The term cloture means the procedure used to start the end of debate on a measure in the U.S. Senate. With certain important exceptions, three-fifths of the Membership of the Senate, sixty votes, are required to agree to a motion to invoke cloture.
See also Filibuster.
The cloture rule – Rule 22 – is the only formal procedure that Senate rules provide for breaking a filibuster. A filibuster is an attempt to block or delay Senate action on a bill or other matter. Under cloture, the Senate may limit consideration of a pending matter to 30 additional hours of debate.
Rules & Procedures
Origins & Development
RULE XXII – RECEDENCE OF MOTIONS
1. When a question is pending, no motion shall be received but
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To adjourn to a day certain, or that when the Senate adjourn it shall be to a day certain.
To take a recess.
To proceed to the consideration of executive business.
To lay on the table.
To postpone indefinitely.
To postpone to a day certain.
Which several motions shall have precedence as they stand arranged; and the motions relating to adjournment, to take a recess, to proceed to the consideration of executive business, to lay on the table, shall be decided without debate.
2. Notwithstanding the provisions of rule II or rule IV or any other rule of the Senate, at any time a motion signed by sixteen Senators, to bring to a close the debate upon any measure, motion, other matter pending before the Senate, or the unfinished business, is presented to the Senate, the Presiding Officer, or clerk at the direction of the Presiding Officer, shall at once state the motion to the Senate, and one hour after the Senate meets on the following calendar day but one, he shall lay the motion before the Senate and direct that the clerk call the roll, and upon the ascertainment that a quorum is present, the Presiding Officer shall, without debate, submit to the Senate by a yea-and-nay vote the question:
“Is it the sense of the Senate that the debate shall be brought to a close?” And if that question shall be decided in the affirmative by three-fifths of the Senators duly chosen and sworn — except on a measure or motion to amend the Senate rules, in which case the necessary affirmative vote shall be two-thirds of the Senators present and voting — then said measure, motion, or other matter pending before the Senate, or the unfinished business, shall be the unfinished business to the exclusion of all other business until disposed of.
Thereafter no Senator shall be entitled to speak in all more than one hour on the measure, motion, or other matter pending before the Senate, or the unfinished business, the amendments thereto, and motions affecting the same, and it shall be the duty of the Presiding Officer to keep the time of each Senator who speaks. Except by unanimous consent, no amendment shall be proposed after the vote to bring the debate to a close, unless it had been submitted in writing to the Journal Clerk by 1 o’clock p.m. on the day following the filing of the cloture motion if an amendment in the first degree, and unless it had been so submitted at least one hour prior to the beginning of the cloture vote if an amendment in the second degree. No dilatory motion, or dilatory amendment, or amendment not germane shall be in order. Points of order, including questions of relevancy, and appeals from the decision of the Presiding Officer, shall be decided without debate.
After no more than thirty hours of consideration of the measure, motion, or other matter on which cloture has been invoked, the Senate shall proceed, without any further debate on any question, to vote on the final disposition thereof to the exclusion of all amendments not then actually pending before the Senate at that time and to the exclusion of all motions, except a motion to table, or to reconsider and one quorum call on demand to establish the presence of a quorum (and motions required to establish a quorum) immediately before the final vote begins. The thirty hours may be increased by the adoption of a motion, decided without debate, by a threefifths affirmative vote of the Senators duly chosen and sworn, and any such time thus agreed upon shall be equally divided between and controlled by the Majority and Minority Leaders or their designees. However, only one motion to extend time, specified above, may be made in any one calendar day.
If, for any reason, a measure or matter is reprinted after cloture has been invoked, amendments which were in order prior to the reprinting of the measure or matter will continue to be in order and may be conformed and reprinted at the request of the amendment’s sponsor. The conforming changes must be limited to lineation and pagination.
No Senator shall call up more than two amendments until every other Senator shall have had the opportunity to do likewise.
Notwithstanding other provisions of this rule, a Senator may yield all or part of his one hour to the majority or minority floor managers of the measure, motion, or matter or to the Majority or Minority Leader, but each Senator specified shall not have more than two hours so yielded to him and may in turn yield such time to other Senators.
Notwithstanding any other provision of this rule, any Senator who has not used or yielded at least ten minutes, is, if he seeks recognition, guaranteed up to ten minutes, inclusive, to speak only.
After cloture is invoked, the reading of any amendment, including House amendments, shall be dispensed with when the proposed amendment has been identified and has been available in printed form at the desk of the Members for not less than twenty four hours.
3. If a cloture motion on a motion to proceed to a measure or matter is presented in accordance with this rule and is signed by 16 Senators, including the Majority Leader, the Minority Leader, 7 additional Senators not affiliated with the majority, and 7 additional Senators not affiliated with the minority, one hour after the Senate meets on the following calendar day, the Presiding Officer, or the clerk at the direction of the Presiding Officer, shall lay the motion before the Senate. If cloture is then invoked on the motion to proceed, the question shall be on the motion to proceed, without further debate.
