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Should filibustering be eliminated in the Senate? Essay

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Updated: Jan 11th, 2020


A filibuster refers to any tactic that is obstructive or dilatory and useful in the prevention of certain pieces of legislation from being tabled for voting. The senate may attempt to prevent or delay a vote by using these obstructive tactics such as extending the debate on the issue at hand.

Since its inception, filibustering has encountered many challenges and critics including a call to abolish it. On the other hand, the proponents of filibustering have also been up in arms to try and preach its advantages, or worse still call for reforms to the principles of filibustering, in order to accommodate the views and interests of all citizens. This report seeks to explain the history of filibustering, the pros and cons, as well as various initiates for reforms.

Definition and history

Filibuster is defined as a way of obstruction in a body or institution responsible for critical decision making such as the legislature. Another term of a filibuster is talking out a bill. The filibuster users transferred this term to these adventurers because of their tactics and plans to hijack or pirate ongoing debates.

The use of filibuster became common by a Republican congress in the Clinton administration, which was keen on blocking several initiatives of the President. In current times, its application also targets executive or government appointments, which must go through Senate scrutiny and confirmation.

The pros of filibusters

Filibustering has received support from all corners of the government and the general public. The proponents of filibusters believe in its usefulness especially in the legislative arm of the government.

Proponents of the filibusters claim that it helps in protecting the will and interests of the majority. It makes the element of democracy look similar to the rule of the simple majority, thus filibuster use implies undemocratic governance that cannot be opposed. Democracy should be established in such a complex way to include the voice of minorities, and recognize the representation of the political minority such as their public officials.

The representatives of the minority groups need to be able to express the majority views in order to make filibuster to have a legitimate role in democracy. Proponents of filibusters claim that it is vulnerable portion of the traditions of the Senate. This is because the Senate is a deliberate, unique body that also severs to protect the rights of the minorities (Tocqueville, Mansfield & Winthrop, 2000).

Most people consider a filibuster as a fence or barrier that acts against the executive branch of the government, which should only be considered as the last available option for essential checks and balances. Filibuster also gives opportunities to the opposition part of the government or senate to get a majority vote, which can enable them to halt any process and make it a consensus.

Proponents of filibuster are usually against the notion of cloture as a way of evading following the rightful procedures, and doing the right job. They see it as a way of enabling the senate to debate and amend any clauses freely. They also consider filibuster not to be a procedural gimmick but are rather a portion of the fabric that belongs to the Senate institution.

Proponents believe that the filibuster is potent in nature. It is not just a way of head counting, but has a vital role in evaluating the intensity of views on controversial matters. It also increases the stakes in any debate and alerts the public that the raised issues are worth attention (Foner, 2006).

Despite all the mentioned advantages and effectiveness of filibusters, critics have still continued to denounce filibustering, while applying ever effort in attempting to abolish or eliminate it, with some democratic citizens opting for reforms. These critics have explored various negative aspects of filibustering.

The cons of filibusters

Filibuster destabilizes the self-governing principle of majority rule. This causes the inability of the Senate to change the filibuster’s governing rules. Filibuster is currently an institutional problem because it has gained power over the years and caused an increase in the workload of the congress, for the past forty years.

Filibuster is not consistent with the constitution of the United States, and this can be described in two ways. There is the textural argument of constitution stating that the majority rule of the Senate is sufficient to pass a bill, after which it is sent to the President for endorsement.

Filibuster is also not consistent with the constitution that indicates the circumstance that requires legislative action to be exercised by the supermajority. The two congress houses require the majority rule in line with the requirement of the constitution unless stated otherwise.

Opponent denounces filibusters, to be indiscriminate, partisan, and open to abuse. This is common with the modern filibusters that are currently more powerful than the past contemporary filibusters are. The past filibusters were justifiable by the senate traditions following unlimited debates and keen considerations, associated with little workload.

The pre-1950 senate had a collegial culture that imposed considerable limits on the minority’s capability to consider a filibuster as a thwart to the majority rule. On the other hand, the modern filibuster presents itself as a minority veto, which is immensely powerful and yet not a section of the tradition of the senate existing for a long time and not able to justify the filibusters.

Should filibustering continue or not?

There are significant impacts of the filibusters on the legislative process of the government and senate. There is a requirement of the supermajority created by the filibuster in the attempt to enact most of the legislative processes. It may, therefore, act to reduce the control of the committee in raising the leverage used by respective senators while on the floor agenda.

Filibusters are also useful in situations where the parties in the senate do not have a sixty-vote majority. In such cases, filibusters act to augment the moderates’ influence because of the crucial nature of their votes in determining the failure or success of the motions of the cloture. The stealth filibusters place a higher value on the leadership of the involved parties in the senate as compared to the speaking or acting predecessor (Tocqueville, Mansfield & Winthrop, 2000).

The cloture rule implies ending a debate in order to overcome a filibuster. This ends the filibuster powers. Critics of the filibuster indicate that this could be a perversion of the initial notion of the majority-rule governance, which was the original intent of senate’s governance of the majority rule.

The move to eliminate filibusters is excessive; therefore, sufficient reforms should be implemented in order to enable smooth and fruitful operation of the filibusters. Another reform would be to reduce the number of the majority for a filibuster, from the current 60 to 55. These reforms, among others, can serve as a reasonable option in eliminating the negative aspects of the filibusters. These reforms also help in avoiding the complicated process of constitutional amendments of getting rid of the filibusters (Patterson, 1990).

Examples of filibusters

An example of a famous bill from filibustering was by Senator Strom Thurmand from South Carolina. This bill involved the attempt to block the Civil Rights Act of 1957. This was the longest filibuster in the history of the United States.

Strom Thurmond attempted to get other senators to agree with his arguments on the 1957 Civil Rights Act. HIs efforts were successful despite having had to fight for a long time while the other senators were just listening. Another example of a famous filibuster was one by Senator Huey Long from Lousiana, in 1935. This was the most effective, creative and dramatic filibuster of all times.

The filibuster attempted to block political enemies from getting lucrative jobs through exploiting the National Recovery Administration. Huey Pierce Long was known to be a master of the filibuster. Difficult to hold focus on the work load made placing rules mandatory for extreme situations such as this one (Foner, 2006).


Filibuster was initially created for legitimate intentions but has since been abused and considered as a delay or smear tactic. However, filibusters have enabled the establishment of an effective requirement of the supermajority to be responsible for most legislative processes. Even, though, the new effects of the filibusters undermine the rule of the majority, it cannot be denounced to be entirely anti-majoritarian as it counteracts the aspects of anti-majority rule in the procedures of the senate such as use of the committee system.

From the discussion, filibuster cannot be refuted to be unconstitutional, but rather consider the senate rule XXII that give provision of a two-thirds vote requirement in changing the rule to be unconstitutional. The filibusters can also be justified by filing for a lawsuit that challenges the rule.

The debate for and against filibusters is extremely significant because it will determine the long-term decision on the laws that should be enacted by the senate. The debate is also useful in addressing the efficiency and fairness of the legislative process, as well as democratic rights of minorities and majority groups.


Foner, E. (2006). Give me liberty!: an American history (Seagull ed.). New York: W.W. Norton.

Patterson, T. E. (1990). The American democracy. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Tocqueville, A. d., Mansfield, H. C., & Winthrop, D. (2000). Democracy in America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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