Med thumb filibuster

Senators whip out the filibuster —  buying time, in legislative-speak  — when they want to postpone or prevent a bill from going to vote. The dilatory tactic is top of mind this week, thanks to senators both real and fictional. Democrats said they’ll filibuster the SAFE Act, which seeks to complicate the entry process for Syrian refugees coming to the U.S.

Meanwhile, in the land of fiction, on a Very Special Topical Episode of Scandal, Mellie Grant, ex-FLOTUS and junior senator, delivered a record-breaking filibuster. The episode paid homage to Texas state senator Wendy Davis who, in 2013, stood in her pink sneaks for 13 hours to delay an abortion bill. In Shonda Rhimes’ fictional senate chamber, Mellie committed some 24 hours to block a spending bill designating Planned Parenthood funds as discretionary.

Today, senators routinely use the filibuster to obstruct legislation. But it was a purely theoretical tool until 1841, when a democratic minority blocked a Whig Party bank bill. The only way to block a filibuster is for three-fifths of senators (generally 60 out of 100) to invoke cloture.

The real threat to a filibustering lawmaker is one of endurance. They must stay on their feet, speaking continuously, for hours on end. No bathroom breaks, no outside food, no sleep. It’s a considerable physical feat, even for the youngest, spryest legislators inside the Beltway. Here’s a good overview of “your body on a filibuster,” courtesy of The Daily Beast.

Some filibustering folk have taken creative measures to ease the burden. In addition to her signature kicks, Wendy Davis relied on a back brace and temporary catheter to help her survive the slog. Not all filibusters are planned, however. Just ask Rand Paul, who made the mistake of filibustering in “the wrong shoes.” 

Here are the 10 longest federal filibusters since the senate began recording them in 1900. 

10. Harry Reid

Protesting Republican filibuster, 2003
Eight hours, 39 minutes

9. Rand Paul

Use of drones against Americans, 2013
12 hours, 52 minutes

8. Robert Byrd

Civil rights bill, 1964
14 hours, 13 minutes

7. Alfonse D’Amato

Tax bill, 1992
15 hours, 14 minutes

6. Huey Long

Industrial recovery bill, 1935
15 hours, 30 minutes

5. William Proxmire

 filibuster 4

Debt expansion bill, 1981
16 hours, 12 minutes

4. Robert La Follette Sr.

filibuster 3

Currency bill, 1908
18 hours, 23 minutes.

3. Wayne Morse

filibuster 2

Oil bill, 1953
22 hours, 26 minutes.

2. Alfonse D'Amato

Military bill, 1986
23 hours, 30 minutes

1. Strom Thurmond

strom filibuster 

Civil rights bill, 1957
24 hours, 18 minutes

Note: At more than 21 hours, Ted Cruz’s 2013 anti-American Healthcare Act filibuster would have made the cut, but it didn’t technically qualify as a talking filibuster because he couldn’t actually prevent the vote.