A filibuster is a type of parliamentary procedure. Specifically, it is the right of an individual to extend debate, allowing a lone member to delay or entirely prevent a vote on a given proposal. It is commonly referred to as talking out a bill, and characterized as a form of obstruction in a legislature or other decision-making body.
The term "filibuster" had been in use for centuries to refer to independent military operators. The term was commonly used in the 1840s for American adventurers who sought to seize power in Central America. The term in its legislative sense was first used in 1854 when opponents tried to delay the Kansas-Nebraska Act in the U.S. Congress.
One of the first known practitioners of the filibuster was the Roman senator Cato the Younger. In debates over legislation he especially opposed, Cato would often obstruct the measure by speaking continuously until nightfall. As the Roman Senate had a rule requiring all business to conclude by dusk, Cato's purposefully long-winded speeches were an effective device to forestall a vote.
Cato attempted to use the filibuster at least twice to frustrate the political objectives of Julius Caesar. The first incident occurred during the summer of 60 B.C.E., when Caesar was returning home from his propraetorship in Hispania Ulterior. Caesar, by virtue of his military victories over the raiders and bandits in Hispania, had been awarded a triumph by the Senate. Having recently turned 40, Caesar had also become eligible to stand for consul. This posed a dilemma. Roman generals honored with a triumph were not allowed to enter the city prior to the ceremony, but candidates for the consulship were required, by law, to appear in person at the Forum. The date of the election, which had already been set, made it impossible for Caesar to stand unless he crossed the pomerium and gave up the right to his triumph. Caesar petitioned the Senate to stand in absentia, but Cato employed a filibuster to block the proposal. Faced with a choice between a triumph and the consulship, Caesar chose the consulship and entered the city.
Cato made use of the filibuster again in 59 B.C.E. in response to a land reform bill sponsored by Caesar, who was then consul. When it was Cato's time to speak during the debate, he began one of his characteristically long-winded speeches. Caesar, who needed to pass the bill before his co-consul, Marcus Calpurnius Bibulus, took possession of the fasces at the end of the month, immediately recognized Cato's intent and ordered the lictors to jail him for the rest of the day. The move was unpopular with many senators and Caesar, realizing his mistake, soon ordered Cato's release. The day was wasted without the Senate ever getting to vote on a motion supporting the bill, but Caesar eventually circumvented Cato's opposition by taking the measure to the Tribal Assembly, where it passed.
In the Parliament of the United Kingdom, a bill defeated by a filibustering manoeuvre may be said to have been "talked out". The procedures of the House of Commons require that members cover only points germane to the topic under consideration or the debate underway whilst speaking. Example filibusters in the Commons and Lords include:
- In 1874, Joseph Gillis Biggar started making long speeches in the House of Commons to delay the passage of Irish coercion acts. Charles Stewart Parnell, a young Irish nationalist Member of Parliament (MP), who in 1880 became leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, joined him in this tactic to obstruct the business of the House and force the Liberals and Conservatives to negotiate with him and his party. The tactic was enormously successful, and Parnell and his MPs succeeded in, for a time, forcing Parliament to take the Irish question of return to self-government seriously.
- In 1983, Labour MP John Golding talked for over 11 hours during an all-night sitting at the committee stage of the British Telecommunications Bill. However, as this was at a standing committee and not in the Commons chamber, he was also able to take breaks to eat.
- On July 3, 1998, Labour MP Michael Foster's Wild Mammals (Hunting with Dogs) Bill was blocked in parliament by opposition filibustering.
- In January 2000, filibustering orchestrated by Conservative MPs to oppose the Disqualifications Bill led to cancellation of the day's parliamentary business on Prime Minister Tony Blair's 1000th day in office. However, since this business included Prime Minister's Question Time, Conservative Leader William Hague was deprived of the opportunity of a high-profile confrontation with the Prime Minister.
- On Friday 20 April 2007, a Private Member's Bill aimed at exempting Members of Parliament from the Freedom of Information Act was 'talked out' by a collection of MPs, led by Liberal Democrats Simon Hughes and Norman Baker who debated for 5 hours, therefore running out of time for the parliamentary day and 'sending the bill to the bottom of the stack.' However, since there were no other Private Member's Bills to debate, it was resurrected the following Monday.
- In January 2011, Labour peers were attempting to delay the passage of the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill 2010 until after 16 February, the deadline given by the Electoral Commission to allow the referendum on the Alternative Vote to take place on 5 May. On the eighth day of debate, staff in the House of Lords set up camp beds and refreshments to allow peers to rest, for the first time in eight years.
