At 11:47 a.m. yesterday, Sen. Rand Paul began talking about the unconstitutionality of drone strikes. Twelve hours later, as we write, he hasn’t stopped speaking to the majestic Senate chamber. Decorous but insistent, Paul has managed to make the senate filibuster, something that usually looks pathetic, seem inspiring instead.
The Senate rules are complex, but this one is simple: keep talking. The rules allow debate on a bill or nomination to continue until 60 Senators force it to cloture. The filibuster has an illustrious history in the Senate, with Sen. Strom Thurmond holding the record for the longest speech, clocking in at 24 hours and 18 minutes. Attempting to prevent the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1957, Thurmond read the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and other founding documents aloud. The runner-up, Sen. Alfonse D’Amato in 1992, ran out of stuff pretty quickly and then recited the Washington, D.C., phone book. Our republic at its finest, of course.
Paul set out today to filibuster John Brennan’s nomination to CIA director, but he’s not concerned with the man’s specific credentials. Rather, he intended to bring constitutionally dubious drone strikes to the forefront of the national conversation. And while we would have enjoyed him reading something ridiculous (we tweeted an early draft of Timmis’ thesis at him, but as of press time he hasn’t read it), he focused like a laser on the topic at hand. He has referenced prominent intellectuals such as Hayek, Montesquieu, and Patrick Henry.
Some among us with lingering neo-conservative twitches don’t agree completely with Paul’s position on drones. But we admire his realization that sometimes the role of the minority party is to “stand athwart history yelling ‘stop,’” as National Review founder William F. Buckley said once of conservatives.
He’s been standing since the filibuster began. Some Senators have come to the floor to pretend to ask questions of Paul so his voice could rest, but otherwise he’s been scarfing candy to keep energized.
Today the famously stagnant Senate accomplished more than its usual quorum calls and short speeches; it stood for an idea and refused to relent. We hope to see more such seriousness from Washington, D.C., and soon.