In many state legislatures, it wouldn’t take much to make Ted Cruz stop talking

September 25, 2013

Ted Cruz speaks on the Senate floor, for a really long time. (AP/Senate TV.)

What Ted Cruz did between last night and this morning may not exactly be a filibuster, but it looks an awful lot like one. And it nonetheless got us thinking: how are filibusters handled in the states?

For many state legislative bodies, the party in power can quash a filibuster with relative ease. The rules are hard to come by—and understand—but fortunately for us a Connecticut legislative analyst compiled a comparative table in July 2009, based on data from the bipartisan National Conference of State Legislatures. It’s not exactly hot off the presses, but such procedures aren’t changed often either.

By our count, the report cites 109 rules. (Some state legislative bodies have multiple rules.) And nearly half—at least 50—require only a majority either to limit debate or “move the previous question,” a procedure that ends debate. The states do differ on how they define “majority,” though. Some require a majority of those present, others of those elected, etc.

Chambers in 10 states require more than a simple or absolute majority to limit debate, as is the case in the U.S. Senate, according to a count conducted for a 2007 blog post by the NCSL’s Karl Kurtz and Brenda Erickson. A count based off of the Connecticut report shows at least 14 states have such rules. By either measure, it takes only a majority to close debate in most states, making filibusters of little use unless the majority party in a chamber is divided.

At least four rules require a three-fifths vote to limit debate or move on a previous question. Three of those rules are in Alabama, where such a majority is needed in most House and Senate votes. The other rule applies to the Hawaii Senate. At least 14 legislative rules require a two-thirds majority to limit debate.

We’re the first to admit that the counts listed above may be imperfect—we couldn’t find a solid, up-to-date resource for state filibuster rules and might have missed some rules that should have been counted. Since the rules vary a lot and can be difficult to understand and summarize neatly, we copied the report’s table into a more reader-friendly Google spreadsheet, embedded below. Check it out:

Source: Connecticut legislative analysis compiled January 2008, using National Conference of State Legislatures, “Examples of Chamber Rules on Debate Limits or Previous Question.”

Niraj Chokshi reports for GovBeat, The Post's state and local policy blog.
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