A filibuster is a political strategy in which a senator speaks—or threatens to speak—for hours on end to delay efforts to vote for a bill. The unusual tactic takes advantage of a U.S. Senate rule that says a senator, once recognized on the floor, may speak on an issue without being impeded by anyone. While various rule changes have tempered the filibuster’s power over the past century, it still offers unique leverage to the minority political party in the Senate.
The term filibuster originated from the 18th-century word “flibustier,” which referred to pirates who pillaged the Spanish colonies in the West Indies, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. By the mid-1800s the term had evolved to filibuster and taken on political meaning, describing the process by which long-winded senators hold the legislative body hostage by their verbiage.