On June 15, just days after a mass shooting in a Florida nightclub, Senate Democrats filibustered a spending bill in order to force the Senate into examining stricter gun-control legislation. This caused lookups of filibuster to skyrocket 3875% higher than normal.
Filibuster in a legislative setting generally means “an effort to prevent action in a legislature by making a long speech or series of speeches.” But in this particular case, the filibuster was being used by Democrats to force legislative action on the Senate’s part by delaying normal Senate activities.
Though it sounds anarchic, there are rules to the filibuster. In the U.S. Congress, it can only happen in the Senate as the House of Representatives has rules in place to limit the amount of time someone can speak. And in the U.S. Senate, the speeches that comprise a filibuster don’t have to have anything to do with the matter being debated.
The word itself has a colorful history. Filibuster is an anglicization of the Spanish filibustero, which literally means “freebooter.” The original filibusters were Americans who helped foment insurrections in Latin America in the mid-19th century. The noun gave rise to a verb that referred to carrying out insurrectionist activity, and since carrying out the activity of a rebellion often involves some sort of obstruction, the verb also came to refer to carrying out obstructionist tactics in general. It didn’t take too long before the word filibuster was applied to the obstructionist delays some U.S. senators indulged in.
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