Cloture is the act of ending debate on a subject in a legislative assembly, and most often today it’s used in reference to the United States Senate. The word is a modern borrowing from the French clôture, which was used by the French Assembly in the nineteenth century.
Its use in English dates to at least 1845, when it appears in Luther Stearns Cushing’s Manual of Parliamentary Practice, which refers to cloture votes taken in the British House of Commons.
Given that our current use of cloture is so closely associated with the US Senate, it’s somewhat surprising to learn that body’s adoption of the term is a twentieth century innovation. It wasn’t until 1917 that the Senate adopted a cloture rule requiring a two-thirds majority (65 votes, later 67) approval for ending debate. Prior to that, ending debate on a matter required unanimous approval and a single senator could filibuster a bill so long as his vocal cords held out. In 1975 the number of votes required for cloture was reduced to a three-fifths majority (60 votes). In 2013 the Senate reduced the number to a simple majority (51 votes) for approval of executive and judicial nominations, other than US Supreme Court nominees. In 2017 the Senate applied the simple majority rule to Supreme Court nominees as well.
Corpus of Historical American English, Brigham Young University, May 2016.
“Filibuster and Cloture,” United States Senate, accessed 8 April 2017.
Oxford English Dictionary, second edition, 1989, s. v. cloture, n.
Copyright 1997-2017, by David Wilton