The all-time Commons record for non-stop speaking, six hours, was set by Henry Brougham in 1828, though this was not a filibuster. The 21st century record was set on December 2, 2005 by Andrew Dismore, Labour MP for Hendon. Dismore spoke for three hours and 17 minutes to block a Conservative Private Member's Bill, the Criminal Law (Amendment) (Protection of Property) Bill, which he claimed amounted to "vigilante law." Although Dismore is credited with speaking for 197 minutes, he regularly accepted interventions from other MPs who wished to comment on points made in his speech. Taking multiple interventions artificially inflates the duration of a speech, and is seen by many as a tactic to prolong a speech.
Australia and New Zealand
Both houses of the Australian parliament have strictly enforced rules on how long members may speak, so filibusters are generally not possible.
In 2009, several parties in New Zealand staged a filibuster of the Local Government (Auckland Reorganisation) Bill in opposition to the government setting up a new Auckland Council under urgency and without debate or review by select committee, by proposing thousands of amendments and voting in M ori as each amendment had to be voted on and votes in M ori translated into English. Amendments included renaming the council to "Auckland Katchafire Council" or "Rodney Hide Memorial Council" and replacing the phrase powers of a regional council with power and muscle. These tactics were borrowed from the filibuster undertaken by National and ACT in August 2000 for the Employment Relations Bill.
Canada - Federal
A dramatic example of filibustering in the House of Commons of Canada took place between Thursday June 23, 2011 and Saturday June 25, 2011. In an attempt to prevent the passing of Bill C-6, which would legislate that locked out Canada Post employees return to work, the New Democratic Party (NDP) led a filibustering session which lasted for fifty-eight hours. The NDP argued that the current form of the legislation undermines collective bargaining. Specifically, the NDP opposed the salary provisions and the form of binding arbitration outlined in the bill.
The House was supposed to break for the summer Thursday June 23, but remained open in an extended session due to the filibuster. The 103 NDP MPs had been taking it in turn to deliver 20 minute speeches - plus 10 minutes of questions and comments - in order to delay the passing of the bill. MPs are allowed to give such speeches each time a vote takes place, and many votes were needed before the bill could be passed. As the Conservative Party of Canada holds a majority in the House, the bill passed. This was the longest filibuster since the 1999 Reform Party of Canada filibuster, on native treaty issues in British Columbia 
Conservative Member of Parliament Tom Lukiwski is known for his ability to stall Parliamentary Committee business by filibustering. One such example occurred October 26, 2006, when he spoke for almost 120 minutes to prevent the Canadian House of Commons Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development from studying a private member's bill to implement the Kyoto Accord. He also spoke for about 6 hours during the February 5, 2008 and February 7, 2008 at the Canadian House of Commons Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs meetings to block inquiry into allegations that the Conservative Party spent over the maximum allowable campaign limits during the 2006 election.
Canada - Provincial
Most attempts at stalling legislation are usually just for show and last a relatively short period of time. But in 1997, the opposition parties in Ontario tried to prevent Bill 103 from taking effect, setting in motion one of the longest filibustering sessions Canada had ever seen.
A unique form of filibuster was pioneered by the Ontario New Democratic Party in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario in April of that year. To protest Progressive Conservative government legislation that would amalgamate Metro Toronto into the city of Toronto, the small New Democratic caucus introduced 11,500 amendments to the megacity bill, created on computers with mail merge functionality. Each amendment would name a street in the proposed city, and provide that public hearings be held into the megacity with residents of the street invited to participate. The Ontario Liberal Party also joined the filibuster with a smaller series of amendments; a typical Liberal amendment would give a historical designation to a named street. The NDP then added another series of over 700 amendments, each proposing a different date for the bill to come into force.
The filibuster began on April 2 with the Abbeywood Trail amendment and occupied the legislature day and night, the members alternating in shifts. On April 4, exhausted and often sleepy government members inadvertently let one of the NDP amendments pass, and the handful of residents of Cafon Court in Etobicoke were granted the right to a public consultation on the bill, although the government subsequently nullified this with an amendment of its own. On April 6, with the alphabetical list of streets barely into the Es, Speaker Chris Stockwell ruled that there was no need for the 220 words identical in each amendment to be read aloud each time, only the street name. With a vote still needed on each amendment, Zorra Street was not reached until April 8. The Liberal amendments were then voted down one by one, eventually using a similar abbreviated process, and the filibuster finally ended on April 11.
A notable filibuster took place in the Northern Ireland House of Commons in 1936 when Tommy Henderson (Independent Unionist MP for Shankill) spoke for nine and a half hours (ending just before 4 am) on the Appropriation Bill. As this Bill applied government spending to all departments, almost any topic was relevant to the debate, and Henderson used the opportunity to list all of his many criticisms of the Unionist government.
