The filibuster as a political delaying tactic has been a part of American political process since adoption of U.S. Constitution. Though it was not used in early years of nation, filibuster has been used hundreds of times since 1840's. Here are a few of famous filibusters from our political history.
The U.S. Constitution does not limit length or nature of debate on floors of Senate or House of Representatives. The House has since adopted rules which limit length of debate since House has a very large number of Representatives. But smaller Senate has always upheld right of a recognized Senator to debate an issue for as long as he or she wishes to hold floor. Senate Rule 19 and Rule 22, cloture rule adopted in 1917, create some guidelines for conducting a debate and for closing debate when it becomes lengthy.
Senator Henry Clay
In 1841 Senator Henry Clay proposed a bank bill that was opposed by Senator John C. Calhoun who began a lengthy, seemingly unending, rebuttal. Calhoun basically created modern filibuster. Clay threatened to change Senate rules in order to close debate on issue. Clay's colleague, Thomas Hart Benton, rebuked Clay and accused him of trying to stifle Senate's right to unlimited debate.
Through next few turbulent decades and into 1960's filibuster was used often by Southern Democrats to block civil rights legislation. The filibuster had been seen by minority party as a tool to combat potential "tyranny of majority," but frequent usage of filibuster by Southern Democrats became characterized as "tyranny of minority."
Senate Rule 22
President Woodrow Wilson suggested that some limits be placed on unlimited debate concept. In 1917 Senate adopted Senate Rule 22, now known as "cloture" rule. The new Rule 22 provided mechanism to close out debate on a legislative bill and bring bill up for a vote if cloture was approved by 67% of Senate. The 67% requirement remained in effect until 1975 when Rule 22 was amended to allow a 60% agreement to invoke cloture.
Cloture Rule 22 was tested in 1919 when Senate was asked to ratify Treaty of Versailles, which ended World War I. The treaty was debated and filibustered, but a 67% majority voted to end filibuster and to bring treaty to a vote.
Senator Huey Long
Senator Huey Long, fiery and colorful senator from Louisiana, made filibuster famous between 1932 and 1935 when he utilized it several times to stall legislation that he considered unfair to poor. Long frustrated his opponents and entertained Senate gallery by reading Shakespeare, reciting shrimp and oyster recipes and talking about "pot-likkers." An amendment to Senate Rule 19 later required that debate on legislation be germane to issue being debated.
On June 12, 1935, Senator Long engaged in his most famous filibuster. A bill was before Senate to eliminate provision for Senate to confirm senior National Recovery Act employees. Senator Long opposed bill because he didn't want his political adversaries in Louisiana to obtain lucrative N.R.A. jobs. Senator Long spoke for 15 hours and 30 minutes running well into evening and early morning hours with senators dozing at their desks. Long read and analyzed each section of Constitution, a document which he claimed had become "ancient and forgotten lore" under President Roosevelt's New Deal.
After reading of Constitution Senator Long offered to give advice to remaining senators on any subject of their choosing. No senator took Long up on his offer but gallery patrons began sending notes to floor for Senator Long to extemporize on. That kept Long going into early hours of morning. At 4 a.m. Long yielded floor in order to use restroom and his proposal was defeated.
James Stewart brought more fame to filibuster when he played role of Senator Jefferson Smith in 1939 film, "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington." Stewart's character launched into a filibuster in response to an attempt to ridicule him.
Senator Wayne Morse
Senator Wayne Morse from Oregon was called "The Tiger of Senate" and served in Senate under 5 Presidents. In 1952 Senator Morse left Republican Party, claiming independent status, when he objected to sections of party platform and Dwight Eisenhower's choice of Richard Nixon as his vice presidential running mate. Senator Morse claimed that Republican Party had left him.