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Despite its negative connotations, it's a legitimate Congressional privilege. To invoke a filibuster, a senator must have the floor. Then the senator simply starts talking (and talking...). Cloture, a three-fifths majority vote (that's 60 votes) needed to end a debate, grinds the blustering to a halt.
Notable gabbers include senators Peter Fitzgerald, Mitch McConnell, and Strom Thurmond, who staged the longest filibuster in history, talking for 24 hours and 18 minutes.
Most recently, Ted Kennedy threatened to use his privilege in the confirmation hearings of John Ashcroft.
Interesting sidenote: The phrase "longer than a Lousiana filibuster" was coined when southern senators blocked civil rights legislation in the 1950s and 1960s.
Originally posted by stumason
Is this not slightly dodgy?
In the early years of Congress, representatives as well as senators could use the filibuster technique. As the House grew in numbers, however, it was necessary to revise House rules to limit debate. In the smaller Senate, unlimited debate continued since senators believed any member should have the right to speak as long as necessary.
In 1841, when the Democratic minority hoped to block a bank bill promoted by Henry Clay, Clay threatened to change Senate rules to allow the majority to close debate. Thomas Hart Benton angrily rebuked his colleague, accusing Clay of trying to stifle the Senate's right to unlimited debate. Unlimited debate remained in place in the Senate until 1917. At that time, at the suggestion of President Woodrow Wilson, the Senate adopted a rule (Rule 22) that allowed the Senate to end a debate with a two-thirds majority vote -- a tactic known as "cloture."
The new Senate rule was put to the test in 1919, when the Senate invoked cloture to end a filibuster against the Treaty of Versailles. Despite the new cloture rule, however, filibusters continued to be an effective means to block legislation, due in part to the fact that a two-thirds majority vote is difficult to obtain. Over the next several decades, the Senate tried numerous times to evoke cloture, but failed to gain the necessary two-thirds vote. Filibusters were particularly useful to southern senators blocking civil rights legislation in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1975, the Senate reduced the number of votes required for cloture from two-thirds (67) to three-fifths (60) of the 100-member Senate.
Clause 2: He shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law: but the Congress may by Law vest the Appointment of such inferior Officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the Courts of Law, or in the Heads of Departments.
Generally, when the president and the majority of the Senate belong to the same political party, the Senate tends to approve the president's choices. The exceptions to this well-established pattern occur in the final year of a president's term and in cases in which the nominee obviously lacks competence or personal integrity.
As the Senate was to represent each state equally, its role offered security to the small states, whose delegates feared they would be overwhelmed by appointees sympathetic to the larger states. Even Alexander Hamilton, who wished to strengthen the executive against legislative interference, supported the concept of dual responsibility, believing that the president's authority to nominate was sufficient to control the appointment process, for the Senate could do no more than accept or reject his choices. In placing the legislative role in the Senate, which was intended to be relatively immune from political pressure, and by requiring joint action with the president, the framers hoped to minimize corrupt bargaining for appointments.