In the Southern Rhodesia Legislative Assembly, the Independent member Dr Ahrn Palley staged a similar all-night filibuster against the Law and Order Maintenance Bill in 1960.
On December 16, 2010 Werner Kogler of the Austrian Green Party held his speech before the budget committee, criticizing the failings of the budget and the governing parties (SP and VP) in the last years. The filibuster lasted for 12 hours and 42 minutes (starting at 13:18, and speaking until 2:00 in the morning), thus breaking the previous record held by his party-colleague Madeleine Petrovic (10 hours and 35 minutes on March 11 in 1993), after which the standing orders had been changed, so speaking time was limited to 20 minutes. However, it didn't keep Kogler from holding his speech.
House of Representatives
In the United States House of Representatives, the filibuster (the right to unlimited debate) was used until 1842, when a permanent rule limiting the duration of debate was created. The disappearing quorum was a tactic used by the minority until an 1890 rule eliminated it. As the membership of the House grew much larger than the Senate, the House has acted earlier to control floor debate and the delay and blocking of floor votes.
In the United States Senate, rules permit a senator, or a series of senators, to speak for as long as they wish and on any topic they choose, unless "three-fifths of the Senators duly chosen and sworn" (usually 60 out of 100 senators) brings debate to a close by invoking cloture under Senate Rule XXII. According to the Supreme Court ruling in United States v. Ballin (1892), changes to Senate rules could be achieved by a simple majority. Nevertheless, under current Senate rules, a rule change itself could be filibustered, with two-thirds of those senators present and voting (as opposed to the normal three-fifths of those sworn) needing to vote to end debate. Despite this written requirement, the possibility exists that the filibuster could be changed by majority vote, using the so-called nuclear option, also sometimes called the constitutional option by proponents. Even if a filibuster attempt is unsuccessful, the process takes floor time. In recent years the majority has preferred to avoid filibusters by moving to other business when a filibuster is threatened and attempts to achieve cloture have failed.
In France, in August 2006, the left-wing opposition submitted 137,449 amendments to the proposed law bringing the share in Gaz de France owned by the French state from 80% to 34% in order to allow for the merger between Gaz de France and Suez. Normal parliamentary procedure would require 10 years to vote on all the amendments.
The French constitution gives the government two options to defeat such a filibuster. The first one was originally the use of the article 49 paragraph 3 procedure, according to which the law was adopted except if a majority is reached on a non-confidence motion (reform July 2008 resulted in this power being restricted to budgetary measures only, plus one time each ordinary session - i.e. from October to June - on any bill. Before this reform, article 49, 3 was frequently used, especially when the government had short majority in the Assembl e nationale to support the text but still enough to avoid a non-confidence vote). The second one is the article 44 paragraph 3 through which the government can force a global vote on all amendments it did not approve or submit itself.
In the end, the government did not have to use either of those procedures. As the parliamentary debate started, the left-wing opposition chose to withdraw all the amendments to allow for the vote to proceed. The "filibuster" was aborted because the opposition to the privatisation of Gaz de France appeared to lack support amongst the general population. It also appeared that this privatisation law could be used by the left-wing in the upcoming presidential election of 2007 as a political argument. Indeed, Nicolas Sarkozy, president of the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP - the right wing ruling party), Interior Minister, former Finance Minister and President, had previously promised that the share owned by the French government in Gaz de France would never go below 70%.
- Constitution of the Roman Republic
- Gaming the system
- Liberum veto
- Mae West hold
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, the 1939 film notably portrays the use of a filibuster.
- Sarah A. Binder and Steven S. Smith, Politics or Principle: Filibustering in the United States Senate. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 1996. ISBN 0-8157-0952-8
- Eleanor Clift, "Filibuster: Not Like It Used to Be," Newsweek, 24 Nov. 2003.
- Bill Dauster, "It s Not Mr. Smith Goes to Washington: The Senate Filibuster Ain t What it Used To Be", The Washington Monthly, Nov. 1996, at 34-36.
- Alan S. Frumin, "Cloture Procedure," in Riddick's Senate Procedure, 282–334. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1992.
- Gregory Koger (2010). Filibustering: A Political History of Obstruction in the House and Senate. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 9780226449647. OCLC 455871593.
- Jessica Reaves, "The Filibuster Formula," Time, 25 Feb. 2003.
- U.S. Senate, "Filibuster and Cloture."
- U.S. Senate, "Filibuster Derails Supreme Court Appointment."
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