tv History of the Filibuster CSPAN January 23, 2022 3:55pm-4:16pm EST
well from time to time here on american history tv, we like to look at what we call history in the news and one of those historic topics that is part of our current political debate is the senate filibuster. where did it start? where is it going? should it remain in its current form? well joining us to help look at the history of the filibuster is scott bomboy of the national constitution center in philadelphia, mr. bombboy. how long is the filibuster been a part of the american? political system well, i think in some form. the filibuster or delaying taxes tactics have always been part of our system even back to the founder's day, but really the 1880s was cutting the kickoff of the era a very active and constant filibuster's and how did that why was it the 1880s and and who began it? well, there's a very long story behind that filibustering goes back to the roman times. julius caesar and cato the
younger had a very famous filibuster dispute where cato kept walking out of the room and senate and there is very dilatory tactics back. then there's the presence of delaying tactics even and preconstitution era the english parliament had to put rules in but really for the senate was really the 1840s was to kick off a full of stirring there the house at that point had actually a limited eliminated his filibuster rules. so you cannot filibuster and the house but the senate had filibuster's before the civil war there weren't a lot but really in the 1880s and kind of in the kickoff of the jim crow era and other for other political reasons there was frequent filibustering so there is a connection between the filibuster jim crow slavery in the civil war. there's there were some filibuster's before the civil war but really the anti lynching laws were things that were constantly filibuster, but they came through congress even to
the late 1930s. so have filibuster rules been codified. well when you talk about the filibuster you're talking about three or four different things people think of the filibuster. they think of the movie mr. smith goes to washington, you know, jimmy stewart dramatic scene where he passes out doing the filibuster, but there's also other delaying tactics have been part of the tradition of of congress and the senate in particular roll calls for the quorum. multiple quorum calls. there was something called the disappearing corn where people actually would leave the building so they could delay votes. so they've been a lot of dilatory tactics, but the filibuster itself as a tactic kind of came together in his 1880s period in the senate before then they were sporadic some were successful some were not successful, but that's kind of the focus of the start of the modern era of filibustering. well scott bomboy. let's go back to the 1880s. why do you keep referring to that as a very significant period where there's certain
laws happening where there are certain senators or groups who were very effective in using the filibuster tactics? well after reconstruction and essentially with the 1877 elections and really in the 1880s and 1890s. there was a concerted effort to block some of the legislation especially that was related to the jim crow era a famous example in 1890 would have been the election or force bill and that election or force bill would allowed federal troops to monitor elections to make sure black voters could vote and it was really the southern block of the senate that blocked that with some several allies and it was a very effective tactic they could essentially run the clock out. toward the end of a short-term of congress and do differentilatory tactics to the block legislation where there was a 50% there are enough people in the house. it's the senate to approve it, but they could not get past a filibuster. what are some of the arguments for and against the filibuster as it currently exists?
i think when you talk about the filibuster's currently exist, you're really talking about cloture which is kind of a different. idea cloture is the requirement for 60 people 60 senators to agree to move on to a floor vote actually a motion to consider and then a floor about the filibuster is more the classic extended speech part of it and the way it works in the senate now. is anybody who's a senator can threaten to filibuster? they notify the senate majority leader or a committee chair and then that basically is enough to start the process. the caucuses at the figure out if there's 60 or not 60 to proceed the argument for the filibuster. is it promotes a word bipartisan consistency still bills? so you have to have at least 10 people in the current senate to agree to move forward with the bill the argue against it. is it prevents majority rule and one of the arguments even from the founding that as the nature of congress is the majority body. it's not a super majority body
the only super majority exceptions in the constitution for congress are two-thirds votes are like impeachment. the passing constitutional amendments. so those are the prime primary two arguments. now you say that when somebody is going to conduct a filibuster. they need to articulate that ahead of time has ever been a surprise filibuster. well, i think occasionally people will have gone rogue back in the pre-1970s era hewey long the senator from louisiana with this due filibuster's because he was effectively running for president and he would grab the floor and he didn't particularly care who he and sold it because he was there to promote himself and his campaign there had been instances instances of that happening. it's much harder to choreograph something like that in the old filibuster system in the new system. anybody can signal that they're opposed to about and then it's really up to. the senate majority leader or the caucus is the site how to
proceed now scott bomboy. you mentioned the 1970s as a rule change what happened then? there are three rules changes that happened in 1970s and 1972, senator mike, mansfield. put a system in place called the the two track system and the old days if i were here we long and i filibustered i held the floor the senate could not conduct any business until i was either physically taken off the floor or i was tired or there was some way to end the filibuster in the two track system. filibustering can happen on one track. the other track is for the rest of the business of the senate. so the senate can is not impeded by the filibuster. it can move forward consider its other business. that was a big change 1975 was the other major change was the reduction of the cloture requirement from 2/3 to 60 senators. so that way in theory, it should be easier to move bills and with that seven vote difference, but in reality, it's rare that there
