In the U.S. Senate, it is not uncommon for senators to speak for hours on the Senate floor. Some infamous filibusters include a 24-hour speech against the Civil Rights Act and Ted Cruz's campaign to shut down the government.

Is there any rule preventing senators from simply walking out of a filibuster (or taking out a sleeping bag)? Are there any cases where this has happened on a large scale? If senators can simply wait out a filibuster without having to listen to lists of names from phone books, that would render a filibuster mostly ineffective.

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    Examine the premise of your question; it was not Ted Cruz's intent to shut down the government. May 11, 2016 at 4:36

2 Answers 2


Yes, but

As a general rule, Senators can walk out during almost anything. They are only forced to stay by their own conscience and how it might look to voters if they left.

It's also worth noting that they have changed filibusters from requiring a Senator to give a speech to a simple vote to close debate. While Ted Cruz did give a speech for many consecutive hours, it was not a filibuster. Just a speech.

The typical filibuster these days consists of a vote to close debate on a bill, which requires sixty votes. If the vote fails to reach the threshold, the bill is filibustered. Success means that the bill goes to a regular (majority) vote.

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    Answer demonstrates a misunderstanding of the differences between the vote for Cloture and a Filibuster. May 11, 2016 at 4:37
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    @DrunkCynic I think you're being a bit overly pedantic. Today, failing to achieve cloture basically means a bill is filibustered. As the answer demonstrates, no one has to speak for a filibuster anymore, all they have to do is have 41 senators on their side.
    – user5155
    May 11, 2016 at 16:20
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    Words are important. A filibuster is the action taken to prolong the debate process. While ending the debate process, and in doing so curtailing the filibuster, requires a (super) majority, it us a dependent relationship rather than equal. May 11, 2016 at 18:34
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    If they all walk out, they leave the remaining senator and the chair free to do what they will. Somebody's going to stay behind.
    – Joshua
    Dec 12, 2016 at 0:57
  • @JeffLambert "failing to achieve cloture basically means a bill is filibustered." Accuse me of being pedantic, but this is not correct. A bill is filibustered as soon as parliamentary procedures are used to keep it from going forward. Cloture is the vote to end a filibuster. (Most 'filibusters' are actually holds; the history and distinction are complex). Filibuster can even be just a delaying action.
    – Tiercelet
    Jun 10, 2021 at 14:56

The purpose of the filibuster is not to force everyone to listen to you read the phone book - it's to delay the matter before the Senate. So it would still be "effective" if everyone left, because if they aren't there, they obviously aren't voting on whatever it is you didn't want them to vote on.

According to Article I, Section 5 of the Constitution:

a Majority of each shall constitute a Quorum to do Business; but a smaller Number may adjourn from day to day, and may be authorized to compel the Attendance of absent Members, in such Manner, and under such Penalties as each House may provide.

According to Senate rules:

No Senator shall absent himself from the service of the Senate without leave.


Whenever upon such roll call it shall be ascertained that a quorum is not present, a majority of the Senators present may direct the Sergeant at Arms to request, and, when necessary, to compel the attendance of the absent Senators, which order shall be determined without debate; and pending its execution, and until a quorum shall be present, no debate nor motion, except to adjourn, or to recess pursuant to a previous order entered by unanimous consent, shall be in order.

So, the members left present could actually force the absent members to return (although if the majority didn't want to be there, they could just vote to officially recess or adjourn.)

But it also seems that if a quorum is not present, the person speaking could simply note the absence of a quorum, and debate would no longer be in order until a quorum was again present. This would allow them to stop talking, which they'd probably be happy about if they'd already been talking for an extended period.

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