Six greatest filibusters of all time

Rand Paul will have to talk until lunchtime tomorrow if he wants to beat the record

Topics: Filibuster, Rand Paul, Drones, Bernie Sanders, U.S. Senate, Robert Byrd, D-W.Va.,

Six greatest filibusters of all timeFormer Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster) (Credit: AP)

Sen. Rand Paul just finished hour four of his real live filibuster against Obama CIA nominee John Brennan, and has now been joined by two colleagues. The reason it’s attracted so much more attention than your average Wednesday afternoon Senate floor business is that talking filibusters are so uncommon these days. It’s been three years since the last one, and was years before that for the predecessor.

Senators no longer need to actually do anything to filibuster, but that wasn’t always the case. One-man talking filibusters used to be a common way for ambitious senators to leverage their power.

Infamous Louisiana Democrat Huey Long made aggressive use of the filibuster in the 1930s to advance his populist agenda, as well as personal one. On June 12, 1935, he started his personal best — at 15 hours and 30 minutes, it was the second longest ever at the time, according to the official Senate history — for a rather parochial agenda: He wanted to block his political enemies in Louisiana from getting appointments to lucrative government jobs.

But perhaps the most famous filibuster in Senate history — aside from the fictional Jimmy Stewart rant in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” — was delivered by a more unsavory character for a baser goal. As the AP reported: “Fortified with a good rest, a steam bath and a sirloin steak, Sen. Strom Thurmond talked against a 1957 civil rights bill for 24 hours and 18 minutes (you can read the whole thing here) — longer than anyone has ever talked about anything in Congress before or since. Republican Sen. William Knowland called the speech “cruel and unusual punishment.”

Thurmond told no one what he was doing and his staff started to worry when he began collecting whatever he could find to read from his office. Thurmond came armed with throat lozenges and at one point ducked into the coatroom to scarf down a sandwich while another senator asked him a question. A staffer waited with a pail just off the floor in case there was a bathroom emergency. The civil rights bill passed anyway.



Decades later, in 1992, Sen. Alfonse D’Amato had more luck when he literally talked until Congress ended. The New York Republican, who was known for reading the District of Columbia phone book during his filibusters, finally ended his 15-hour filibuster the morning after it began when he learned the House of Representatives adjourned, thereby killing any chance of getting an amendment he wanted added to a bill, but the move was credited with helping him win reelection.

D’Amato also holds the record for the second-longest filibuster ever, against a military funding bill in 1986, which came in 23 hours, 30 minutes. Next up in length was Sen. Wayne Morse of Oregon, who spoke for 22 hours, 26 minutes against an oil bill in 1953. In the three spot was Long, followed by D’Amato’s 15-hour rant.

The fifth-longest filibuster came in 1964 when Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd railed against the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for 14 hours and 13 minutes. It was a legacy that haunted him late into his career when he stood on the stage to applaud the inauguration of the country’s first black president. Ironically, it was Byrd who also did away with the old filibuster and created the modern system.

While there are no reports of anyone having health issues while filibustering, an Arizona lawmaker did collapse while speaking on the state House floor in 2006.

It didn’t rank among the top five longest filibusters of all time, but Sen. Bernie Sanders won applause from the Occupy movement for his eight and half hour filibuster in 2010 against extending the Bush-era tax cuts. The transcript of Sanders’ remarks was even made into a book: “The Speech: A Historic Filibuster on Corporate Greed and the Decline of Our Middle Class.”

The Vermont independent spoke forcefully, despite his age, and set the modern standard, which Paul is following today. Asked what he thought about Paul’s speech, a spokesperson for Sanders said only, “Sen. Sanders said during the time when filibuster reform was under consideration at the beginning of the 113th session of Congress that he supported the right of a senator to speak on an issue for as long as they wish.”

Senate Democratic reformers like Jeff Merkley and Tom Udall had hoped to reform the filibuster by making talking filibusters like this more common. The idea was that it would raise the bar for filibustering, curbing the kind of obstruction for obstruction’s sake that has become too common in recent years.

Talking filibusters also help call attention to the issue, making it harder for senators to sweep needless obstruction under the rug. For instance, Republicans filibustered an appellate court judge, but because they didn’t have to talk, hardly anyone noticed.

Alex Seitz-Wald

Alex Seitz-Wald is Salon's political reporter. Email him at aseitz-wald@salon.com, and follow him on Twitter @aseitzwald.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Rose Jay via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America

    Labrador Retriever

    These guys are happy because their little brains literally can't grasp the concept of global warming.

    Hysteria via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America

    German Shepherd

    This momma is happy to bring her little guy into the world, because she doesn't know that one day they'll both be dead.

    Christian Mueller via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America

    Golden Retriever

    I bet these guys wouldn't be having so much fun if they knew the sun was going to explode one day.

    WilleeCole Photography via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America

    Bulldog

    This dude thinks he's tough, but only because nobody ever told him about ISIS.

    Soloviova Liudmyla via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America

    Beagle

    This little lady is dreaming about her next meal-- not Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

    Labrador Photo Video via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America

    Yorkshire Terrier

    This trusting yorkie has never even heard the name "Bernie Madoff."

    Pavla via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America

    Poodle

    She is smiling so widely because she is too stupid to understand what the Holocaust was.

    Aneta Pics via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America

    Boxer

    Sure, frolic now, man. One day you're going to be euthanized and so is everyone you love.

    Dezi via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America

    French Bulldog

    He's on a casual afternoon stroll because he is unfamiliar with the concept of eternity.

    Jagodka via Shutterstock

    Most popular dog breeds in America

    Rottweiler

    Wouldn't it be nice if we could all be this care-free? But we can't because we are basically all indirectly responsible for slavery.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>