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A filibuster is a type of parliamentary procedure where debate is extended, allowing one or more members to delay or entirely prevent a vote on a given proposal. It is sometimes referred to as talking out a bill,[1] and characterized as a form of obstruction in a legislature or other decision-making body. The English term "filibuster" derives from the Spanish filibustero, itself deriving originally from the Dutch vrijbuiter, "privateer, pirate, robber" (also the root of English "freebooter"[2]). The Spanish form entered the English language in the 1850s, as applied to military adventurers from the United States then operating in Central America and the Spanish West Indies such as William Walker.[3][4] (See Filibuster (military).)

The term in its legislative sense was first used by Democratic congressman Albert G. Brown of Mississippi in 1853, referring to Abraham Watkins Venable's speech against "filibustering" intervention in Cuba.[5]


Ancient Rome

One of the first known practitioners of the filibuster was the Roman senator Cato the Younger. In debates over legislation he especially opposed, Cato would often obstruct the measure by speaking continuously until nightfall.[6] As the Roman Senate had a rule requiring all business to conclude by dusk, Cato's purposefully long-winded speeches were an effective device to forestall a vote.

Cato attempted to use the filibuster at least twice to frustrate the political objectives of Julius Caesar.[6] The first incident occurred during the summer of 60 B.C.E., when Caesar was returning home from his propraetorship in Hispania Ulterior. Caesar, by virtue of his military victories over the raiders and bandits in Hispania, had been awarded a triumph by the Senate. Having recently turned 40, Caesar had also become eligible to stand for consul. This posed a dilemma. Roman generals honored with a triumph were not allowed to enter the city prior to the ceremony, but candidates for the consulship were required, by law, to appear in person at the Forum.[6] The date of the election, which had already been set, made it impossible for Caesar to stand unless he crossed the pomerium and gave up the right to his triumph. Caesar petitioned the Senate to stand in absentia, but Cato employed a filibuster to block the proposal. Faced with a choice between a triumph and the consulship, Caesar chose the consulship and entered the city.

Cato made use of the filibuster again in 59 B.C.E. in response to a land reform bill sponsored by Caesar, who was then consul.[6] When it was Cato's time to speak during the debate, he began one of his characteristically long-winded speeches. Caesar, who needed to pass the bill before his co-consul, Marcus Calpurnius Bibulus, took possession of the fasces at the end of the month, immediately recognized Cato's intent and ordered the lictors to jail him for the rest of the day. The move was unpopular with many senators and Caesar, realizing his mistake, soon ordered Cato's release. The day was wasted without the Senate ever getting to vote on a motion supporting the bill, but Caesar eventually circumvented Cato's opposition by taking the measure to the Tribal Assembly, where it passed.

Westminster-style parliaments


In the Parliament of the United Kingdom, a bill defeated by a filibustering manoeuvre may be said to have been "talked out". The procedures of the House of Commons require that members cover only points germane to the topic under consideration or the debate underway whilst speaking. Example filibusters in the Commons and Lords include:

The all-time Commons record for non-stop speaking, six hours, was set by Henry Brougham in 1828, though this was not a filibuster. The 21st century record was set on December 2, 2005 by Andrew Dismore, Labour MP for Hendon. Dismore spoke for three hours and 17 minutes to block a Conservative Private Member's Bill, the Criminal Law (Amendment) (Protection of Property) Bill, which he claimed amounted to "vigilante law."[11] Although Dismore is credited with speaking for 197 minutes, he regularly accepted interventions from other MPs who wished to comment on points made in his speech. Taking multiple interventions artificially inflates the duration of a speech, and is seen by many as a tactic to prolong a speech.


Both houses of the Australian parliament have strictly enforced rules on how long members may speak, so filibusters are generally not possible.[12][13]

New Zealand

In 2009, several parties in New Zealand staged a filibuster of the Local Government (Auckland Reorganisation) Bill in opposition to the government setting up a new Auckland Council under urgency and without debate or review by select committee, by proposing thousands of wrecking amendments and voting in Māori as each amendment had to be voted on and votes in Māori translated into English. Amendments included renaming the council to "Auckland Katchafire Council" or "Rodney Hide Memorial Council" and replacing the phrase powers of a regional council with power and muscle.[14][15] These tactics were borrowed from the filibuster undertaken by National and ACT in August 2000 for the Employment Relations Bill.[16]


