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Source: Everything you need to know about the filibuster.
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Date published 2021-11-22
Curation date 2021-11-22
Curator Dr. Victoria A. Stuart, Ph.D.
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Summary A filibuster is a political procedure where one or more members of a Congress or Parliament debate over a proposed piece of legislation so as to delay or entirely prevent a decision being made on the proposal. It is sometimes referred to as "talking a bill to death" or "talking out a bill" and is characterized as a form of obstruction in a legislature or other decision-making body.
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A filibuster is a political procedure where one or more members of a Congress or Parliament debate over a proposed piece of legislation so as to delay or entirely prevent a decision being made on the proposal. It is sometimes referred to as "talking a bill to death" or "talking out a bill" and is characterized as a form of obstruction in a legislature or other decision-making body. This form of political obstruction reaches as far back as Ancient Roman times and is synonymous with political stonewalling.

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A dramatic example of filibustering in the House of Commons of Canada took place between Thursday June 23, 2011 and Saturday 2011-06-25. In an attempt to prevent the passing of Bill C-6, which would have legislated the imposing of a four-year contract and pay conditions on the locked out Canada Post workers, the New Democratic Party (NDP) led a filibustering session which lasted for fifty-eight hours. The NDP argued that the legislation in its then form undermined collective bargaining. Specifically, the NDP opposed the salary provisions and the form of binding arbitration outlined in the bill.

The House was supposed to break for the summer Thursday 2011-06-23, but remained open in an extended session due to the filibuster. The 103 NDP MPs had been taking it in turn to deliver 20 minute speeches - plus 10 minutes of questions and comments - in order to delay the passing of the bill. MPs are allowed to give such speeches each time a vote takes place, and many votes were needed before the bill could be passed. As the Conservative Party of Canada  [Conservative Party of Canada] held a majority in the House, the bill passed. This was the longest filibuster since the 1999 Reform Party of Canada filibuster, on native treaty issues in British Columbia.

Conservative Member of Parliament Tom Lukiwski is known for his ability to stall Parliamentary Committee business by filibustering. One such example occurred 2006-10-26, when he spoke for almost 120 minutes to prevent the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development from studying a private member's bill to implement the Kyoto Accord. He also spoke for about 6 hours on 2008-02-05 and 2008-02-07 at the Canadian House of Commons Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs  (Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs) meetings to block inquiry into allegations that the Conservative Party spent over the maximum allowable campaign limits during the 2006 election.

Another example of filibuster in Canada federally came in early 2014 when NDP MP and Deputy Leader David Christopherson filibustered the government's bill C-23, the Fair Elections Act at the Procedure and House Affairs Committee. His filibuster lasted several meetings, in the last of which he spoke for over 8 hours. It was done to support his own motion to hold cross-country hearings on the bill so that MPs could hear what the Canadian public thought of the bill. In the end, given that the Conservative government had a majority at committee, his motion was defeated and the bill passed although with some significant amendments.


The Legislature of the Province of Ontario has witnessed several significant filibusters, although two are notable for the unusual manner by which they were undertaken. The first was an effort on May 6, 1991, by Mike Harris, later premier but then leader of the opposition Progressive Conservatives, to derail the implementation of the budget tabled by the NDP government under premier Bob Rae. The tactic involved the introduction of Bill 95, the title of which contained the names of every lake, river and stream in the province. Between the reading of the title by the proposing MPP, and the subsequent obligatory reading of the title by the clerk of the chamber, this filibuster occupied the entirety of the day's session until adjournment. To prevent this particular tactic to be used again, changes were eventually made to the Standing Orders to limit the time allocated each day to the introduction of bills to 30 minutes.

A second high-profile and uniquely implemented filibuster in the Ontario Legislature occurred in April, 1997, where the Ontario New Democratic Party, then in opposition, tried to prevent the governing Progressive Conservatives' Bill 103 from taking effect. To protest the Tory government's legislation that would amalgamate the municipalities of Metro Toronto into the "megacity" of Toronto, the small NDP caucus introduced 11,500 amendments to the megacity bill, created on computers with mail merge functionality. Each amendment would name a street in the proposed city, and provide that public hearings be held into the megacity with residents of the street invited to participate. The Ontario Liberal Party also joined the filibuster with a smaller series of amendments; a typical Liberal amendment would give a historical designation to a named street. The NDP then added another series of over 700 amendments, each proposing a different date for the bill to come into force.

The filibuster began on April 2 with the Abbeywood Trail amendment and occupied the legislature day and night, the members alternating in shifts. On April 4, exhausted and often sleepy government members inadvertently let one of the NDP amendments pass, and the handful of residents of Cafon Court in Etobicoke were granted the right to a public consultation on the bill, although the government subsequently nullified this with an amendment of its own. On April 6, with the alphabetical list of streets barely into the Es, Speaker Chris Stockwell ruled that there was no need for the 220 words identical in each amendment to be read aloud each time, only the street name. With a vote still needed on each amendment, Zorra Street was not reached until April 8. The Liberal amendments were then voted down one by one, eventually using a similar abbreviated process, and the filibuster finally ended on April 11.