are more than 60 people from one party in the senate. scott bomboy a lot of viewers will hear the word filibuster and they'll think of strom thurmond in the late 1940s and civil rights. what happened then? well, i think it was the the later in 1950s as strong thurman undertook the longest filibuster, which was 24 hours to. block a civil rights act. it was not a significant as to what i'm 1964 and his filibuster reaction. we did fail, but the act was not meaningful in 1964. the civil rights act was the major civil rights act of the era. it was kind of the culmination of generations of civil rights efforts, and it was a group filibuster led by four or five southern democratic and that was really the important. filibuster that was defeated. it was kind of the end of the cycle of the classic, you know speaking filibuster is where
people literally hold the floor for days and days and days. and at that point they had to be on the floor speaking, correct? yes. yeah, i think there is one case for senator like held one foot on the floor and didn't his foot was the outside the floor under the name it a discussion about whether that was proper or not. but you physically had to be on the floor to filibuster and speak. so mr. bomb boy, you mentioned that this goes back to the colonial era at least dilatory tactics. go back to the colonial era. how are they used in the 1780s 1790s? well, there was something called that the previous question which was a motion that anybody could raise in a deliberative body to stop a speech and various colonies and even you know states had versions of the of the previous question in their parliamentary rules. another thing that was kind of odd. was that cool that the disappearing quorum and there's
a famous case in 18 in the process of ratifying the constitution 1787 september the documents approved it goes to pennsylvania to be the second state to approve the constitution and they had a two-thirds quorum roll and the people the anti-federalists who reposed a physically ran out of the state house and then people were upset. there was a meeting in a tavern the next morning the group went and grabbed to the representatives and made they made them come back into the state house and they physically made them sit in their seats to establish a quorum so they would do stuff like that a lot. the quorum call was important and in general people could speak without limit there would and occasionally there were these these rules the previous question rule that could potentially limit their speaking but quorums are important and that aspect now you mentioned also that the house of representatives used to have a filibuster type activity as
well. why did they get rid of it early? well the house had the previous question rule and thomas jefferson was kind of behind that in 1801 when he left being vice president as the presiding officer of the senate he became president. he established a rule book for the house as a congress and the peak the pq motion as it's called. was not used a lot and i believe was 1810. there was a situation where there's a senator or representative called for rent gardener and he was a rather long-winded speaker, and he had been known to speak for four or four four or five hours and what jefferson would call superfluous topics and and the book and there was a situation there was a measure before the house and gardener was speaking and another. representative said i'm going to make the previous question motion to get him to stop speaking and the speaker ignored that that representative and it representative.
asked the question again, and the speaker was said to the entire house. so you guys decide what's going on here and they established the president to end floor debate. to have a motion in place to actually stop guard near from speaking which was the first of three presidents. they had to shut down the filibuster in 1841. they limited speaking to one hour per representative on emotion and those two things kind of really shut down the filibuster in the house in the 1871 1841 actually. so mr. bombboy over the years there have been alterations or rules put in place when it comes to the filibuster. is that a correct statement? absolutely, and so the debate happening in today's political environment, does it surprise you at all? well, no, i think. we would definitely once in 2013 where the democrats used a poor elementary procedure to eliminate the filibuster and
nominations except for the supreme court that kind of ticked off that cycle and then in 2017 republicans did the same thing for supreme court nominations, so no, it doesn't surprise me at all. i think that the question is going to be how far were the senate go to eliminate oil filibuster's? truer false false the filibuster benefits the minority well, yes, it would obviously because they would have essentially a minority veto. now you work at the constitution center. the national constitution center. is there anything in the constitution that deals with filibuster's? it's absolutely nothing in the constitution that deals with filibuster's but and one thing to constitution says in the article one section 5 or a delegates the rulemaking power of the congress to congress the lex exceptions are there's seven votes. i'd mentioned province previously were two-thirds are required. there's some quorum requirements. and it's interesting argument
because people like james madison alexander hamilton, they were all for a majority role and if you think about the filibuster, it's a super majority thing where you need 60 in the old age. you need 67 to proceed on certain types of business. so this is kind of conflict between the concept of what's called majoritarianism where the majority should rule in most cases, but clearly the founders intended for congress to establish their own rules. what is your position as editor-in-chief at the national constitution center? i have a really cool job and i get to work with the constitution every day and i run a blog called constitution daily, which we've had in some form i think for about 10 years. i've been to editor of that blog for the past eight and a half years since i joined we have about 500,000 monthly readers and we talked a lot about history and some current constitutional topics and i kind of wrangle or i'm the editor. that was a product so i write for it and i do other stuff and i'm also involved with a lot of
the digital work that we do. we are an extensive digital education organization. we have live classes we do and podcasts and videos and a lot of fun stuff. well here at c-span we often turn to the national constitution center for its experts and scott bomboy. who is the editor-in-chief at the ncc joins us to talk about the filibuster. we appreciate your time. th us at c-spanhistory.
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