Speaking of Filibusters

There's a long, rich history of big-time talkers. You have a few hours?

But before that, on April 24, 1953, Morse engaged in the second-longest filibuster in Senate history (more than 22 hours) during an intense debate over tidelands oil legislation. This was aimed at returning to Texas submerged lands, rich in oil and gas, in the Gulf of Mexico. Morse thought the submerged land, despite contradictory promises in Texas's annexation contract, should remain under U.S. sovereignty. So he stood up to fight the bill. And he didn't sit down for 22 hours and 26 minutes. But the bill passed, removing some of the most valuable land in the public domain and giving it back to the states. The oil industry dominated state legislatures, and beginning with the tidelands oil legislation, the industry got a lock on the nation's key reserves of oil and gas.


1964: Robert Byrd and the Civil Rights Act

In the early '40s, Robert Byrd was a recruiter for the Ku Klux Klan. In 1945, he vowed to never fight "with a Negro by my side." By 1952, he "became disinterested" in the Klan. But during the heated debate over the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the West Virginia Democratic senator joined with other Southerners in fighting the legislation with a lengthy filibuster.

The landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 was created to protect voting rights—basically establishing them for the first time for many Southern black people—eliminate discrimination in public facilities and federally assisted programs, extend the Commission on Civil Rights, and create the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. On the 56th day of a filibuster intended to block the bill's passage, Byrd spoke for 14 hours and 13 minutes, concluding at 9:51 a.m. on the morning of June 10. Georgia's Richard Russell continued after Byrd stepped down from the podium, but he was cut off by a cloture vote.


1968: The GOP and Abe Fortas

In June 1968, Chief Justice Earl Warren told President Lyndon Johnson that he planned to retire from the Supreme Court, giving LBJ enough time to appoint a new chief justice and get him confirmed before a new president took office. The Democrats feared that Nixon might win, and Abe Fortas, already on the Supreme Court, had been a Johnson crony. With LBJ all the talk about separation of powers didn't mean much, and Fortas, even while on the Supreme Court, regularly attended White House staff meetings; he briefed the president on secret deliberations; and on behalf of LBJ, he pressured senators who opposed the war in Vietnam. When the Judiciary Committee revealed that Fortas received a private stipend, equivalent to 40 percent of his court salary, to teach an American University summer course, his nomination lost traction in the Senate. Everett Dirksen, the Republican minority leader, who had backed Fortas, withdrew support, as did Johnson's mentor, Georgia's Richard Russell. The debate disintegrated into a filibuster, led by Michigan senator Robert Griffin and others, and on October 1, 1968, the Senate failed to invoke cloture. Johnson then withdrew the nomination.


Additional reporting: Natalie Wittlin and Christine Lu

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