Famous Filibusters

Robert_La_Follette_Sr

Last week, the US Senate took historic action to change the cloture requirement to end a filibuster of Supreme Court nominees.  In the beginning, there was no cloture.  Senators could filibuster the Senate floor for as long as they liked.  However in 1973, at the urging of president Woodrow Wilson, senators adopted rule 22 which would allow cloture, or the cessation of discussion of a bill by a two thirds vote.  This threshold was reduced to our current three-fifths threshold in 1975.  Now, the Senate once again acts to reduce the cloture requirement on filibustering Supreme Court justices to a simple majority.

Nonetheless, the filibuster of the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Gorsuch is just one of many famous filibusters.  So, without further ado, here are a few famous filibusters I thought particularly entertaining.

 

  1. Strom Thurmond 1964 – Against the Civil Rights ActStrom_Thurmond

On April 11, 1964, famed South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond began the longest filibuster on record.  In an attempt to block the Civil Rights Act, Senator Thurmond spoke on the Senate for 24 hours and 18 minutes.  The transcript of his speech is still available through the congressional record .Senator Thurmond began by reading every state’s voter intimidation laws.  He continued, switching between articles and court cases supporting his arguments.  It was reported that Senator Thurmond stopped to “relieve” himself only twice – once when he yielded the floor to Barry Goldwater for an insertion of business into the congressional record, and once when his staffers set up a bucket in the cloakroom so Senator Thurmond could keep one foot on the Senate floor. [1]  Senator Thurmond had prepared for his marathon session by taking steam baths the day before to rid his body of excess liquid. [2]  Senator Thurmond went on to become the oldest serving senator in history, dying in office at the age of 100.

 

  1. Rand Paul 2013 – Against the confirmation of John Brennan as CIA DirectorRand_Paul_Filibuster

On March 6, Rand Paul began a filibuster designed to delay voting the confirmation of John Brennan,  President Obama’s nomination to head the CIA.  Senator Paul was particularly concerned about the domestic usage of drones to attack non-combatants.  The filibuster lasted 12 hours and 52 minutes, until Paul received a letter from then Attorney General Eric Holder stating that the President did not have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American non-combatant on American soil.[3]

 

  1. Huey Long 1935 – Against Not Requiring Senate Confirmation for National Recovery Act 927px-HueyPLongGestureLeadership

Senator Huey Long of Louisiana is often described as the master of the filibuster.  On June 12, 1935, he spoke for 15 hours and 35 minutes.  After noticing that many of his colleagues had fallen asleep at their desks, he suggested to John Nance Garner, who was presiding at the time, that everyone should be forced to listen to him until excused.  Garner replied that it would be “unusual cruelty” under the bill of rights.  After Senator Long ran out of prepared material, he solicited the chamber asking for “ any point on which [they need[ed] advice.”  While no senators took him up on his offer, some of the press in attendance sent down questions.  After providing said advice, , he provided his recipes for fried oysters and potlikker[4].

 

  1. “Fighting Bob” La Follette 1908- Against Arming Merchant ships To Fight Germans, Robert_La_Follette_Srand Other Things he Didn’t Like

Fighting Bob was a Wisconsin senator so opposed the outfitting of these ships that he started his own filibuster.  When angered by some procedural malarkey, LaFolette “lost his temper and came close to throwing his brass spittoon.”[5] Several in attendance reported that a number of Senators were carrying weapons and were likely to use them if the argument came to blows.  Several months later Senator La Follette was in the midst of yet another filibuster on the very last day of the session in June, against the adoption of a conference report.  After 12 hours, he sent a page to the senate restaurant for a turkey sandwich and a glass of milk “fortified with eggs” too keep up his energy.  However, the kitchen staff, who were none too happy about having to work through the night, had other plans.  When making his milk the kitchen used spoiled eggs.  After two sips, Fighting Bob soon experienced digestive difficulties and began sweating profusely.    LaFolette spoke throughout the night until his filibuster was taken over by a colleague at 7am.  The whole thing lasted 18 hours and 23 minutes.  Later analysis revealed that the spoiled eggs contained so much bacteria that it would have likely killed senator Follette if he had drank the whole glass. [6]

[1] http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2013/03/07/173736882/how-did-strom-thurmond-last-through-his-24-hour-filibuster

[2] http://www.findingdulcinea.com/news/on-this-day/July-August-08/On-this-Day–Strom-Thurmond-Ends-Longest-Filibuster-in-Senate-History.html

[3] http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2013/03/07/obama-administration-responds-to-paul-on-drones/

[4] https://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/minute/Huey_Long_Filibusters.htm

[5] http://mentalfloss.com/article/49360/5-famous-filibusters

[6] https://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/minute/A_Deadly_Drink.htm

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