Of all the weird powers granted to various branches of the government, the right of U.S. senators to conduct filibusters — to keep talking as long as they want — is one of the weirdest.
It seems like the goal of the procedure is to keep going until everyone else gets so sick of the sound of your voice that they capitulate just to shut you up.
In reality, it’s a masterful stalling tool. Senators can refuse to yield the floor until they feel heard. They can enlist the help of others to come ask questions and demonstrate a coalition around the issue. They grab the attention of the media and grind the work of the Senate to a halt until someone finally comes to them and says, “Ok, we’ll vote on the issue you want us to vote on.”
That’s what happened yesterday when Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) took to the Floor of the Senate to beg for a vote on his amendment to the 2017 Commerce-Justice-Science spending bill.
Murphy’s amendment would overhaul the nation’s background check system for gun purchasers, including closing the so-called “gun show loophole” by requiring background checks on all gun sales.
Aided by other 35 senators from around the country (34 Democrats plus Republican Senator Ben Sasse from Nebraska), who stepped in and asked questions as permitted by procedural rules, Murphy got what he wanted: Senate leadership will bring his amendment to a vote this week.
All told, the filibuster lasted 14 hours and 50 minutes, making it one of the ten longest filibusters in the last century.