When was the filibuster first created? Biden supports senate rule change

Bruno Cooke January 12, 2022
When was the filibuster first created? Biden supports senate rule change

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In October 2021, Biden said he wanted to “fundamentally alter” the senate filibuster on “certain issues”; yesterday, he backed changes to senate rules that would allow a pair of national voting rights bills to pass, saying he supported “getting rid of” the filibuster, if necessary. When was the filibuster created, what do the current rules actually mean, and what would Biden’s changes look like?

When was the filibuster created?

In the US senate, the filibuster is a tactic employed to prevent the passage of a particular measure. It can take a few different forms. The most famous form of filibuster is probably the long-form monologue, but there are other ways to a filibuster a motion.

Its introduction was an accidental side effect of a rule change in 1806. The change got rid of the ability to end a debate by a simple majority vote, although that wasn’t its purpose.

As a result, those in the minority who opposed a particular bill could make the debate go on indefinitely. In practice, they achieved this by talking non-stop on the senate floor, thereby driving bills into the ground.

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Perhaps the most famous filibuster in the tactic’s history was by senator Strom Thurmond, who filibustered the Civil Rights Act of 1957 for over 24 hours.

A few years later, Democrats held up the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for – wait for it – 60 working days using the filibuster. 

What are the current filibuster rules?

The Democrats’ filibuster of 1964 didn’t take the form of endless monologuing. Rather, it involved holding up passage by introducing lengthy, time-consuming procedural motions.

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In the 1970s, the senate adopted a new system. The rule change was to prevent filibusters from completely blocking progress. But it allowed senators to block legislation by simply submitting a written notice of intent to filibuster.

By and by, rule changes made it so that a supermajority (i.e., three-fifths, or 60%) of senators became necessary to pass measures. An even greater supermajority (of two-thirds) is necessary to change senate rules.

How can Biden change the filibuster?

President Joe Biden has made clear his plans to weaken rules that allow a minority group of senators to filibuster measures in the senate.

“Tomorrow is an opportunity to speak about what the path forward looks like,” Reuters quotes White House spokesperson Jen Psaki as saying.

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Reuters reports that Biden is to support changing filibuster rules, specifically those that require a supermajority – of 60 senators – to back legislation.

Currently, senators only have to note their opposition to delay the vote on a bill. Biden, Reuters writes, would support “requiring dissenting members to speak on the floor”. Filibuster rules would therefore look more like they did in the past.

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Bruno is a novelist, amateur screenwriter and journalist with interests in digital media, storytelling, film and politics. He’s lived in France, China, Sri Lanka and the Philippines, but returned to the UK for a degree (and because of the pandemic) in 2020. His articles have appeared in Groundviews, Forge Press and The Friday Poem, and most are readable on Medium or onurbicycle.com.