parry ernsberger
July 02, 2013 9:00 am

fil·i·bus·ter [noun]

Informal term for any attempt to block or delay Senate action on a bill or other matter by debating it at length, by offering numerous procedural motions, or by any other delaying or obstructive actions.

Filibusters are confusing. And they are made even more so by the fact that the rules of a filibuster in the U.S. Senate differ from the rules of that in a particular state’s senate. But not every state’s senate has the ability to filibuster. And the House doesn’t allow filibustering anywhere, neither on a federal nor on a state level.

A filibuster is used when a senator wants to delay or block legislative action (aka: a bill). By refusing to yield the floor, a vote cannot occur and consequently, a bill cannot be passed. It’s kind of like nagging someone to exhaustion and/or until they give in to what you want. Senators use filibusters, typically at the end of a legislative session, to talk a bill to death. However, a successful filibuster, where the vote is temporarily blocked (such as in Wendy Davis’ case), does not always mean a bill will be killed for good — it can often just delay the inevitable.

Hang tight. There will be a light at the end of this tunnel, I promise.

During Davis’ now-famous filibuster in Texas last week, the Democratic State Senator did not leave to use the ladies’ room for 13 hours (but she may have used a catheter). Seems kind of tortuous, right? Dems the rules. Well, dems rules in Texas, where the stipulations of conducting a filibuster are particularly outrageous and amount to three-strikes-and-you’re-out. Other ridiculous rules include:

1. The senator holding the filibuster can only talk about things related to the bill being discussed (Davis received two strikes here, the first and third, for mentioning Planned Parenthood’s budget and discussing a sonogram law, respectively).

2. The senator cannot eat or drink during the filibuster. At all.

3. The senator cannot sit or lean with assistance and/or on a desk or chair or person or people or anything, under any circumstances while speaking about the bill (this too, was a strike for Davis as a colleague helped her apply a back brace).

In the U.S. Senate, the rules are of a filibuster are a comparative breeze. You can walk around the Senate floor, drink milk and/or water and read 50 Shades of Grey, if you’re so inclined. You can’t order take-out, but you can eat hard candy “from the drawer of the “Candy Desk” that traditionally belongs to a senator from Pennsylvania, home of large candy manufacturers.”

But you still can’t sit down or pee, so strap on a diaper and your fiercest salmon-colored tennis shoes if you have the wherewithal and the stamina to task a bill to task.

 Now then. Here is your light at the end of the tunnel, as promised:

Featured image via nytimes.com (and is a still from the most famous on-screen filibuster, ‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington’), image via 

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