Politicians love to talk (and talk, and talk…) and one way a senator can have their voice heard (or to hear their own voice) in the legislature is to filibuster.
A senator typically will filibuster in an attempt to delay or entirely prevent a bill from being brought to a vote by extending the debate through any number of dilatory tactics.
Although the modern reality of filibuster is not quite the myth of “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” merely the threat of a filibuster can cause the majority to hold a bill.
Regardless of your thoughts on the political relevance of modern filibusters, we have seen some truly epic filibusters that have tested the patience of the public and the bladder control of the politicians making them.
Here is just a sampling of some of the longest American filibusters in recent political history:
1. U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond: 24 hours, 18 minutes
Senator Strom Thurmond holds the record for the longest filibuster in American history. In 1957, Thurmond held the senate floor for over a day speaking against the Civil Rights Act of 1957.
During his filibuster, Thurmond recited the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, President George Washington’s farewell address and a handful of other historical documents.
But Thurmond wasn’t the only Senator to speak against the Civil Rights Act. According to senate records, teams of senators “consumed 57 days of filibustering between March 26 and June 19, the day the Civil Rights Act of 1957 passed.”
Too bad for Thurmond that his efforts, through which he was sustained only by throat lozenges, malted milk balls, and a steak sandwich, ended in failure.
2. U.S. Senator Alfonse D’Amato: 23 hours, 30 minutes
Senator Alfonse D’Amato filibustered an important 1986 military bill that included an amendment that would stop the funding of a jet trainer plane company headquartered in his state, New York.
But we have to applaud Senator Pothole, a nickname D’Amato earned due to his penchant for helping his constituents with their individual problems, for being verbose and comical whilst on the Senate floor.
At different points in his career, D’Amato is known to have read the D.C. phone book, stabbed a poster of “Taxasaurus Rex” with an oversized pencil, and entertained his fellow Senators by singing “South of the Border” while boycotting job outsourcing to Mexico.
We can definitely appreciate his ability to spice up a Senate proceeding.
3. U.S. Senator Huey P. Long: 15 hours, 30 minutes
Described as “the most colorful, as well as the most dangerous, man to engage in American politics,” Louisiana’s Senator Huey Long served the U.S. Senate from 1932 until his assassination in 1936.
In 1935, Long spent 15 hours trying to prevent his political enemies in Louisiana from obtaining access to lucrative NRA jobs by speaking against the passage of a New Deal bill.
One of the funnier filibusters that has ever taken place, Long peppered his speech with readings of the Constitution, Shakespearean plays, and old family recipes.
Who knew oysters and turnip-green pot liquor could be so political?
4. Texas State Senator Wendy Davis: 10 hours, 45 minutes
Most recently, Americans remember Texas State Senator Wendy Davis in her near 11-hour filibuster that single-handedly stopped the passage of an abortion bill – and took over Twitter.
When Davis began her filibuster in 2013, no one outside the Texas Senate chamber walls was listening. Due to the grassroots power of social media and the Internet savviness of modern politicians, the hashtag #StandWithWendy started to trend after only five hours.
In a “tweetstorming” effort organized by Senator Davis, she was able to garner national attention with 140 characters. Once celebrities like Lena Dunham, Mark Rufalo and Sarah Silverman start using your hashtag, it’s very easy to get to over a half a million mentions.
5. U.S. Senator Rand Paul: 12 hours, 52 minutes
2016 Presidential contender Senator Rand Paul helped to delay a vote to confirm President Barack Obama’s nomination of John Brennan as the new CIA Director in 2013. Rallying with his conservative bloc, Paul named “the danger of drone strikes to U.S. citizens on American soil,” as the reason for his protest.
“I would try to go another 12 hours and try to break Strom Thurmond’s record, but there are some limits to filibustering and I am going to have to go take care of one of those here,” Paul quipped as he yielded the floor in order to answer the call of duty. (Seems he didn’t come as prepared as the catheter-wearing Senator Davis.)
Although he spoke for over half a day, the vote finally came to fruition and Brennan was confirmed.
Rand is up to his old tricks again, filibustering the Patriot Act this week. Speaking for over 10 hours, he didn’t quite beat his record from 2013. Maybe next time, Rand!
6. U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders: 8 hours, 34 minutes
Last, but not least: Independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’ filibustered against the Obama administration’s tax cut proposals in 2010.
The first of the modern filibusters to take over Twitter, Sanders earned the hashtag #filibernie nearly instantly, amassing a vast following on Twitter and causing C-SPAN2 to promote the speech on their website.
The page #filibernie was used to provide real-time responses to what Sanders was saying and to also show live clips of the speech. Sanders’ Twitter account gained more than 4,000 new followers on that day alone.
The speech was a bigger deal online than it was on TV – a common theme we have seen from Sanders’ grassroots mobilization of the people on Reddit in the 2016 Presidential Election.
Did we forget your favorite filibuster? Send it to [email protected] and we’ll be sure to include it next time!