Filibusters

filibuster

filibuster, term used to designate obstructionist tactics in legislative assemblies. It has particular reference to the U.S. Senate, where the tradition of unlimited debate is very strong. It was not until 1917 that the Senate provided for cloture (i.e., the ending of the debate) by a vote of two thirds of the senators present; three fifths are now generally required. Yet, despite many attempts, cloture has been applied only rarely. The filibuster has been used by various blocs of senators for different purposes; for example, by conservatives resisting civil-rights legislation in the 1960s, and by liberals resisting cuts in the capital gains tax in 1991. At times the threat of a filibuster has been sufficient to prevent a bill from being debated and voted on. Bills favored by President Obama have been filibustered more often than those of any other president. The threat of a filibuster has also been used to prevent a vote on presidential nominees to executive and judicial posts, and in 2013 the Senate rules for those nominees were changed so that only a majority vote was required to end debate.

In the 17th cent. the word was applied to buccaneers who plundered the Spanish colonies in the New World. In the 19th cent. the term was used more in reference to adventurers who organized and led, under private initiative, armed expeditions into countries with which the country from which they set out was at peace. Complications between the governments involved were likely to result. There was a series of filibustering expeditions from the United States against Cuba, Mexico, and Central and South American countries in the 19th cent., some of them led by citizens of the United States, as those of John A. Quitman and William Walker, and some by rebellious citizens of the government they sought to overthrow, as those of Narciso López against Cuba. Texas, when it was still part of Mexico, was the scene of many such filibustering activities.

For works on legislative filibusters, see F. L. Burdette, Filibustering in the Senate (1940, repr. 1965), S. A. Binder and S. S. Smith, Politics or Principle?: Filibustering in the United States Senate (1996), G. Koger, Filibustering (2010), and R. Arenberg and R. Dove, Defending the Filibuster (2012).

For works on earlier senses of filibuster, see J. J. Roche, By-Ways of War: The Story of the Filibusters (1901), H. G. Warren, The Sword Was Their Passport (1943), and J. A. Stout, The Liberators (1973).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Politics or Principle?: Filibustering in the United States Senate
Sarah A. Binder; Steven S. Smith.
Brookings Institution, 1997
Deadlock or Decision: The U.S. Senate and the Rise of National Politics
Fred R. Harris.
Oxford University Press, 1993
Call to Order: Floor Politics in the House and Senate
Steven S. Smith.
The Brookings Institution, 1989
Librarian’s tip: Chap. Four "Evolution in the Senate"
Our Broken Judicial Confirmation Process and the Need for Filibuster Reform
Cornyn, John.
Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy, Vol. 27, No. 1, Fall 2003
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
American Political Mythology and the Senate Filibuster
Murphy, Troy A.
Argumentation and Advocacy, Vol. 32, No. 2, Fall 1995
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
The Constitutionality of Legislative Supermajority Requirements: A Defense
McGinnis, John O.; Rappaport, Michael B.
The Yale Law Journal, Vol. 105, No. 2, November 1995
Slaying the Dinosaur: The Case for Reforming the Senate Filibuster
Binder, Sarah A.; Mann, Thomas E.
Brookings Review, Vol. 13, No. 3, Summer 1995
Defending the Dinosaur: The Case for Not Fixing the Filibuster
Frenzel, Bill.
Brookings Review, Vol. 13, No. 3, Summer 1995
Q: Should Senate Rules Be Changed to Limit Debate on Judicial Nominations? NO: The Rule Change Would Remove a Check on the Abuse of Power by the Majority Party
.
Insight on the News, July 22, 2003
It's Not 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.'(Senate Filibusters)
Dauster, Bill.
The Washington Monthly, Vol. 28, No. 11, November 1996
In the Senate
George Wharton Pepper.
University of Pennsylvania Press, 1930
Librarian’s tip: Chap. VII "The Filibuster"
The Parties Respond: Changes in American Parties and Campaigns
L. Sandy Maisel.
Westview Press, 1998 (3rd edition)
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 13 "Coalitions and Policy in the U.S. Congress: Lessons from the 103rd and 104th Congresses" begins on p. 286
The Tiger in the Senate: The Biography of Wayne Morse
A. Robert Smith.
Doubleday, 1962
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 14 "The Noble Filibuster"
Fighting Liberal: The Autobiography of George W. Norris
Arthur M. Schlesinger; George W. Norris; George W. Norris.
University of Nebraska Press, 1972
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 19 "Death Kiss by Filibuster"
Revolving Gridlock: Politics and Policy from Carter to Clinton
David W. Brady; Craig Volden.
Westview Press, 1998
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