An ironic example of filibustering occurred when the Liberal Party of Newfoundland and Labrador reportedly had "nothing else to do in the House of Assembly" and debated between only themselves about their own budget after both the Conservative and NDP party indicated either their support for the bill or intent to vote.

United States


The filibuster is a powerful legislative device in the United States Senate. Senate rules permit a senator or senators to speak for as long as they wish and on any topic they choose, unless "three-fifths of the Senators duly chosen and sworn" (usually 60 out of 100 senators) bring debate to a close by invoking cloture under Senate Rule XXII. Even if a filibuster attempt is unsuccessful, the process takes floor time. Defenders call the filibuster "The Soul of the Senate."

It is not part of the US Constitution, becoming theoretically possible with a change of Senate rules only in 1806 and not used until 1837. Rarely used for much of the Senate's first two centuries, it was strengthened in the 1970s and in recent years, the majority has preferred to avoid filibusters by moving to other business when a filibuster is threatened and attempts to achieve cloture have failed. As a result, in recent decades this has come to mean that all major legislation (apart from budgets) now requires a 60% majority to pass.

Under current Senate rules, any modification or limitation of the filibuster would be a rule change that itself could be filibustered, with two-thirds of those senators present and voting (as opposed to the normal three-fifths of those sworn) needing to vote to break the filibuster. However, under Senate precedents, a simple majority can (and has) acted to limit the practice by overruling decisions of the chair. The removal or substantial limitation of the filibuster by a simple majority, rather than a rule change, is called the constitutional option by proponents, and the nuclear option by opponents.

On November 21, 2013, the Democratic controlled Senate voted 52 to 48 to require only a majority vote to end a filibuster of all executive and judicial nominees, excluding Supreme Court nominees, rather than the 3/5 of votes previously required. On April 6, 2017, the Republican controlled Senate voted 52 to 48 to require only a majority vote to end a filibuster of Supreme Court nominees. A 3/5 supermajority is still required to end filibusters on legislation.

Mitch McConnell's Use of the Filibuster

  • Excerpted from main article: Mitch McConnell: Use of the Filibuster
  • One of McConnell's most common tactic, as U.S. Senate Minority Leader, to delay or obstruct legislation and judicial appointments has been the filibuster. A filibuster is an attempt to "talk a bill to death," forcing Senate leadership to abandon a proposed measure instead of waiting out the filibuster - or at least to delay the measure's passage. In the United States Senate, any senator may speak for unlimited duration unless a 60-person majority votes to invoke cloture, or end debate, and proceed to a final vote. Political scientists have referred to McConnell's use of the filibuster as "constitutional hardball," referring to the misuse of procedural tools in a way that undermines democracy.

    Political scientists Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson describe the rationale behind McConnell's filibusters.

    ... [continued] ...

    House of Representatives

    In the United States House of Representatives, the filibuster (the right to unlimited debate) was used until 1842, when a permanent rule limiting the duration of debate was created. The disappearing quorum was a tactic used by the minority until Speaker Thomas Brackett Reed eliminated it in 1890. As the membership of the House grew much larger than the Senate, the House had acted earlier to control floor debate and the delay and blocking of floor votes. Through the night of November 18, 2021 into the morning of November 19, 2021, Kevin McCarthy set a record for the longest speech on the House floor (8 hours and 33 minutes), in opposition to the Build Back Better Act.

    State Legislatures

  • Main article: Comparison of U.S. state governments.
  • Only 13 United States state legislatures have a filibuster.

  • Alabama
  • Alaska
  • Arkansas
  • Connecticut
  • Florida
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Maine
  • Nebraska
  • South Carolina
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Vermont

  • Additional Reading

  • [, 2022-09-08] Report: 17 of 18 Pro-Democracy Bills Were Killed By Filibuster This Congress.

  • [, 2022-01-19] Manchin and Sinema Defend the Filibuster Because the Filibuster Defends Corporate Power.  The filibuster is not about democratic checks or minority rights. The filibuster is about giving corporations veto power over the economy - which is why Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema defend it.

  • [, 2022-01-14] How Killing the Filibuster Is a Reproductive Justice Issue.  The people most affected by reproductive tyranny are the same people who are systematically being disenfranchised - particularly when it comes to voting.

  • [, 2022-01-13] The Anti-Abortion Movement Is Desperate to Protect the Filibuster.  Anti-abortion forces can't win by democratic means, so they are campaigning to protect the filibuster and crush voting rights - and Democrats may be content to let them win.

  • [, 2022-01-13] "Shame on Her:" Kyrsten Sinema Sparks Fury by Choosing Filibuster Over Democracy.  The Arizona Democrat's continued opposition to filibuster reform puts her squarely "in McConnell's anti-democracy camp," said one progressive activist.

  • [, 2022-01-13] Kyrsten Sinema Just Killed the Democrats' Last, Best Chance to Protect Voting Rights.  Even as Republicans are attacking voting rights in her home state.

  • [, 2022-01-11] Biden is expected to back changing the filibuster to pass voting rights bills

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