LokPal Bill (People's Ombudsman Bill), was blocked (voting stalled) in Rajya Sabha (Upper House of Parliament) by an RJD (party) Member of Parliament Rajniti Prasad (also Rajneeti Prasad) in Collusion with the ruling Congress party led UPA (United Progressive Alliance) which didn't have majority in upper house and wanted to stall the anti-corruption bill. The bill was deliberately weak and opposition's amendments were thwarted in the process. Many of the Ministers belonging to UPA government led by Prime Minister Man Mohan Singh, and RJD Leader Lalu Yadav, were themselves accused in large scale corruption scandals costing exchequer billions of dollars (Trillions of Rupees) as identified by CAG (Comptroller and Auditor General of India). Chairman of Upper House (Rajya Sabha) Hamid Ansari's role in the whole episode was highly controversial. [1]


Canada - Federal

A dramatic example of filibustering in the House of Commons of Canada took place between Thursday June 23, 2011 and Saturday June 25, 2011. In an attempt to prevent the passing of Bill C-6, which would legislate that locked out Canada Post employees return to work, the New Democratic Party (NDP) led a filibustering session which lasted for fifty-eight hours. The NDP argued that the current form of the legislation undermines collective bargaining. Specifically, the NDP opposed the salary provisions and the form of binding arbitration outlined in the bill.[17]

The House was supposed to break for the summer Thursday June 23, but remained open in an extended session due to the filibuster. The 103 NDP MPs had been taking it in turn to deliver 20 minute speeches - plus 10 minutes of questions and comments - in order to delay the passing of the bill. MPs are allowed to give such speeches each time a vote takes place, and many votes were needed before the bill could be passed. As the Conservative Party of Canada holds a majority in the House, the bill passed.[17][18] This was the longest filibuster since the 1999 Reform Party of Canada filibuster, on native treaty issues in British Columbia. [19][20]

Conservative Member of Parliament Tom Lukiwski is known for his ability to stall Parliamentary Committee business by filibustering.[21][22] One such example occurred October 26, 2006, when he spoke for almost 120 minutes to prevent the Canadian House of Commons Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development from studying a private member's bill to implement the Kyoto Accord.[23][24][25] He also spoke for about 6 hours during the February 5, 2008 and February 7, 2008 at the Canadian House of Commons Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs meetings to block inquiry into allegations that the Conservative Party spent over the maximum allowable campaign limits during the 2006 election.[26][27][28][29][30]

Canada - Provincial

The Legislature of the Province of Ontario has witnessed several significant filibusters,[31] although two are notable for the unusual manner by which they were undertaken.[32] The first was an effort on May 6, 1991, by Mike Harris, later premier but then leader of the opposition Progressive Conservatives, to derail the implementation of the budget tabled by the NDP government under premier Bob Rae. The tactic involved the introduction of Bill 95, the title of which contained the names of every lake, river and stream in the province.[33] Between the reading of the title by the proposing MPP, and the subsequent obligatory reading of the title by the clerk of the chamber, this filibuster occupied the entirety of the day's session until adjournment. To prevent this particular tactic to be used again, changes were eventually made to the Standing Orders to limit the time allocated each day to the introduction of bills to 30 minutes.[31]

A second high-profile and uniquely implemented filibuster in the Ontario Legislature occurred in April, 1997, where the New Democratic Party, then in opposition, tried to prevent the governing Progressive Conservatives' Bill 103 from taking effect. These efforts set in motion one of the longest filibustering sessions Canada had ever seen[2]. To protest the Progressive Conservative government's legislation that would amalgamate the municipalities of Metro Toronto into the city of Toronto, the small New Democratic caucus introduced 11,500 amendments to the megacity bill, created on computers with mail merge functionality. Each amendment would name a street in the proposed city, and provide that public hearings be held into the megacity with residents of the street invited to participate. The Ontario Liberal Party also joined the filibuster with a smaller series of amendments; a typical Liberal amendment would give a historical designation to a named street. The NDP then added another series of over 700 amendments, each proposing a different date for the bill to come into force.

