A Question on Filibuster Reform

I have not fully digested the rules change, but let me ask this:  since the amount of time each Senator has to speak is not going to be curtailed under the new rule (is it?), doesn’t that mean that a speaking filibuster (the ol’ Jimmy Stewart/Strom Thurmond model) is still an available tool for any Senator who strenuously objects to a nominee?

FILED UNDER: Quick Takes, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. Ron Beasley says:

    I don’t know the answer to your question but I have another – can a Senator still put a “hold” on a nomination?
    In addition as Rafer Janders points out here the Senate is “already wildly tilted in favor of the minority.” The 20 smallest states, most of them red, have 10% of the population but 40% of the votes in the Senate. I’m not sure that’s what the founders had in mind. The filibuster only makes this discrepancy worse.

  2. Scott says:

    @Ron Beasley: Yes, I think that is what the founders had in mind. In forming the country the smallest states wanted protection against the Virginias and New Yorks. The original idea was a loose confederation of states as described in the Articles of Confederation. When that didn’t work, the current constituition created a more centralized US. The discussions about the Gettysburg Address this week talked about how people referred to the United States as plural. Example, “The United States are…” After Lincoln, the language began to change to the singular: “The United States is…”

    I happen to think minority rights are important even when I don’t agree with them. So I would be cautious in our frustration.

  3. @Scott:

    Yes, I think that is what the founders had in mind. In forming the country the smallest states wanted protection against the Virginias and New Yorks.

    Well, kinda, but also a lot of no. Yes, there was the idea that state interests would be protected (Although mostly it was a political deal to win ratification). The “no” part is rather important, however: the ratio of largest to smallest in 1787 was much closer than it is now and, moreover, the fact of the matter is that “small” states can not only counter-balance the “large” states, but they can dominate them. That was not the original goal.

  4. @Ron Beasley: I don’t have a definitive answer, but it is worth noting that hold powers derive directly from filibuster powers (a hold is basically a threat to filibuster).

  5. Scott says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: True, I happen to believe the original concept of states as sovereign entities is obsolete. We are more homogeneous as a country than ever before, there are more problems that should be solved on a national level than ever before. States really should be administrative subdivisions for the purposes of governing rather than retaining elements of sovereignty.

  6. OzarkHillbilly says:


    We are more homogeneous as a country than ever before,

    Wow, listening to the GOP I got the exact opposite impression. Hell, lately I was beginning to think they came from a different world. 😉

  7. HarvardLaw92 says:

    This changes the Senate rules of procedure with regard to the number of votes required to end debate on an issue and bring the matter to the floor for a vote.

    In the past, it required 60 votes to end debate on a judicial or executive nomination. Now ending debate on those matters only requires a simple majority of 51. The short version is that the Dems have the power to end any and all filibusters on nominations now, and the GOP can’t do much about it.

  8. Tillman says:

    They should’ve kept the filibuster as is, but made it a talking filibuster.

    That would’ve solved the problem immediately. Most politicians in Washington are too old, too lazy, or ill-conditioned to strenuously object to a law. Not to mention it would draw the media spotlight on anyone doing it and create news cycles instead of the hidden “intent to” filibusters that have plagued the system.

    It would’ve deprived the GOP of any credible talking point. They would’ve come off as whining if they claimed returning to the days of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington was somehow tyranny.

    Or maybe I’m just a romantic and pine for the days of oratory and persuasion.

  9. dazedandconfused says:

    Senate rules are tricky, but here’s an article that indicates the talking filibuster hasn’t technically been eliminated, even for this:


    Remind me, what’s a filibuster again? Is that where some lawmaker sees how long he can stand on his feet without taking a bathroom break?

    That is indeed a filibuster, but not the one we’re dealing with here. While there are several different varieties of filibusters, all have the same goal: delaying or derailing some kind of Senate action. The maneuver is traditionally deployed by one or more senators as a last-ditch effort to prevent a vote—either on a specific piece of legislation or on a presidential nomination—that they can’t otherwise defeat in simple, 51-vote-majority situations.

    The most well-known variety is the Mr. Smith Goes to Washington-style filibuster, when a single senator takes to the floor to talk for as long as he or she can. These talking filibusters can earn the senator plenty of press coverage but usually deliver only fleeting victories. Eventually, even the most long-winded and big-bladdered senator must rest. Once he or she does, the Senate can pick up where it left off and proceed to a vote.

    Not every Senator gets to speak in every debate though…