This has been an exciting week at the Supreme Court. But nothing on First Street matched the drama of the Texas State Legislature last night in Austin.
If you watch only television news, you might have missed it.
Wendy Davis, a Democratic Texas state senator from Fort Worth, mounted a one-woman filibuster trying to stop Texas from passing restrictive abortion laws that would have effectively closed all but five of the abortion clinics in the state. Her fight was a lesson in small-scale democracy, arcane parliamentary laws, and standard GOP tactics to change those laws when they feel like they’re losing.
But most of all, it was a lesson in the power of the people…
If you missed it, you need to have better friends on Twitter and Facebook. The Texas Legislature has very strict rules about filibusters — rules that I would take today in the U.S. Senate over the costless nonsense they have — but strict and somewhat arbitrary rules nonetheless. Here’s Rachel Sklar’s report (Sklar has the very best ticker in the world of everything that happened last night):
[Wendy Davis] showed up to the vote wearing pink tennis shoes, knowing that the parliamentary rules governing the session would require her to stand and speak on the topic straight through, without a break to sit down, use a bathroom, eat or drink, or even lean on the podium for support.
And so she did. She read testimony from abortion providers and personal accounts of Texan women and explained how the proposed law was harmful to her constituents and their communities, and then, to keep the momentum going, welcomed testimony from across the country. She stayed studiously on topic, lest she be challenged by the Republican opposition for raising topics that were not “germane.” She had to be careful because it was a three-strikes-and-you’re-out rule.
It turns out that this wasn’t Davis’s first rodeo, or her first tough fight. From NBC:
At age 19, Davis was divorced and a single mother, raising her daughter in a trailer park in Tarrant County. She took two years of community college courses before transferring to Texas Christian University, according to her state legislature profile. She became the first person in her family to graduate from college, and went on to Harvard Law School.
Davis, now 50, served nine years on the Fort Worth City Council while practicing as an attorney, then resigned in 2008 to take on a Republican incumbent in the state’s tenth district. She won a hard-fought race against Kim Brimer, securing 49.9 percent of the vote.
Come on, how can you not like Wendy Davis? What an impressive life story. That law firm job she quit was at Haynes and Boone, by the way. She also clerked for U.S. District Judge Jerry Buchmeyer.
In any event, let Sklar explain to you how Davis got her three strikes before the session ended at midnight Texas time:
Her first strike was for mentioning Planned Parenthood’s budget (ruled not germane, despite SB5 pointedly invoking expensive new demands on clinics). Her second strike was for a fellow Senator assisting her with her back brace. (Filibustering members must stand unassisted.) Her third strike, at about 10 p.m. CT, was mentioning sonograms — totally germane, since under Texas law sonograms are a prerequisite to obtaining an abortion — unless you’re Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, who declared sonograms not germane to the matter at hand and moved to end the filibuster.
But that’s when the people took over. Despite receiving no network coverage (an unbelievable story about the irrelevance of mainstream media in and of itself), over 180,000 people were watching the only thing unfold on the Texas Legislature live stream. #StandWithWendy was the #1 trending topic on Twitter, and we don’t even know how many thousands or millions of people were keeping abreast through social media.
And so then the Texas Republican Senators tried to just end the filibuster and push through the vote. But as the Supreme Court could tell you, you want to turn the cameras off before you try to hijack their rights:
This is when all hell broke loose, parliamentary style.
A dull roar rose in the room. The galleries above the Senate chamber were packed with activists, supporters and concerned citizens — polls showed that Texans overwhelmingly opposed SB5 — and a chant arose of, “LET HER SPEAK! LET HER SPEAK!” Dewhurst tried to restore order. State troopers started clearing the gallery. Sen. Kirk Watson moved to appeal Dewhurt’s ruling. Sen. Judith Zaffirini objected to Dewhurt’s summary decision, saying that filibuster ended only with a vote by the Senate. Sen. Leticia Van de Putte asked for a debrief on what she’d missed since she’d come straight from her father’s funeral. The clock ran down.
Meanwhile, protesters gathered in the statehouse rotunda, angry at the sketchy way the filibuster had been shot down. They refused to leave…
Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, the one who had come from her father’s funeral, kept trying to be recognized. It was 11:45 p.m. Finally she got the chair’s attention: “At what point does a female senator need to raise hand and her voice to be recognized over her male colleagues in the room?”
The crowd went bonkers. The chair, Duncan, tried to restore order but there was no chance — it was a citizen filibuster. There was no way the GOP could wrap this up with a vote in 15 minutes, not with Watson’s motion still on the floor. Or could they?
After various attempts to declare the bill passed when the entire world could see that the bill had not been voted on before the legislative session expired, the Republicans finally relented and declared the bill dead at about 3:00 a.m. Texas time.
At least for now. The Harvard lawyer used all her legal skills and fighting skills to delay this measure. But in the end, only the people can stop these kinds of policies.
Messing With Texas [Medium.com]
Lone Star: Texas lawmaker, once a teen mom, leads abortion filibuster [NBC News]