bill for 24 hours and 18 minutes.

Until the late 1960s there was no mechanism to allow the senate to close debate and any senator could start a filibuster. After a series of filibusters in the 1960s over civil rights legislation, the senate adopted the cloture rule in which 60 senators can vote to end debate on a bill. Despite this role, the filibuster or the threat of a filibuster remains an important tactic that allows a large minority to affect legislation.

Filibusters do not occur in legislative bodies such as the United States House of Representatives in which time for debate is strictly limited by procedural rules.

In current practice, senate rules permit procedural filibusters, in which actual continuous floor speeches are not required, although the senate majority leader may choose to require an actual traditional filibuster if he so chooses.

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