Top 10 Longest Senate Filibusters

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) spoke for 21 hours and 19 minutes between Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning because Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) wouldn’t raise the vote threshold to amend the Continuing Resolution (CR) from a simply majority (51 votes) to 60 votes, giving Senate Democrats the ability to strike language defunding ObamaCare without Republican support.

The filibuster, which has existed for more than 200 years, has long-been used as a tool to slowdown or prevent passage of legislation with which members disagree.

Below is a brief look at the top 10 filibusters in Senate history. While Cruz’s control of the floor wasn’t technically a filibuster in the true sense, as he couldn’t stop the already scheduled cloture vote on the motion to proceed, it would rank fifth on the list.

10. Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) — 8 hours, 39 minutes (2003)

Then-Minority Whip Reid defended minority rights in the chamber over as Republicans sought to change the rules to allow for an up or down vote on President George W. Bush’s stalled judicial nominations. During the filibuster, Reid read from Searchlight: The Camp That Didn’t Fall, a book he authored about his hometown. The filibuster boosted his standing in the Senate Democratic Conference, which eventually elected him to serve as Minority Leader in 2005 and Majority Leader in 2007, a role in which he has worked to curtail use of the filibuster.

9. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) — 12 hours, 52 minutes (2013)

Protesting the Obama Administration’s domestic drones policy, Paul gave a passionate defense of the Constitution and the civil liberties protected therein by filibustering CIA nominee John Brennan. Paul knew that he would lose the cloture motion, as there was enough support for Brennan’s nomination from both parties. Nevertheless, Paul’s filibuster received support from Americans — Republican and Democrat alike — and pushed the Obama Administration to clarify its position on domestic drones.

8. Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) — 14 hours, 13 minutes (1964)

The former Ku Klux Klan member, who served from 1959 until his death in 2010, filibustered the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which protected the rights of minorities in states where Jim Crow laws were in place. Opponents of the measure filibustered for 83 days. Byrd later expressed regret for his role in trying to block the Civil Rights Act.

7. Sen. Alfonse d’Amato (R-NY) — 15 hours, 14 minutes (1992)

The last Republican senator from the Empire State, d’Amato conducted what is called a “gentleman’s filibuster,” speaking from dusk until dawn so as not to interrupt Senate business. He wanted to amend a pending tax bill to save 875 jobs at a Smith Corona factory in New York. D’Amato spoke and sang (yes, sang), uninterrupted for the entirety of the filibuster. His filibuster is the second-longest solo filibuster on record.

6. Sen. Huey Long (D-LA) — 15 hours, 30 minutes (1933)

A fiery populist and opponent of most of FDR’s New Deal proposals, Long filibustered the Glass-Steagall Act because it would have given jobs to his political opponents. Toward the end of his filibuster, Long, who frequently used the procedural tactic, read recipes, including one for fried oysters. He later voted for the measure. Long was assassinated in 1935.

5. Sen. William Proxmire (D-WI) — 16 hours, 12 minutes (1981)

Concerned about the rising national debt, Proxmire temporarily stalled a measure to increase in the debt ceiling to $1.079 trillion. Fast-forward to 2013, 32 years after Proxmire’s filibuster, Congress is debating a measure that would raise the debt ceiling pasts its current limit of $16.7 trillion.

4. Sen. Robert LaFollette, Sr. (R-WI) — 22 hours, 23 minutes (1908)

A so-called “progressive,” LaFollette held the floor of the Senate for over 22 hours against the Aldrich-Vreeland Act, a measure that lead to the establishment of the National Monetary Commission, a precursor to the Federal Reserve, in the aftermath of the Panic of 1907. LaFollette believed that the measure amounted to economic centralization. He even forged through after taking a sip unagreeable egg nog.

3. Sen. Wayne Morse (I-OR) — 22 hours, 23 minutes (1953)

The Independent from Oregon, who would spend time in his career as a Republican and Democrat, filibustered the Tidelands Oil bill, a measure that gave control of some federal lands to Texas.

2. Sen. Alfonse d’Amato (R-NY) — 23 hours, 30 minutes (1986)

The only senator to appear on the list twice, d’Amato filibustered a military spending bill that would have ended funding for a jet trainer plane that was built in his home state. D’Amato famously read from the District of Columbia phone book during the filibuster. He also didn’t drink water, substituting throat lozenges to keep his mouth from going dry.

1. Sen. Strom Thurmond (D-SC) — 24 hours, 18 minutes (1957)

Perhaps one of the most shameful moments in Senate history, Thurmond, then a Southern Democrat (Dixiecrat) who supported Jim Crow laws, performed the longest filibuster on record, speaking by himself against the Civil Rights Act of 1957 for more than a day. Thurmond, like d’Amato, used throat lozenges in lieu of water. Interestingly, Proxmire, who holds the fifth-longest filibuster on record, cast his first vote as a U.S. Senator for the Civil Rights Act of 1957.


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