The Senate Filibuster

- October 15, 2021
Does it impede democracy?
Photo of protesters in New York City urging an end to the Senate filibuster on July 26, 2021. (Getty Images/LightRocket/Erik McGregor)
The filibuster, once an arcane and rarely used procedural rule, has become a major stumbling block for the passage of legislation in the U.S. Senate. Seeking to thwart a bill, senators turn to it with increasing frequency, in part because waging a filibuster no longer requires a member to actually hold the floor and stage an oratorical marathon.

How can a senator use a filibuster to block consideration of a bill? How can proponents of the measure overcome a filibuster?

How does the filibuster rule intersect with the general role assigned to the Senate in the U.S. Constitution? Do you think the framers of the Constitution would support the filibuster? Why or why not?

1789–1917Parliamentary maneuverings define early filibusters.
1935–1975The filibuster comes into its own.
1986–PresentThe modern-day filibuster emerges.

Is the filibuster inherently undemocratic?


Caroline Fredrickson
Senior Fellow, Brennan Center, and Distinguished Visiting Professor, Georgetown University.


Richard A. Arenberg
Visiting Professor, Practice of Political Science, Brown University.


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