The filibuster began on April 2 with the Abbeywood Trail amendment[34] and occupied the legislature day and night, the members alternating in shifts. On April 4, exhausted and often sleepy government members inadvertently let one of the NDP amendments pass, and the handful of residents of Cafon Court in Etobicoke were granted the right to a public consultation on the bill, although the government subsequently nullified this with an amendment of its own.[35] On April 6, with the alphabetical list of streets barely into the Es, Speaker Chris Stockwell ruled that there was no need for the 220 words identical in each amendment to be read aloud each time, only the street name.[36] With a vote still needed on each amendment, Zorra Street was not reached until April 8.[37] The Liberal amendments were then voted down one by one, eventually using a similar abbreviated process, and the filibuster finally ended on April 11.[38]


A notable filibuster took place in the Northern Ireland House of Commons in 1936 when Tommy Henderson (Independent Unionist MP for Shankill) spoke for nine and a half hours (ending just before 4 am) on the Appropriation Bill. As this Bill applied government spending to all departments, almost any topic was relevant to the debate, and Henderson used the opportunity to list all of his many criticisms of the Unionist government.

In the Southern Rhodesia Legislative Assembly, the Independent member Dr Ahrn Palley staged a similar all-night filibuster against the Law and Order Maintenance Bill in 1960.

On December 16, 2010 Werner Kogler of the Austrian Green Party held his speech before the budget committee, criticizing the failings of the budget and the governing parties (Social Democratic Party and Austrian People's Party) in the last years. The filibuster lasted for 12 hours and 42 minutes (starting at 13:18, and speaking until 2:00 in the morning),[39] thus breaking the previous record held by his party-colleague Madeleine Petrovic (10 hours and 35 minutes on March 11 in 1993),[40] after which the standing orders had been changed, so speaking time was limited to 20 minutes.[41] However, it didn't keep Kogler from holding his speech.

United States


The filibuster is a powerful parliamentary device in the United States Senate, which was strengthened in 1975 [42] and in the past decade has come to mean that most major legislation (apart from budgets) requires a 60% vote to bring a bill or nomination to the floor for a vote. In recent years the majority has preferred to avoid filibusters by moving to other business when a filibuster is threatened and attempts to achieve cloture have failed.[43] Defenders call the filibuster "The Soul of the Senate."[44] Senate rules permit a senator, or a series of senators, to speak for as long as they wish and on any topic they choose, unless "three-fifths of the Senators duly chosen and sworn"[45] (usually 60 out of 100 senators) brings debate to a close by invoking cloture under Senate Rule XXII. According to the Supreme Court ruling in United States v. Ballin (1892), changes to Senate rules could be achieved by a simple majority, but only on the 1st day of the session in January or March. The idea is that on this first day, the rules of the new legislative session are determined afresh, and rules do not automatically continue from one session to the next. This is called the constitutional option by proponents, and the nuclear option by opponents, who insist that rules do remain in force across sessions. Under current Senate rules, a rule change itself could be filibustered, with two-thirds of those senators present and voting (as opposed to the normal three-fifths of those sworn) needing to vote to break the filibuster.[45] Even if a filibuster attempt is unsuccessful, the process takes floor time.[46]

House of Representatives

In the United States House of Representatives, the filibuster (the right to unlimited debate) was used until 1842, when a permanent rule limiting the duration of debate was created. The disappearing quorum was a tactic used by the minority until an 1890 rule eliminated it. As the membership of the House grew much larger than the Senate, the House has acted earlier to control floor debate and the delay and blocking of floor votes.


In France, in August 2006, the left-wing opposition submitted 137,449 amendments[47] to the proposed law bringing the share in Gaz de France owned by the French state from 80% to 34% in order to allow for the merger between Gaz de France and Suez.[48] Normal parliamentary procedure would require 10 years to vote on all the amendments.

The French constitution gives the government two options to defeat such a filibuster. The first one was originally the use of the article 49 paragraph 3 procedure, according to which the law was adopted except if a majority is reached on a non-confidence motion (reform July 2008 resulted in this power being restricted to budgetary measures only, plus one time each ordinary session - i.e. from October to June - on any bill. Before this reform, article 49, 3 was frequently used, especially when the government had short majority in the Assemblée nationale to support the text but still enough to avoid a non-confidence vote). The second one is the article 44 paragraph 3 through which the government can force a global vote on all amendments it did not approve or submit itself.[49]

In the end, the government did not have to use either of those procedures. As the parliamentary debate started, the left-wing opposition chose to withdraw all the amendments to allow for the vote to proceed. The "filibuster" was aborted because the opposition to the privatisation of Gaz de France appeared to lack support amongst the general population. It also appeared that this privatisation law could be used by the left-wing in the presidential election of 2007 as a political argument. Indeed, Nicolas Sarkozy, president of the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP - the right wing party), Interior Minister, former Finance Minister and former President, had previously promised that the share owned by the French government in Gaz de France would never go below 70%.

