August 29 – The Longest Filibuster

On August. 29, then-Democratic Senator J. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina ended the longest filibuster in U.S. Senate history, 24 hours and 18 minutes of protest against a Civil Rights Act of 1954 proposed by the Eisenhower Administration.

The filibuster, originating from a Dutch word meaning “pirate, became popular in the 1850s as a way to prevent a vote on a bill. It is not found in the Constitution, but created by an accidental rule elimination which allowed for a simple majority to end debate on a bill and move to a vote. Back then, to filibuster, a Senator had to remain on his feet, speaking, without bathroom breaks or any other comforts. While the rule allowed for delay of bills, the physical requirements of the rules limited the use of filibusters, as well as their duration. An end can be forced using a “cloture” rule, which now requires a three-fifths majority vote, in this case 60 votes, known as a supermajority. Now the mere threat of a filibuster can cause the Senate to invoke the cloture rule, thus killing the filibuster, before it even begins.

An important part of the U.S. Constitution requires supermajorities of one kind or another. This is one reason we tend to refer to the U.S. as a republic, rather than a simple democracy. The Founding Fathers wanted to create roadblocks to hasty legislation, and therefore made passing new laws a complicated process.

Questions

  1. The process of how a bill becomes a law is complicated. Do you think it should be simplified? Why/why not?
  2. The party makeup in the Senate has a huge impact on the ability to filibuster and invoke cloture. Why is party makeup so important in our legislative system, when parties where something the Founding Fathers warned against?
Image Citation:

22nd, Aug. 2018, Strom Thurmond 1957 . Retrieved from <google.com>.