The history of the filibuster—and how it came to exasperate the U.S. Senate

The concept of making marathon speeches to block legislation has been around since ancient Rome. But U.S. lawmakers have made this tactic notorious—and created a new form of "stealth" filibusters.

Appropriately, its name comes from a Dutch word for “pirate”—because the filibuster is, in essence, a hijacking of debate in the U.S. Senate. It’s also one of the most controversial traditions in American politics.

To win approval in the Senate, most legislation requires only a simple majority, or 51 votes. But to bring an end to the debate over a piece of legislation, the threshold is higher: the votes of three-fifths of the members present, or 60 senators, are required to cut off debate. If there aren’t enough votes for cloture, a single senator who refuses to yield the floor during a debate, or delays it with unnecessary parliamentary motions, can prevent the end of debate—and thus, the passage or defeat

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