So, in American politics, there is the tradition of the filibuster, where a legislator prevents a legislative activity from moving ahead by standing up and continuing to talk indefinitely, which has, over the course of time, evolved to a point where a legislator can simply stand up, declare they're filibustering, and prevent further discussion on a given topic without needing to actually talk.

Is there anything preventing a Senator from doing so during an impeachment trial, if they disagree with holding one?

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    It is my understanding (tepid at best) that the Senators are not allowed to even speak during the proceedings. They can only submit written questions. I don't know if it is possible to filibuster through a written submission. I hope not . . . ha ha
    – spring
    Jan 17, 2020 at 3:21
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    Nit pick: impeachment happens in the House. Senate is the trial.
    – WGroleau
    Jan 17, 2020 at 15:59

5 Answers 5


Is there anything stopping an impeachment trial from being filibustered?

Yes, there is a specific rule limiting debate time; and, unlike bills, amendments and resolutions, no procedure for amendments or amendments to amendments, and thus no need for a cloture vote to end the debate. It is the cloture vote requiring three-fifths of the Senators to agree that allows for a filibuster. See Rules of the Senate, XXII 2, "'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 ...".

II. Rules of Procedure and Practice in the Senate When Sitting on Impeachment Trials [p. 5]

XXI. All preliminary or interlocutory questions, and all motions, shall be argued for not exceeding one hour (unless the Senate otherwise orders) on each side.


Not 100% sure, but I think the rules are that Senators are not allowed to give [unlimited] floor speeches during the trial. They can mainly pass written messages.

  • Senators will only have the opportunity for limited speech at the trial. Members should refrain from speaking to neighboring senators while the case is being presented.

  • Pages will continue to be available to relay messages outside the chamber, and the pages also will be responsible for relaying senators' written questions to the chief justice through the staff of the parliamentarian.

A paper on the 1999 impeachment also says "no".

Because the trial consists primarily of the parties setting forth their positions, during those presentations Senators serve primarily as non-speaking listeners preparing to render a verdict, and the proceedings go ahead without requiring their unanimous consent. Deliberations occur, but in ways that reduce minority resistance rights. The minority Senators do not have the right to stop the proceedings by extended debate. They cannot filibuster. The majority does not need sixty votes to move the process along by cloture as with legislation facing a filibuster.

Alas its references for these points are indirect (to other papers) rather than directly to Senate rules.

A recent article in Politifact says the same

Per constitutional mandate, Roberts presides over the trial. But he is not an all-powerful force, because a bare majority of senators can overrule him. All it takes is 51 votes to change the rules, assuming all members are present. (Under the rules, filibusters are effectively barred.)

Of course, by 51 votes the could also dismiss the trial altogether, so changing the rules to make it some kind of stalemate seems improbable. (Apparently those 51 votes to dismiss don't exist, so it seem unlikely that votes to change the rules to a stalemate effect would exist either.)

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    The Politfact article is mistaken. It takes two-thirds to change the rules, but a simple majority to overturn the presiding officer's ruling. It is the latter case that is stated in the previous sentence.
    – Rick Smith
    Jan 17, 2020 at 12:59
  • Is the requirement actually 51 votes? I suspect that it is rather a majority of senators present or a majority of votes cast.
    – phoog
    Jan 17, 2020 at 13:55
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    Besides, it doesn’t matter. Most, if not all, Republicans want the chance to vote No as soon as possible, and most, if not all, Democrats want the chance to vote Yes (kick Trump out) as soon as possible. So neither wants to delay the vote. The exception might be if someone actually comes up with stronger evidence for removal (strong enough to overcome Republican denial).
    – WGroleau
    Jan 17, 2020 at 15:58

It would be pointless. You need 40% of Senators to defeat a cloture vote (which is what it's called when the Senate votes to end a filibuster), but only 34% of the Senators to simply defeat the impeachment trial outright. The Democrats aren't going to filibuster the impeachment vote; it would look ridiculous for them to call for impeachment and then obstruct a vote on it. The Republicans aren't going to filibuster the impeachment vote; they know that unless a huge amount of Republicans cross the aisle, they'll have no problem winning the vote. And if enough Republicans cross the aisle for the vote to succeed, then there won't be enough votes for a filibuster anyway.

