Strange Texas filibuster rule

Many of you would be aware of how Texas state senator Wendy Davis helped defeat an effort to pass extremely restrictive abortion legislation by conducting a ‘talking filibuster’ for over 10 hours that ran out the clock so that a vote could not be taken by midnight of the last day of the legislative session.

Her heroic effort may be for nought because governor Rick Perry has decided to call for an immediate special session to take up the bill again. It seems like the bill will pass and the question is whether Democrats in Texas can use this issue to inflict damage on the Republicans in the 2014 elections.

But apart from that, I was struck by one of the conditions that must be met by anyone conducting a talking filibuster in Texas: “Rules stipulated she remain standing, not lean on her desk or take any breaks — even for meals or to use the bathroom.”

Surely that is hugely discriminatory against any member of the legislature who because of whatever reason such as disability or age cannot stand for any length of time or maybe even stand at all? What if the person has some medical problem that requires her to take medication periodically in privacy?

I must say that I find the talking filibuster one of the weirdest things about American politics. What purpose it serves beats me.


  1. dano says

    Too bad Davis’ filibustering was for nothing. An unusual tactic in politics that resulted in pain & discomfort for both Mrs. Davis and anyone else forced to listen. Governor Perry is indeed the people’s choice.

  2. Francisco Bacopa says

    I presume she was wearing astronaut diapers. So sweet to hear Dewhurst announce
    the vote was invalid because it happened at 12:03 . Texas has semi-open primaries and I voted Republican last year in the primaries for Dewhurst as US Senator and against Ted Cruz. That didn’t work out.

    As you know, there will be an extension of the special session next week. Several years ago the Dems used to run away to another state to block votes. This has since been made a felony in Texas. Most legislators can afford the fine of a few tens of thousands of dollars, but a felony can lead to disbarment and future loss of income. Of course the Texas bar could rule that such “political crimes” were exempt from consideration.

    As things stand, I am ready to go to protests at the reinstated special session. I can pay my rent for two months and take my elderly cat to her own special room. I have a safe place to park my car in Austin. I am ready to fuck shit up. They can’t vote if all entrances are blocked. I think we can do it.

  3. says

    Actually, most democracies based on the British system have a means by which a bill can be “talked out”; not just the United States but the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, India, Ireland, Hong Kong and several others. Similar rules exist in France, Austria, the Netherlands and the Philippines. Even the Roman Republic had something similar to the filibuster.

    Typically, it is a by-product of other rules and not something that is directly permitted: in the US Senate, a Senator who is given the floor may keep it under certain conditions as long as he keeps talking, unless 3/5ths of the total number of Senators (as distinct from 3/5th of those who are present) vote to end the discussion. Those rules were in place for several decades before the first filibuster. In the US House, and in most state legislatures, the rules allow someone to hold the floor as long as they keep talking up to a fixed unit of time. In the US House, a Representative is allowed to hold the floor for no more than 2 hours at a time, ever.

    Texas is one of the few states whose rules allow for a filibuster. As I recall, the rules allow the Pro Tem of the state Senate to recognize a Senator and give her the floor for a set amount of time. She is allowed to go over that time for as long as she can, PROVIDED that she remains on topic and has the stamina to do so. The original intention of this rule, which goes back to the 1860s, was to allow for meaning, on point discussion while discouraging rambling or obstructionism.

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