Hong Kong

An example of filibuster in the Legislative Council (LegCo) after the Handover was the second reading of the Provision of Municipal Services (Reorganization) Bill 1999, which was to dissolve the partially democratically elected Urban Council and Regional Council. As the absence of some pro-Establishment legislators prohibited them from passing the bill, they filibustered along with Michael Suen, the then-Secretary for Constitutional Affairs, so that the absentees could cast their vote when the meeting was resumed on the next day. Facing criticism from the pro-democracy camp, Lau Kong-wah of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB) defended their actions, saying "[i]t is totally acceptable in a parliamentary assembly."[50]

Pro-democracy legislators filibustered against the financing for the constructions of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link by raising many questions on very specific issues, delaying the passing of the bill from 18 December 2009 to 16 January 2010.[51] On the evenings the meetings were held, the Legislative Council Building was surrounded by thousands of anti-high-speed rail protesters.

In 2012, Albert Chan and Raymond Wong of People Power submitted 1306 amendments altogether to the Legislative Council (Amendment) Bill, by which the government attempted to forbid resigning lawmakers from participating in by-elections. The pro-democracy camp was strongly opposed to the bill, as it was seen as depriving citizens of their political rights. The LegCo carried on multiple overnight debates on the amendments with the support of the pro-Establishment camp. On morning of 17 May 2012, Jasper Tsang, President of the Legco terminated the debate, citing Article 92 of the Rules of Procedure, which allows the president to follow procedure of other legislatures. In the end, all motions to amend were defeated and the Bill was passed.

To ban filibuster, Ip Kwok-him of the DAB sought to limit each member to move only one motion, by amending the procedures of the Finance Committee and its two subcommittees in 2013. All 27 members from pan-democracy camp submitted 1.9 million amendments.[52] The Secretariat estimated 408 man-months (each containing 156 working hours) were needed to vet the facts and accuracy of the motions, and, if all amendments were admitted by the Chairman, the voting time would take 23868 two-hour meetings.

