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Filibusters: Political Strategy or Wasted Effort?

In political news, there is a lot of talk over the use of filibusters in the Senate, especially during the U.S Senate's recent confirmation of supreme court judge Neil Gorsuch. Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer, and fellow Democrats have vowed for months to oppose President Trump’s nominee, but recently failed to block his nomination after Senate Republicans changed Senate rules from 60 nomination votes, to just the majority votes.


Many citizens are still unsure what a filibuster is, how they've been used in the past, and what the pros and cons are of the practice.


A filibuster is basically an obstruction in the Senate. They are commonly used by outnumbered lawmakers in an attempt to delay and kill bills or nominations. Filibusters have been used by members of both parties since the 1840s. Lawmakers have used a number of different tactics to prolong their filibuster speeches, and persuade other members to help to block legislation.


Some of the tactics used by lawmakers have ranged from, talking about family food recipes, singing, or as in the case of Texas Senator Ted Cruz, reading from the popular children’s book, Green Eggs and Ham. Back in 2013, Senator Cruz talked for a total of 21 hours and 19 minutes, to make a stand against the Affordable Care Act. In his long speech, the senator recalled lyrics from a country song, quotations from a popular reality television show, and read from the Dr. Seuss book, followed by recollections of his father's attempt in making the dish. Cruz’s filibuster did not cause any effective delays to the legislative process, but it helped him earn the support of fellow conservatives.


Back in 1957, in an effort to block the Civil Rights Act,  South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond, talked for a  total of 24 hours, and 18 minutes. To prolong his speech he read from the election laws of all the fifty states, the U.S criminal code, the Declaration of Independence and the Brown vs Board of Education supreme court decision. Yet, this record talk-a-thon failed to change a single vote.


Those in favor of filibusters enjoy the amount of power that it gives the minority party to block legislation from the majority party. While those against the practice, say it makes a “mockery” of the notion of majority rule.


No matter how you see the use of this practice, filibusters have been used by members of different political parties as just another political strategy.


Henry Murillo is a student at Drake University, majoring in Law, Politics, and Society. He interned with Vote Smart during the Spring semester in the Elections department of research. For more information on internship opportunities with Vote Smart, contact us at intern@votesmart.org or by calling 1-888-VOTESMART.

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