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Save the Filibuster

by The Washington Office of Public Policy


Contact: Office of Public Policy GBGM-Women's Division 100 Maryland Avenue, NE Room 530 Washington, DC 20002 (202)488-5660 Fax:(202) 488-5681
Office of Public Policy
GBGM-Women's Division
100 Maryland Avenue, NE Room 530
Washington, DC 20002
Fax:(202) 488-5681

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Call, write or e-mail your Senators and tell them to Save The Filibuster. 

“The battle over the filibuster seems like an insider’s game.  In fact, it is a historic fight over the structure of American government that could affect almost every issue in the public realm.” (E.J. Dionne, JR.,. Battle Over Filibuster Historic and Far-Reaching,St. Paul Press, 03/23/05)

The following text is taken from the United States Senate website.


“Many Americans are familiar with the hours-long filibuster of Senator Jefferson Smith in Frank Capra’s film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, but there have been some famous filibusters in the real-life Senate as well.  Using the filibuster to delay debate or block legislation has a long history. In the United States, the term filibuster -- from a Dutch word meaning "pirate" -- became popular in the 1850s when it was applied to efforts to hold the Senate floor in order to prevent action on a bill.

In the early years of Congress, representatives as well as senators could use the filibuster technique. As the House grew in numbers, however, it was necessary to revise House rules to limit debate. In the smaller Senate, unlimited debate continued since senators believed any member should have the right to speak as long as necessary.

In 1841, when the Democratic minority hoped to block a bank bill promoted by Henry Clay, Clay threatened to change Senate rules to allow the majority to close debate. Thomas Hart Benton angrily rebuked his colleague, accusing Clay of trying to stifle the Senate's right to unlimited debate. Unlimited debate remained in place in the Senate until 1917. At that time, at the suggestion of President Woodrow Wilson, the Senate adopted a rule (Rule 22) that allowed the Senate to end a debate with a two-thirds majority vote -- a tactic known as "cloture."

The new Senate rule was put to the test in 1919, when the Senate invoked cloture to end a filibuster against the Treaty of Versailles. Despite the new cloture rule, however, filibusters continued to be an effective means to block legislation, due in part to the fact that a two-thirds majority vote is difficult to obtain. Over the next several decades, the Senate tried numerous times to evoke cloture, but failed to gain the necessary two-thirds vote. Filibusters were particularly useful to southern senators blocking civil rights legislation in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1975, the Senate reduced the number of votes required for cloture from two-thirds (67) to three-fifths (60) of the 100-member Senate.”

“Those who employ the filibuster argue that it prevents the tyranny of a bare majority and protects the views of the minority, and points to its long tradition in the Senate.  Meanwhile, opponents denounce it as an anachronism unbefitting the modern Senate.  In its present form, the filibuster is, in essence, a minority veto.”  (from http://writ.news.findlaw.com/dean/20030523.html)


  • Call, write, fax or e-mail your Senators and urge them to save the filibuster.
  • Read the newspaper and listen to the news for reports on how Congress votes on legislation, appointments to the Judiciary, the UN Ambassador and other nominations.  Was the filibuster used?
  • Read the Book of Resolutions 2004 Social Principles, ¶164 V. The Political Community p. 60.

Date posted: Apr 21, 2005