STAR NEWS FEATURE:  LONGEST FILIBUSTER, 24 HOURS IN U.S. SENATE

MANILA, 
June 11, 2004  (STAR) By Norman Sison  -  If you thought Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr.’s filibuster last Tuesday was frustrating for holding up the congressional canvass for about seven hours, he was nowhere near the unofficial world record.

The longest known filibuster by an individual was made by the late US senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina.

Thurmond spoke for 24 hours and 18 minutes to keep the US Senate from voting on a civil rights bill in August 1957.

However, the measure, after it was watered down, eventually did go to the floor for a vote and became law.

In the US Senate, a group of senators may also put up a filibuster if the tactic proves too exhausting or jawbreaking even for one with a gift of gab.

In 1964, a group of southern senators opposing the passage of another civil rights bill — the landmark Civil Rights Act — took turns talking for 75 days.

So what exactly is a filibuster and how does a lawmaker invoke it?

A filibuster is a tactic used to delay or prevent passage of legislation by those opposed to it but do not have the votes to defeat it. It can also be used to hold other legislative business.

According to the American Heritage Dictionary, "filibuster" was derived from the Spanish word filibustero (freebooting) and the Dutch vrijbuiter (pirate), which referred to 16th century marauders who held people hostage for a long time.

The term became popular in the 1850s when it was applied to efforts to hold up the US Senate and prevent action on a bill.

In spite of its negative connotations, a filibuster is a legitimate legislative privilege because lawmakers believe any legislator should have the right to speak as long as necessary — lest the legislature’s leaders be accused of stifling democratic speech.

To invoke a filibuster, a senator must first have the privilege to speak on the floor. And then the lawmaker simply starts talking and talking ... and talking.

In other words, it is a war of attrition and test of patience.

Those supporting a filibustered bill may either wait till the filibustering senators give up, or they themselves call it quits after deciding it is not worth all the time and business lost.

During the 1930s, the filibuster was the weapon of choice of US senator Huey Long who fought bills that he thought favored the rich over the poor.

The Louisiana lawmaker once exasperated his colleagues for 15 hours. However, there were no walkouts by spectators — Long entertained them with recitations of Shakespeare and readings of recipes.

In 1917, at the suggestion of US President Woodrow Wilson, the Senate adopted a rule to end unlimited debate known as cloture, which senators can end a filibuster by a two-thirds majority vote.

However, because a majority vote was often difficult to obtain, filibusters continued to be a relatively effective weapon in delaying legislative business — and holding everybody a captive audience.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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