Filibuster Crash Course

The filibuster is a 200-year-old tradition in the U.S. Senate. The filibuster allows unlimited debate on an issue and essentially forestalls a vote.

• Former Senator Strom Thurmond, a Republican from South Carolina, staged the longest filibuster in Senate history, speaking for more than 24 hours against a civil rights bill in 1957.

• Breaking a filibuster requires the support of 60 members of the 100-person Senate, or a three-fifths majority. That rule was put into place in 1975. Before that, senators needed a two-thirds majority to end debate, or 66 senators.

• During President Clinton's term, the Republican-led Senate blocked 61of President Clinton's court nominees in the 1990s, primarily by keeping them in committee. Since many nominees never made it to the floor, there was no use of filibusters.

• The percentage of judicial nominees actually appointed has decreased over the last five presidencies, according to Senate statistics. The highest percentage of appointees were confirmed during the Reagan administration, which had a 93 percent confirmation rate. Reagan's success was followed by Carter (91.9 percent), Bill Clinton (84 percent), George H.W. Bush (79 percent) and George W. Bush's first term (78 percent).

• The Senate is expected to vote whether to change the two-century-old filibuster process within the next few weeks.

• Former Senator Bob Graham told the Weekly Planet that judges should have bipartisan support. Graham said a problem exists when the 55-person Republican-led Senate cannot locate five Democrats needed for a vote. "All you need is five Democrats," Graham said by phone last week. "I don't think that's an excessive burden for someone who is going to spend the rest of their life on the federal bench." Also, he said the Constitutional Convention of 1787 envisioned that the president would nominate the appointees that the Senate would review. This was intended as a system of checks and balances, not a simple streamlining of all nominated candidates.


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