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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 ObamaObama, Barack
(Barack Hussein Obama 2d), , 1961–, 44th president of the United States (2009–17), b. Honolulu, grad. Columbia (B.A. 1983), Harvard Law School (J.D. 1991).
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 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. QuitmanQuitman, John Anthony,
1798–1858, American general and politician, b. Rhinebeck, N.Y. He settled in Natchez, Miss., where he practiced law and held a series of political offices, serving in the state legislature and as acting governor (1835–36).
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 and William WalkerWalker, William,
1824–60, American filibuster in Nicaragua, b. Nashville, Tenn. Walker, a qualified doctor, a lawyer, and a journalist by the time he was 24, sought a more adventurous career.
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, and some by rebellious citizens of the government they sought to overthrow, as those of Narciso LópezLópez, Narciso
, 1798?–1851, Spanish-American soldier, b. Venezuela. After serving in the Spanish army during the Venezuelan revolution against Spain, he left his native country for Cuba (1823).
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 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 Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.


1. Politics the process or an instance of obstructing legislation by means of long speeches and other delaying tactics
2. History a buccaneer, freebooter, or irregular military adventurer, esp a revolutionary in a foreign country
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
References in periodicals archive ?
(15) Nor does anything in America's symbolic Constitution--the special cultural icons in our legal-cultural pantheon, such as Lincoln's Gettysburg Address and King's "I Have a Dream" speech--argue for an entrenched Senate filibuster rule.
With all that said it took a change in the filibuster rules to win final approval of Watt's nomination.
Some liberal senators, however, are worried that eliminating the filibuster might give a future Republican president the ability to confirm far-right conservative nominees.
But was it "disgraceful" (in the words of GOP Chair Jennifer Horn that she a) didn't attend the filibuster reform meeting and b) took too long to own up to where she was instead?
The 1939 US political comedydrama Mr Smith Goes to Washington features a 24-hour filibuster. It made James Stewart a star.
Because they recognize that the filibuster is in fact a powerful tool of obstruction, members from both parties in the modern Senate have been unwilling to impose tight control over debate.
The Common Cause suit argued that the filibuster is "inconsistent with majority rule." It complained that "since the election of President Obama in 2008, the Republican minority in the Senate has objected to virtually every significant piece of legislation proposed by the Obama administration and more presidential nominations than in any comparable period of history, all as a part of a strategy to make the Democratic Majority appear to be ineffective, and to make President Obama a one-term president." The House members argued that their own votes were nullified by Senate inaction.
While it is not unusual for Cabinet nominees to provoke opposition, the decision to filibuster a nominee for secretary of defense was unprecedented and seen by many in Washington as an evolution of the virulent partisanship that has infected U.S.
But to Democrats, the vote to deny cloture on Hagel's nomination was a historic, first-ever successful filibuster of a Cabinet nominee and the first time the party in the Senate's minority had ever even tried the move against a defense secretary nominee.
The basic contours of the debate over the Senate filibuster are
Instead of amending those bills and sending them back to the House, the Senate seized up--not for lack of majority will, but because of minority recalcitrance and the post-1970 filibuster. This represents three serious dangers to constitutional government:
Senate Democrats invoked the "Nuclear Option" a couple of years ago when Republicans were actively using the filibuster rules to block Obama's judge appointments, but they stopped short of making the new rule apply to Supreme Court nominees.