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 1917 there was no formal mechanism to allow the senate to close debate and any senator could start a filibuster. From 1917 to 1949 two-thirds of those voting could limit debate on a measure. As civil rights loomed on the Senate agenda, this rule was revised in 1949 to allow cloture
on any measure or motion by two-thirds of the entire Senate membership; in 1959 the threshold was restored to two-thirds of those voting. After a series of filibusters in the 1960s over civil rights legislation, the Senate revised its cloture rule so that three-fifths of the Senate (usually 60 senators) could limit debate. Despite this rule, the filibuster or the threat of a filibuster remains an important tactic that allows a large minority to affect legislation.
The procedure for "invoking cloture," or ending a filibuster, is as follows:
- A minimum of sixteen Senators must sign a petition for cloture.
- The petition may be presented by interrupting another Senator's speech.
- The clerk reads the petition.
- The cloture petition is ignored for one full day during which the Senate is sitting (If the petition is filed on a Friday, it is ignored until Tuesday, assuming that the Senate did not sit on Saturday or Sunday.)
- On the second calendar day during which the Senate sits after the presentation of the petition, after the Senate has been sitting for one hour, a "quorum call" is undertaken to ensure that a majority of the Senators are present.
- The President or President pro tempore presents the petition.
- The Senate votes on the petition; three-fifths of the whole number of Senators (sixty with no vacancies) is the required majority; however, when cloture is invoked on a question of changing the rules of the Senate, two-thirds of the Senators voting (not necessarily two-thirds of all Senators) is the requisite majority.
After cloture has been invoked, the following restrictions apply:
- No more than thirty hours of debate may occur.
- No Senator may speak for more than one hour.
- No amendments may be moved unless they were filed on the day in between the presentation of the petition and the actual cloture vote.
- All amendments must be relevant to the debate.
- Certain debates on procedure are not permissible.
- The presiding officer gains additional power in controlling debate.
- No other matters may be considered until the question upon which cloture was invoked is disposed of.
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 require an actual traditional filibuster if he so chooses.
Another meaning of filibuster, and perhaps the original one, is where a private individual with a mercenary force attempts or accomplishes an invasion or a revolution in a foreign state, with an aim towards establishing himself as its ruler. A good example of this type of filibuster was William Walker's campaign in Nicaragua.