Donald A. Ritchie, the associate Senate historian, says the modern use of the hold began in the 1950s under the leadership of Senator Lyndon B. Johnson, who increased the use of unanimous consent agreements to bring more order to the Senate. Holds were initially allowed as a courtesy to senators who needed more time to get to the chamber to object in person, read the bill or try to negotiate changes with the sponsor.
But their use has proliferated and intensified to the point where lawmakers employ them not only to lodge substantive objections to legislation, but also to stall nominations and bills routinely in retaliation for other actions or to win concessions. Though leaders can break a hold with a 60-vote majority, they have often been reluctant to do so out of respect for the tradition — and the chance they might want to impose a hold of their own some day.
Aug 1, 2007
History of the Hold
Carl Hulse of The New York Times delves into the history of the hold -- "allowing senators to block legislation and nominations anonymously" -- whose anonymity is now being threatened.