Plus, while a cloture vote requires 60 Senators, simply voting to remove that requirement needs only 51%. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_option


This is not an event/activity that is related to passing legislation, nor does it fit under the category of any of their usual business.

Keep in mind that the filibuster is a Senate rule, and is not enshrined in law in any way. Each session of government, the Senate sets up the rules under which they will operate (and to a certain degree, some Senate Majority leaders have decided they can just ignore their own rules, since they are the ones who decide whether rules have been violated or not).

The first thing that prevents Senators from filibustering is that they are not active participants in the trial. They are the jury, so to speak. In a normal trial proceeding, there is no time allotted for the jury to speak, argue or present during the trial. So that would be a limiting factor.

What also prevents a filibuster in a Senate impeachment trial is the fact that, when they create the rules under which that specific trial will operate, they don't include the filibuster as part of it. If they decided they wanted it to be there, and, say, grant unlimited time for Senators to speak when if they are allowed to comment on why they are voting as they are, they could.

While some parameters are set by the Constitution - Chief Justice presides, 2/3 vote required, there is no standing set of detailed procedural rules for an impeachment trial, itself. The rules of each individual trial have been and are set by that Senate, once the impeachment is delivered by the House.

The Senate approved ground rules for President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial that include unexpected concessions addressing some of the Democrats’ concerns about the process. But Republicans did not budge on Democrats’ resolution amendments that would commit to witness testimony and subpoenas for documents (as opposed to waiting until after opening arguments). The resolution passed 53-47 along party lines early Wednesday morning after more than 12 hours of tense debate between the House managers and Trump’s legal team.

Following weeks of back and forth between Democrats and Republicans, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday abruptly backed away from two key pieces of his proposed resolution released Monday night.

One change redistributes the total number of hours that House managers and Trump’s defense team will have for opening arguments — instead of two days, they will each present for the same amount of time over three days. Another change allows evidence gathered in the House impeachment inquiry to be included in the record.

PBS: The impeachment trial rules are set. Here’s what happens next

As you can see from that article about the Senate passing the resolutions that set the rules for Donald Trump's trial, it was very much up to the Senate to determine the process and procedure for what would, and would not be allowed, and how much time different parties would have to present.


I look at this question in the light of current events. The answers that refer to the rules of the Senate are correct as far as they go, but the impeachment of the President is a special case.

When the President is impeached, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court presides at his trial (US Constitution, Article I, Section 3, Clause 6). Presumably the Chief Justice, not being a senator, can take whatever action is needed to ensure that the proceeding moves along without undue delay and without political grandstanding, including filibusters.

In fact, I would expect the Chief to establish his own rules. I would be surprised if the Chief allowed any debate at all during the proceeding, since that is not usually part of a legal proceeding. He might limit debate to argument on objections, with a time limit.

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    The chief justice becomes the presiding officer of the Senate and presides in conformance with Senate rules; furthermore, a majority of Senators present may overrule decisions made by the chief justice. See What exactly are the Chief Justice's powers and roles in “presiding” over a presidential impeachment proceeding?.
    – Rick Smith
    Jan 17, 2020 at 16:25
  • Interesting. I think you underestimate the power of the CJ to act as he chooses. To quote from the answer there: "Essentially, the Chief Justice becomes a trial court judge and will do all those things a trial court judge would do and with power subject to rules of the Senate. The rules appear quite similar to a common trial and are covered, below, in the RULES OF PROCEDURE ...." Those rules are NOT the ordinary Senate rules. They are the rules for an impeachment trial. The CJ can be overruled by a vote of the Senate, so... therefore the Senators can have a filibuster if they want it. :-)
    – Wastrel
    Jan 17, 2020 at 18:41
  • And now we see that John Roberts is indeed making up his own rules for the trial: "[banning] senators from using any electronic devices or bringing reading material irrelevant to the trial on the floor." [link]nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/01/… Cloture votes and the usual Senate rules do not apply.
    – Wastrel
    Jan 19, 2020 at 14:42

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