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What is a Filibuster?

The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Politics defines filibuster as an “Attempt to obstruct parliamentary proceedings by prolonging debate. Common in the US Senate, where the right of free discussion is protected. A minority of senators may attempt to delay and obstruct a measure by speaking on irrelevant subjects, and introducing dilatory motions. Legislatures have attempted to prevent filibusters by introducing procedures to curtail debates, such as closure, closed rules, and guillotine motions.”

Last December the United States Senate, in a measure surrounded by controversy, changed its rules to make it easier to bring an end to debate on a pending issue and thus lessened the power of the filibuster. (see, Sanchez, Humberto. "A Landmark Change to Filibuster." CQ Weekly (December 2, 2013): 1992-93.

Those interested in researching the filibuster as practiced in the United States Senate may consider the following resources.


Defending the Filibuster: The Soul of the Senate by Richard A. Arenberg and Robert B. Dove. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, c2012. University Library / JK 1161 A8 2012.

Filibustering in the U.S. Senate by Lauren C. Bell. Amherst, NY: Cambria Press, c2011. University Library / JK 1161 B45 2011.

Filibustering: A Political History of Obstruction in the House and Senate by Gregory Koger. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2010. University Library / JK 1041 K64 2010.

In Praise of Deadlock: How Partisan Struggle Makes Better Laws by W. Lee Rawls. Washington: Woodrow Wilson Center Press; Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, c2009. University Library / JK 1161 R38 2009.

Filibuster: Obstruction and Lawmaking in the U.S. Senate by Gregory J. Wawro and Eric Schickler. Princeton: Princeton University Press, c2006. University Library / JK 1161 W39 2006.

Politics or Principle?: Filibustering in the United States Senate by Sarah A. Binder and Steven S. Smith. Washington: Brookings Institution, 1997. University Library / JK 1161 B56 1997.

Senate Rules:

Standing Rules of the Senate (see Rule XXII)provide the structure and procedures relating to filibustering.

Congressional Hearings:

Compilation of Hearings and Markups: Hearings and Markups before the Committee on Rules and Administration, United States Senate, One Hundred Eleventh Congress, Second Session, February 2, 2010, April 15, 2010, May 5, 2010, May 25, 2010, and July 20, 2010. Washington: U.S. G.P.O., 2012. University Library / GovDoc - Microfiche: J 85 Y 4.R 86/2:S.HRG.111-1125 and Online.

Examining the Filibuster: Hearings before the Committee on Rules and Administration, United States Senate, One Hundred Eleventh Congress, Second Session, April 22, 2010, May 19, 2010, June 23, 2010, July 28, 2010, and September 22 and 29, 2010. Washington: U.S. G.P.O., 2010. University Library / GovDoc - Microfiche: J 85 Y 4.R 86/2:S.HRG.111-706 and Online.

Judicial Nominations, Filibusters, and the Constitution: When a Majority Is Denied Its Right to Consent: Hearing before the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Property Rights of the Committee on the Judiciary, United States Senate, One Hundred Eighth Congress, First Session, May 6, 2003. Washington: U.S. G.P.O.: For sale by the Supt. of Docs., U.S. G.P.O., 2003. University Library / GovDoc: J 85 Y 4.J 89/2:S.HRG.108-227 and Online.

CSR Reports:

Filibusters and Cloture in the Senate by Richard S. Beth and Valerie Heitshusen. Washington: Congressional Research Services, May 31, 2013.

Constitutionality of a Senate Filibuster of a Judicial Nomination by Todd B. Tatelman. Washington: Congressional Research Services, June 14, 2005.

Online Resources:

Brennen Center for Justice Filibuster page: Research and analysis

Common Cause: Sued US Senate to challenge the constitutionality of the filibuster

Brookings Institution Filibuster page: History and analysis

US Senate Virtual Reference Desk filibuster entry: Definition, origins and development, highlights of significant filibusters

If you wish to do further research on the use of filibusters in the US Senate, or on any other topic related to public administration and policy, political science, or law, please contact subject specialist Dick Irving (

Bibliography - Cary F. Gouldin
Introduction - Dick Irving

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