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April 19, 2017

“I will credit my father, he invented — this wasn’t for the restaurant, but he did it anyway — green eggs and ham. He did it two ways. The easy way was he would put green food coloring in. ‘Green eggs and ham’ was my favorite book as a little boy. You can actually do it — the food coloring is a little bit cheating. But if you take spinach and mix it into the eggs, the eggs turn green.”

Ted Cruz, Republican Senator of Texas, proclaimed this during his record breaking filibuster in 2013. The filibuster was, originally, intended to provide minorities – whether political or other – with a voice on the political plane. The word “filibuster” is actually a 19th century piracy term derived from “free booter.” It is not contained within any official record, but is used to refer to the power of unlimited debate within the Senate. Under regular order, any senator can “hold the chamber hostage” by preventing a vote on a bill or nominee by speaking indefinitely. The filibuster had thus become a way to reject or “talk to death” a proposed solution to a controversial topic.

The current issue regarding Neil Gorsuch’s appointment as Supreme Court Justice has set the stage for more changes in Senate rules. The Democratic party had intended to filibuster this nomination after their own nominee, Merrick Garland, had been denied the position in the Supreme Court in the previous year. Due to the Democrats opposition, the government had decided to “go nuclear” and get rid of this mechanism. Now in order to negate a filibuster on Supreme Court nominations, one merely needs to win the majority, that is to say 51 votes or more, within the Senate.

Now, Cruz’s aforementioned statement might seem off-topic, but in truth, one can say just about anything during a filibuster and his or her voice cannot be silenced merely because the topic of their discussion was, per say, how to dye boiled eggs green via spinach or the proper reading of children’s stories. Cruz had, after all, talked for a full 21 hours and 19 minutes. The longest filibuster, conducted in 1957 by Strom Thurmond, lasted for 24 hours and 18 minutes. However, since then, certain regulations had been put into practice to limit the power of the filibuster.

In 1917, the rule to “invoke cloture” was put into effect. With this, the Senate could decide whether or not to move on with discussion after allowing any congressman to filibuster for two days. Until 1974, cloture required a ⅔ majority vote, and this number has been dwindling steadily.

However, despite the wayward and oftentime bizarre statements recorded during filibusters, by getting rid of the filibuster, we would also lose the proverbial dam preventing a one-party-rules-government Senate. The filibuster had, after all, served to prevent the ruling party from passing legislation whenever they have control of Congress.

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