The Senate Filibuster

October 15, 2021 • Volume 31, Issue 36
Does it impede democracy?
By Holly Rosenkrantz

Introduction

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. Senate rules require 60 votes in the 100-member chamber to end debate, and in an era of extreme partisanship and divisive politics, that standard is difficult to meet. Political analysts and lawmakers have long debated the usefulness and value of the filibuster, but today the pressure to alter or eliminate it is more intense than ever. Opponents of the filibuster say it thwarts the will of the majority and prevents the nation from addressing its most pressing problems. But its defenders say the filibuster protects the rights of the minority, preserves the traditional role of the Senate and prevents wild policy swings.

Photo of protesters in New York City urging an end to the Senate filibuster on July 26, 2021. (Getty Images/LightRocket/Erik McGregor)
Protesters in New York City urge an end to the Senate filibuster, which they say is impeding legislation to strengthen voting rights, increase the minimum wage and promote other progressive proposals. Supporters of the filibuster say it protects minority-party rights and prevents wild policy swings. (Getty Images/LightRocket/Erik McGregor)
ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Filibusters
Oct. 15, 2021  The Senate Filibuster
Mar. 19, 1947  Majority Cloture for the Senate
Apr. 04, 1935  Control of Obstruction in Congress
Mar. 13, 1925  Filibusters and the Senate Rules
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