Our Guide to the Filibuster: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Filibusters: you either love ’em or hate ’em, depending on who is doing it and why. Described in Wikipedia as “A parliamentary procedure where debate is extended, allowing one or more members to delay or entirely prevent a vote on a given proposal,” the Filibuster can be used for both good and bad.

With the news earlier this week that Senate leaders have reached a deal to preserve the filibuster, it looks like we’re stuck with the procedure for a while longer, so it’s a good time to have a look at what the filibuster is good for, and what it really isn’t:


Wendy Davis Blocks Republican’s Attempt to Restrict Women’s Rights in Texas

When the Texas State House voted overwhelmingly to pass a horrendous proposal that would ban all abortions after 20 weeks (on top of a host of draconian licensing restrictions) . The bill, known as ‘SB 5’ would have closed 37 of the state’s 42 clinics, leaving hundreds of thousands of women in Texas and neighboring states with no access to legal abortion care. Given the conservative majority in the State Senate, Governor Rick Perry’s support for the measure, it seemed certain to pass.

Enter Democratic State Senator Wendy Davis, who launched an heroic 11-hour filibuster that amazingly shut the bill down. Davis had to speak until midnight, was not allowed water or food breaks, could not lean on anything to support herself, and could not go to the bathroom. Davis read out testimony from doctors and women who would be impacted the measure, and kept going despite egregious (and illegal) attempts by Republicans to shut it down. They failed, and Davis succeeded in derailing SB5.


Mitch McConnel Filibusters Himself. 

In December of 2012, Mitch McConnell asked Harry Reid to put a debt-ceiling proposal to a vote, and then filibustered his own bill when the Senate Majority Leader agreed. Yes, you heard that right. McConnell had proposed a way for the Obama administration to increase the debt limit by itself – Congress would not have to approve it, but would vote only to disapprove it if it didn’t agree with it. The administration would agree to spending cuts, which Congress would then later pass. The Democrats agreed, and McConnell proceeded to then amazingly oppose his own bill.


Strom Thurmond Filibusters Civil Rights Bill

Strom Thurmond (D-S.C.), who holds the record for the Senate’s longest filibuster ever (a whopping 24 hours and 18 minutes) will go down in history as the epitome of all that is wrong with the filibuster. So what was Strom in a strop over? Black people. Or more precisely, The Civil Rights Act of 1957. Thurman made an intern hold a bucket for him in case he needed to urinate while reading the Constitution and the phone book in an attempt to stop the bill passing. Thurmond had spent his entire political career thus far trying to prevent blacks from equality, stating once that “All the laws of Washington and all the bayonets of the Army cannot force the Negro into our homes, into our schools, our churches and our places of recreation and amusement”. His filibuster – which ultimately failed – was widely praised by conservatives around the country. This all the while Thurmond had a black daughter (courtesy of sleeping with his 16 year old house maid several decades earlier). The words ‘giant’ and ‘asshole’ are appropriate here.

Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.