The Filibuster


Graham Edmonson

American law is usually serious and procedural. Everyone has to wear suits and sit quietly, following formal rules. But honestly, this can get a little boring. Luckily, even something as formal as the lawmaking process is subject to ridiculousness. Occasionally a particularly interesting filibuster takes place to break the monotony. A filibuster is when one or more lawmakers prolong debate on a bill in order to prevent it from being passed. Basically, they have to talk for a really, really long time and it sometimes gets a little ridiculous. Now this may sound boring, but only if you actually have to sit through one. Luckily for you, I have summarized some of the silliest filibusters throughout history so you can enjoy this wonder of American law making without falling asleep.


Southern Cooking:


On June 12, 1935, Democratic lawmaker Huey Long took to the Senate floor for a filibuster against President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal Program. Speaking for 15 hours and 30 minutes, the Senator from Louisiana read aloud detailed instructions for a multitude of southern recipes. He stated, “People up in this part of the country never have learned to fry oysters as well as we have done down our way.” This lesson in southern cuisine extended into the next day when the filibuster finally ended with Long needing to use the restroom.


A Musical Number on the Senate Floor:


Alfonse D’Amato, a Republican lawmaker, took the floor on Oct. 5, 1992, to denounce a tax plan. This relatively short filibuster only lasted for 15 hours and 14 minutes. However, that still gave the New York Senator time to break into song. In order to satirize the outsourcing of American jobs, the senator began to sing the song “South of the Border (Down Mexico Way)” in the middle of his filibuster. This was not Alfonse D’Amato’s first filibuster, however. Six years earlier, on October 17, 1986, Alfonse spoke for 23 and a half hours to stall a military appropriations bill. During this filibuster he ended up reading a phonebook to fill time.  


Longest Filibuster Ever:


In 1957, Senator Strom Thurmond set the record for the longest filibuster ever at 24 hours and 18 minutes, beginning at 8:54 P.M. on Aug. 28 and ending at 9:12 P.M. the following day. This record still stands. In order to stay on stage for such a long time, Thurmond had to come prepared. Earlier that day, Thurmond took a steam bath to rid his body of excess liquids. He also brought an assortment of cough drops and candy to the floor. Thurmond also had an aide wait in the cloakroom with a bucket in case he needed to use the restroom. At one point during the filibuster Thurmond was also able to sneak off into the cloakroom and eat a sandwich while a fellow Senator took the floor. Fortunately for American history, Thurmond’s filibuster was unsuccessful. Thurmond was filibustering against the 1957 Civil Rights Act which protected African American voting rights. The Civil Rights Act was signed into law on Sept. 9 of that year by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.


West Coast Hip-Hop:


In 2013, Senator Rand Paul began a filibuster in an attempt to block a vote to approve John O. Brennan as the CIA chief. At one point during the filibuster, Rand Paul let his fellow Senator Marco Rubio take the stage. Rubio, a self-proclaimed West Coast hip-hop fan, prompted laughter in the chamber when he quoted the Wiz Khalifa song “Work Hard Play Hard.” Rubio continued his speech, later bringing up Jay-Z’s song “A Week Ago” to point out how different it would have been if George W. Bush was president. 


Bad Eggnog:


On May 29, 1908, Robert La Follette, a Senator from Wisconsin, took the stage for a filibuster in possibly the most miserable conditions to do so. Follette’s filibuster began around midnight. It was about 90 degrees fahrenheit in the Senate chamber. Soon, Follette got hungry and sent a page out to get him a turkey sandwich and a glass of eggnog. The food arrived around 1 A.M. Senator Follette began eating on the senate floor. However, he soon became exhausted and began sweating profusely. La Follette became extremely ill, yet still he talked for another 6 hours. After the speech, scientists analyzed the eggnog which Follette drank and discovered that it had enough toxic bacteria in it to kill a person if he or she were to drink the whole glass. Fortunately, Follette had only taken a few sips.


Dr. Seuss:  


Though it technically wasn’t a filibuster, on Sept. 25, 2013, Texas Senator Ted Cruz made headlines with a 21 hour long critique of the Affordable Healthcare Act. At one point during this lengthy tirade, Cruz resulted to reading aloud from Dr. Seuss’ book Green Eggs and Ham.


The Lunch of Champions: 


In the wake of a recent mass shooting, Democratic Senator Chris Murphy took the Senate floor on June 15, 2016. Murphy talked for 15 hours, forcing Republican senators to agree to a gun control vote. Though it is unclear if Murphy actually ate anything while on the floor, at one point during the filibuster his fellow Democratic Senator Elizabeth Esty brought him a meal consisting of a can of Red Bull, an apple, hot dogs, Doritos, Powerade, and Mountain Dew.