History of the Filibuster

In the nineteenth century, filibusters were rarer than visible comets. Now they are as common as sunsets—and as destructive as tsunamis, says The New Yorker's Hendrik Hertzberg.

In the nineteenth century, filibusters were rarer than visible comets. For most of the twentieth, they were still rare—about as frequent as solar eclipses—and reserved for special occasions, such as killing civil-rights bills. Now they and their bastard offspring, the secret "holds" that allow a single senator to pigeonhole a bill or a nomination, are as common as sunsets—and as destructive as tsunamis. It is taken for granted that without the support of sixty of the hundred senators, the number needed to invoke "cloture," nothing emerges from the Senate alive.

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