Filibuster and Cloture
In the early years of Congress, representatives as well as senators could filibuster. As the House of Representatives grew in numbers, however, revisions to the House rules limited debate. In the smaller Senate, unlimited debate continued on the grounds that any senator should have the right to speak as long as necessary on any issue.Using the filibuster to delay or block legislative action has a long history. The term filibuster — from a Dutch word meaning “pirate” — became popular in the 1850s, when it was applied to efforts to hold the Senate floor in order to prevent a vote on a bill.
In 1841, when the Democratic minority hoped to block a bank bill promoted by Kentucky Senator Henry Clay, he threatened to change Senate rules to allow the majority to close debate. Missouri Senator Thomas Hart Benton rebuked Clay for trying to stifle the Senate’s right to unlimited debate.
Three quarters of a century later, in 1917, senators adopted a rule (Rule 22), at the urging of President Woodrow Wilson, that allowed the Senate to end a debate with a two-thirds majority vote, a device known as “cloture.” The new Senate rule was first put to the test in 1919, when the Senate invoked cloture to end a filibuster against the Treaty of Versailles. Even with the new cloture rule, filibusters remained an effective means to block legislation, since a two-thirds vote is difficult to obtain. Over the next five decades, the Senate occasionally tried to invoke cloture, but usually failed to gain the necessary two-thirds vote. Filibusters were particularly useful to Southern senators who sought to block civil rights legislation, including anti-lynching legislation, until cloture was invoked after a 60 day filibuster against the Civil Right Act of 1964. In 1975, the Senate reduced the number of votes required for cloture from two-thirds to three-fifths, or 60 of the current one hundred senators.
Many Americans are familiar with the filibuster conducted by Jimmy Stewart, playing Senator Jefferson Smith in Frank Capra’s film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, but there have been some famous filibusters in the real-life Senate as well. During the 1930s, Senator Huey P. Long effectively used the filibuster against bills that he thought favored the rich over the poor. The Louisiana senator frustrated his colleagues while entertaining spectators with his recitations of Shakespeare and his reading of recipes for “pot-likkers.” Long once held the Senate floor for 15 hours. The record for the longest individual speech goes to South Carolina’s J. Strom Thurmond who filibustered for 24 hours and 18 minutes against the Civil Rights Act of 1957.
cloture – The only procedure by which the Senate can vote to place a time limit on consideration of a bill or other matter, and thereby overcome a filibuster. Under the cloture rule (Rule XXII), the Senate may limit consideration of a pending matter to 30 additional hours, but only by vote of three-fifths of the full Senate, normally 60 votes.
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After the adoption of Senate Resolution 5 in 1959, various other attempts were made at the opening of new Congresses to establish the right of the Senate to readopt its rules at the beginning of each Congress by a majority vote, particularly to amend rule XXII, but all such attempts were without success until 1975, when the cloture rule was amended to allow three-fifths of the Senators “duly chosen and sworn” to invoke cloture, except proposals to amend the rules which required a two-thirds vote of the Senators present and voting, a quorum being present. [Footnote #19]
[Footnote #19] In 1961, at the opening of the 87th Congress the resolution (S. Res. 4) to change the rules was referred without action. (Jan. 11, 1961, 87-1, Journal, p. 40).
In the first session of the 88th Congress, Jan. 9, 1963, a resolution (S. Res. 9) was submitted for consideration and effort was made to put the question without further debate but the motion was tabled and the whole issue was left unacted on. (See proceedings for Jan. 15-Feb. 7,1963,88-1, Journal, pp. 38-120).
At the opening of the 89th Congress, Jan. 6, 1965, a resolution (S. Res. 6) was submitted for consideration. The resolution was referred with instructions that it be reported back by Mar. 9,1965 (See Jan. 8, 1963, 89-1, Journal, p. 46); the resolution was reported but never considered.
On Jan. 10, 1967, at the opening of the 90th Congress, resolutions (S. Res. 6 and 7) were submitted and ordered to lie over under the rule; were laid down Jan. 10, and a motion was made for their immediate consideration; a point of order was made against the motion but a motion to table the point of order lost, and the point of order was sustained. The resolutions were debated further but not agreed to, the point of order having been sustained. (See Jan. 18-24, 1967, 90-1, Journal, pp. 44-69).
On Jan. 3, 1969, at the opening of the 91st Congress another attempt to change the rules was made. S. Res. 11 was submitted for consideration and on an attempt to invoke cloture the vote was 51 yeas to 47 nays, but the Chair ruled that cloture had been invoked. An appeal from the ruling of the Chair was taken and the Chair was reversed.
The attempt to change the rules failed. (See proceedings for Jan. 16-28, 1969, 91-1, Journal, pp. 50-103).
On Jan. 21, 1971, the opening of the 92d Congress, another resolution (s. Res. 9) was submitted, went over under the rule, and after debate on the following day went to the calendar. Consideration of the resolution continued for several days and cloture was attempted 4 times, but failed in each instance, and the resolution was indefinitely postponed on Mar. 10, 1971. (See proceedings of Jan. 26-Mar. 10, 1971,92-1, Journal, pp. 24-162).
On Jan. 3, 1973, the opening of the 93d Congress, no action was taken to change the rules.
In the 94th Congress (1975) the Senate acted on a resolution and made changes in the cloture rule.