10 Longest Filibusters in the United States

In the United States, a filibuster is when a senator stretches the legislative process on for longer than usual in order to prevent a bill from being voted on. This method of putting off the final vote in hopes of wearing down the competition on the debate floor is also sometimes referred to as “talking a bill to death”. Since most senators feel very strongly about their views when it comes to the legislation at hand, filibusters can take quite a while!

Today we’ll be looking at 10 of the longest filibusters in modern US history and ranking them according to how long they lasted. We’ll also learn some interesting facts about each one!

  1. Chris Murphy

Length: 14:50 hours
Date: June 15, 2016
Measure: H.R. 2578, supporting gun control measures
Senator’s State: Connecticut

hris_Murphy  Source: wikimedia.org

Senator Chris Murphy launched this filibuster following the tragic mass shooting in Pulse, a gay bar in Orlando, Florida. Murphy actually began this filibuster during the discussion of an unrelated spending bill, and cited the Pulse shooting as a point in favor of requiring background checks before allowing people to purchase firearms. He also pressed for legislation to be passed that would permit the denial of weapons sales to anyone on FBI terrorist watch lists.

Did you know? 

Despite the 15-hour filibuster, neither of Murphy’s changes were voted in.

  1. Alfonse D’Amato

Length: 15:14 hours
Date: October 5, 1992
Measure: Revenue Act
Senator’s State: New York

Alfonse_D'Amato  Source: wikimedia.org

Alfonse D’Amato made October 5th of 1992 into a day to remember when he embarked upon what is said to be the second-longest solo filibuster in the history of the US Senate. The issue centered around typewriter company Smith Corona planning to transfer jobs away from upstate New York and use a Mexican factory instead in order to save money. D’Amato had plenty to say on the subject, and even punctuated his points by singing “South of the Border.

Did you know? 

D’Amato lost his seat on the Senate in 1998 after calling his opponent a “putzhead”.

  1. Jeff Merkley

Length: 15:28 hours
Date: April 4, 2017
Measure: Neil Gorsuch Supreme Court confirmation
Senator’s State: Oregon

Jeff_Merkley  Source: wikimedia.org

Jeff Merkley openly stated that he planned to delay his opponent Neil Gorsuch “as long as I’m able.” He spoke about a number of different things during his speech, including the sunrise which began near the end of his filibuster. The Republican senators stated that Gorsuch would be confirmed no matter how long Merkley went on, and said that they had the necessary votes to forbid filibusters against Supreme Court nominees.

Did you know? 

Merkley said that he noted the contrast between the beautiful outdoor weather and the gloomy venue.

  1. Huey Long

Length: 15:30 hours
Date: June 12, 1935
Measure: National Industrial Recovery Act
Senator’s State: Louisiana

Huey_Long  Source: wikimedia.org

Huey Pierce Long was described as “the most colorful, as well as the most dangerous, man” to get involved in American politics, and he had no problem launching a filibuster. Long aimed to preserve a requirement for senior employees of the National Recovery Administration to get confirmation from the Senate. In the process of dragging things out until the morning light, Long even provided recipes for potlikker and fried oysters!

Did you know? 

Long was assassinated later that same year, lamenting with his last words that he had so much left to do.

  1. William Proxmire

Length: 16:12 hours
Date: September 28, 1981
Measure: Debt ceiling increase
Senator’s State: Wisconsin

William_Proxmire  Source: wikimedia.org

William Proxmire clearly stated that he intended to keep the US Senate there all night while he spoke about the debt ceiling bill in 1981. Proxmire’s speech was called a “gentleman’s filibuster” because of his polite nature and upfront speaking tactics throughout the whole process. In fact, he neatly wrapped up his filibuster by 10:27 the next morning so as not to interfere with the Senate activities scheduled for 10:30.

Did you know? 

Proxmire apologized to the officers, reporters, and all others involved for dragging things out and being a “terrible trial”.

  1. Robert M. La Follette, Sr.

Length: 18:23 hours
Date: May 29, 1908
Measure: Aldrich-Vreeland Act
Senator’s State: Wisconsin

Robert_M_La_Follette  Source: wikimedia.org

Senator La Follette spent an incredible amount of time attempting to block the Aldrich-Vreeland Currency Act, which he feared would mislead the public. La Follette spoke out against the idea of the nation’s economy being controlled by just a handful of men who were, in turn, controlled by banks and other massive companies. He fueled his determined speech by ordering a turkey sandwich with a glass of fortified milk and eggs–but the drink made him feel horribly ill and was found to contain extremely harmful bacteria.

Did you know? 

The Chamber interior is reported to have reached a sweltering 90 degrees during this filibuster!

  1. Ted Cruz

Length: 21:18 hours
Date: September 24, 2013
Measure: Continuing Appropriations Act
Senator’s State: Texas

Ted_Cruz  Source: wikimedia.org

Determined to defund Obamacare, Ted Cruz seized the floor and announced that he would speak on the issue until he was “no longer able to stand.” Cruz also pressed for a high-stakes vote to be moved from a Saturday to a Friday so that it wouldn’t have to compete with Saturday football and more people would watch it. Cruz was joined on the floor by several Democrats and went on a number of tangents, including college students struggling to find fast food late at night.

Did you know? 

Senator Cruz even read bedtime stories, including “Green Eggs and Ham,” to his children over the TV during this filibuster.

  1. Wayne Morse

Length: 22:26 hours
Date: April 24, 1953
Measure: Submerged Lands Act
Senator’s State: Oregon

Wayne_Morse  Source: wikimedia.org

At the time, Wayne Morse’s filibuster was the longest solo filibuster in the US Senate’s history! Morse attempted to block Tidelands Oil legislation, but was unsuccessful. The legislation passed despite his best efforts, granting states the territorial rights to navigable ocean waters around their borders. Morse lost his seat in the Senate years later, and passed away during a campaign to regain it.

Did you know? 

Supporters of Wayne Morse called him “The Tiger of the Senate.”

  1. Alfonse D’Amato

Length: 23:30 hours
Date: October 17, 1986
Measure: Defense Authorization Act
Senator’s State: New York

Alfonse_D'Amato  Source: wikimedia.org

Alfonse D’Amato was up for reelection when he delayed a $576 billion dollar spending bill on behalf of an aircraft manufacturer on Long Island. D’Amato’s main concern was to preserve the Air Force contract that would keep the New York manufacturer, but his filibuster put the brakes on spending as a whole and resulted in a government shutdown. Thousands of federal employees were sent home during the shutdown, including employees of the US Park Service.

Did you know? 

Attractions such as the Washington Monument and the Statue of Liberty were shut down while this filibuster dragged on.

  1. Strom Thurmond

Length: 24:18 hours
Date: August 28, 1957
Measure: Civil Rights Act of 1957
Senator’s State: South Carolina

Strom_Thurmond  Source: wikimedia.org

Strom Thurmond’s filibuster of 1957 is the longest filibuster in United States history. Thurmond prepared ahead of time to doggedly resist the Civil Rights Act on the floor, reportedly taking a steam bath beforehand so that excess liquid wouldn’t force him to leave and use the bathroom. He kept his plans to himself while he worked out all the details of how to remain on the floor for as long as possible, such as grazing on meat, bread, and juice.

Did you know? 

Among other tactics, Thurmond stretched out his filibuster by reading out every single United States election law in alphabetical order.

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