In the last few days of its 2013 session, the Texas Legislature was preparing to pass a bill that would have dramatically reduced abortion access for women in the Lone Star State. The measure was one many Republican state legislatures have been attempting in an effort to (a.) please their Christian conservative base and (b.) produce a worthy test case that might entice the Supreme Court to toss out Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that guaranteed the right to an abortion.
Democrats and abortion-rights supporters weren’t happy about the legislation, but like much of the South, Republicans dominate state politics in Texas. This round in the 40-year battle over abortion was going to be won by the opponents.
Well, that’s how it was supposed to go.
One Democratic state senator, Wendy Davis of Fort Worth, decided to filibuster the bill. More precisely, Davis was chosen because of her hardscrabble backstory. The daughter of a single mother who went to work supporting her family at age 14, Davis was married, a mother and divorced by the time she was 19. She struggled her way through college and then Harvard Law School.
Davis took the floor of the state Senate in Austin late Tuesday morning. All that was necessary was to talk for 13 hours, at which time the current session of the Texas Legislature was expected to end, and the bill would die.
Davis didn’t quite make it to midnight, but by the time Republicans had successfully challenged her obedience to Texas’ strict rules of filibuster conduct, it was deemed too late to push the bill through.
Over the course of half of Tuesday, Davis captured the attention of much of the nation, even eliciting support from President Barack Obama’s Twitter account.
We can only hope U.S. senators were watching. Just as we hope they were paying attention in March when one of their own, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., engaged in a filibuster lasting more than 12 hours.
These extended filibusters are the real thing. In the modern Senate, most filibusters are only theoretical. One or more senators can merely say they intend to filibuster, and 60 votes are required to overcome this virtual objection.
A majority of Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. Senate are comfortable with this arrangement because it benefits the minority party and because the majority party realizes one election cycle can send it back to junior status.
Enough. Senators should follow the examples of Paul and Davis. They should put their voices, backs and knees into actual filibusters.