Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley took to the Senate floor Tuesday evening and spoke through the night in protest of Judge Neil Gorsuch’s nomination to the Supreme Court, ending his marathon speech Wednesday morning.
Mr. Merkley, a Democrat who was one of the earliest to come out in opposition to Judge Gorsuch shortly after he was nominated, spoke continuously on the Senate floor for more than 15 hours. His speech began shortly before 7 p.m. on Tuesday and he ended his speech shortly after 10 a.m. on Wednesday.
During the night, he held forth against Judge Gorsuch and railed against a GOP-proposed rules change to eliminate the filibuster on Supreme Court nominees.
The effort, though largely symbolic, is the closest approximation to an old-fashion talking filibuster that can be found in the modern Senate. Mr. Merkley had little power to stop the ultimate outcome in the case of Judge Gorsuch, meaning his long floor speech didn’t actually stop any Senate business. The cloture motion ending debate on Judge Gorsuch cannot be voted on until Thursday as it stands.
But his speech was a throwback to the days when senators physically held the Senate floor to maintain filibusters. The most famous filibusters came during the 1960s when southern Democrats attempted to block a host of civil-rights legislation — often speaking on the Senate floor for hours at a time. Eventually, the practice of filibustering all sorts of routine senate business became common.
Democrats have cobbled together the votes to sustain a filibuster against Judge Gorsuch, a procedural tactic in the Senate that allows a legislative minority to delay consideration of pending business. It takes 60 votes to end debate in the Senate and advance towards a vote, while Republicans currently control only 52 seats.
But Republicans have said they will alter Senate rules to require only a simple majority sometime Thursday if Democrats continue to block consideration of Judge Gorsuch.
The record for a talking filibuster was set when Democrat Strom Thurmond spoke for just over 24 hours in opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1957 — a bill that ultimately passed. In recent years, Sens. Bernie Sanders (I, Vt.), Chris Murphy (D, Conn.), Ted Cruz (R, Texas) and Rand Paul (R, Ky.) have all taken to the Senate floor for symbolic filibusters on a variety of issues and legislation.
Mr. Cruz held the Senate floor for 21 hours in 2013 objecting to funding for the Affordable Care Act. Mr. Murphy spoke for 15 hours last year over guns, while Mr. Paul held the floor for 13 hours in opposition to the nomination of CIA Director John Brennan. Mr. Sanders spoke for eight hours against a tax bill.