See also



  1. ^ "Talking it out" usage example: "MPs renew info exemption effort". BBC. 15 May 2007. Retrieved 25 September 2010.
  2. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, "freebooter". Retrieved 2012-10-26.
  3. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, "filibuster". Retrieved 2012-10-26.
  4. ^ "Walker, William", in Webster's Biographical Dictionary (1960), Springfield: Merriam-Webster
  5. ^ William Safire, Safire's New Political Dictionary (2008) pp 244
  6. ^ a b c d Goldsworthy, Adrian (2006). Caesar: Life of a Colossus. New Haven: Yale University Press. p. 583.
  7. ^ "MPs' info exemption bill revived". BBC News. 2007-04-24. Retrieved 2010-12-24.
  8. ^ Thomson, Ainsley (2011-01-17). "U.K. in Marathon Session on Voting Bill". The Wall Street Journal.
  9. ^ "Conservative backbenchers halt effort to move clocks forward". January 21, 2012. Retrieved July 12, 2012.
  10. ^ Jacob Rees-Mogg Proposes Somerset Time Zone.
  11. ^ BBC News - "MP's marathon speech sinks bill." Retrieved February 14, 2007.
  12. ^ Parliament of Australia - Standing Orders and other orders of the Senate. Retrieved June 23, 2008.[dead link]
  13. ^ Parliament of Australia - House of Representatives Standing and Sessional Orders. Retrieved June 23, 2008.[dead link]
  14. ^ ""Melissa Lee Memorial Council" mooted". Newstalk ZB. Retrieved 2010-12-24.
  15. ^ "Labour filibuster on Supercity bills". Retrieved 2010-12-24.
  16. ^ "Employment bill to drag on another day". 2000-08-15. Retrieved 2010-12-24.
  17. ^ a b "Canada Post back-to-work bill passes key vote". CBC. June 25, 2011.
  18. ^ "John Ivison: Time stands still in the House of Commons as NDP filibuster drags on". National Post. June 24, 2011.
  19. ^
  20. ^ "Marathon Canada Post debate continues on Hill". Vancouver Sun. June 24, 2011.
  21. ^ Alexander Panetta (2008-04-03). "Tory's loose lips an asset - until now". Toronto: The Canadian Press. Retrieved 2010-02-13.
  22. ^ Catherine Clark, Tom Lukiwski (July 27, 2009). "Beyond Politics interview (at 19:11)". CPAC.
  23. ^ "Parties trade blame for House logjam". Toronto: The Canadian Press. 2006-10-26. Retrieved 2010-02-13.
  24. ^ "Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development". Parliament of Canada. October 26, 2006. Retrieved 2010-02-13.
  25. ^ Mike De Souza. "Tories accused of stalling their own green agenda". Retrieved 2010-02-13.
  26. ^ "Angry chairman suspends session". Retrieved 2010-02-13.
  27. ^ "Tories accused of stalling ad scheme review". Retrieved 2010-02-13.
  28. ^ Kady O'Malley. "Filibuster ahoy! Liveblogging the Procedure and House Affairs Committee for as long as it takes...". Retrieved 2010-02-13.[dead link]
  29. ^ Kady O'Malley. "Liveblogging PROC: We’ll stop blogging when he stops talking – the return of the killer filibuster (From the archives)". Retrieved 2010-02-13.
  30. ^ Kady O'Malley. "Liveblogging the Procedure and House Affairs Committee for as long as it takes... (Part 3)". Retrieved 2010-02-13.[dead link]
  31. ^ a b "Obstruction in the Ontario Legislature: The struggle for power between the government and the opposition". Retrieved 2012-08-07.
  32. ^ "On Filibusters". Retrieved 2012-08-07.
  33. ^ "Legislative Assembly of Ontario. Hansard. Monday, 6 May 1991". Retrieved 2012-08-07.
  34. ^ "Legislative Assembly of Ontario. Hansard. Wednesday, 2 April 1997, volume B" (in (French)). Retrieved 2010-12-24.
  35. ^ "Legislative Assembly of Ontario. Hansard. Friday, 4 April 1997, volume H". Retrieved 2010-12-24.
  36. ^ "Legislative Assembly of Ontario. Hansard. Sunday, 6 April 1997, volume N". Retrieved 2010-12-24.
  37. ^ "Legislative Assembly of Ontario. Hansard. Tuesday, 8 April 1997, volume S". Retrieved 2010-12-24.
  38. ^ "Legislative Assembly of Ontario. Hansard. Friday, 11 April 1997, volume AE". Retrieved 2010-12-24.
  39. ^ "Werner Kogler blocks budget with record filibuster", Presse, 16. Dezember 2010
  40. ^ "Stenographical Protokol of the 107th conference of the XVIII. legislature period (March 10th to 12th; 1993)" (in German) (PDF). Retrieved 2010-12-24.
  41. ^ Parlamentskorrespondenz/09/12.03.2007/Nr. 156, Die lange Nacht im Hohen Haus
  42. ^ Jonathan Backer. Brennan Center for Justice: A Short History on the Constitutional Option.
  43. ^ Gregory John Wawro; Eric Schickler (2006). Filibuster: Obstruction And Lawmaking in the U.S. Senate. Princeton U.P.. pp. 1–12.
  44. ^ Richard A. Arenberg; Robert B. Dove (2012). Defending the Filibuster: The Soul of the Senate. Indiana U.P..
  45. ^ a b "Precedence of motions (Rule XXII)". Rules of the Senate. United States Senate. Retrieved January 21, 2010.
  46. ^ Beth, Richard; Stanley Bach (March 28, 2003). Filibusters and Cloture in the Senate. Congressional Research Service. pp. 4, 9.
  47. ^ "TIMELINE: Key dates in Gaz de France-Suez merger". Reuters. 2 September 2007. Retrieved 2010-02-24.
  48. ^ Kanter, James (19 September 2006). "Plan for Gaz de France advances toward a vote". International Herald Tribune. Retrieved 2010-02-24.
  49. ^ "France - Constitution". International Constitutional Law. Retrieved 2010-02-24.
  50. ^ Official Record of Proceedings, Legislative Council, 1 December 1999, page 1875.
  51. ^ Hong Kong Opposition to Rail Holds Off Vote, Wall Street Journal
  52. ^ Paper for the Finance Committee Meeting on 22 February 2013: Members' motions that seek to amend the procedures of the Finance Committee and its two subcommittees, Legislative Council of Hong Kong


Further reading

External links