Over the years, filibustering has been called “a distraction” and “political gamesmanship.”
I won’t get into the details here about that particular protest, but let’s consider the recent headlines about the latest filibuster (which, reportedly, is the 9th longest one in history) to offer a refresher on the purpose of filibustering, why it’s important and when politicians typically use it as a strategy.
The term filibuster comes from a Dutch word meaning “pirate.” Since the 1850s it’s been applied to efforts to hold the Senate floor in order to prevent a vote on a bill. The filibuster wasn’t always a go-to course of action.
A 2009 story by US News & World Report says:
According to research by UCLA political scientist Barbara Sinclair, there was an average of one filibuster per Congress during the 1950s. That number has grown steadily since and spiked in 2007 and 2008 (the 110th Congress), when there were 52 filibusters. More broadly, according to Sinclair, while 8 percent of major legislation in the 1960s was subject to “extended-debate-related problems” like filibusters, 70 percent of major bills were so targeted during the 110th Congress.
Why It’s Important
Simply put, filibusters are intended to make all members of congress pause in order to promote comprehensive discussion.
But many say that filibustering actually does the opposite and, therefore, should no longer be allowed. Still, others suggest that the answer is not complete elimination.
Writes Matthew J. Franck The Witherspoon Institute’s The Public Discourse:
“With a simple change, the Senate can restore its republican bona fides, give minority points of view an audible voice, greatly reduce the number of filibusters, make incremental gains in the passage of bills important to the majority, and improve the quality of debate.”