Following last night’s remarkable events in the Texas Senate chamber—an eleven hour actual filibuster followed by public disruption right down to the last second–Rick Perry has called for another special session. This one may have but a single piece of legislation on the table—the highly restrictive abortion bill the Republicans were unable to pass yesterday.
As I recently discussed, restrictive abortion laws translate into deaths of more women and teenage girls. It is not opinion, it is long established fact. In the U.S., restrictive abortion laws are also illegal—the Supreme Court has ruled them unconstitutional. The Texas law, besides restricting abortions to before 20 weeks, will effectively shut down most of the abortion facilities in the state.
If it passes, women and teen girls in Texas will die—because of the law.
What can Texas Democrats do about it? A filibuster is out of the question. Special sessions can be as long as 30 days!
But a Democratic walkout could work–that is, they can engage in a quorum block. The Texas Senate has 32 members, the Lt. Governor plus 31 Senators. The two-thirds quorum requirement means that the absence of 11 members shuts down voting. Currently the Texas senate is composed of 12 Democratic and 19 Republican Senators. This means that a group of 11 Senators is sufficient to shut down voting.
They might even flee the state like they did in 2003 during a highly unusual “mid-decade” redistricting move by Republicans. Eleven Democratic Senators fled Texas during a third special session:
…the minute it became clear the GOP was going to force the issue in the Senate by voting on a rule change, he said, the 11 executed their escape plan and broke the quorum. They grabbed bags already packed in their offices and boarded SUVs that took them to the airport, where two jets were waiting to fly them to Albuquerque.
The Democrats checked into a Marriott hotel in Albuquerque. The senators didn’t hide. They decided to call themselves the Texas Eleven, and even developed a logo – a silhouette of Texas inside the symbol for New Mexico under the words, “Never, Never, Never Quit.”
Eventually, one Democratic member, Senator John Whitmire, relented and returned solo to the chamber. The quorum block failed.
Sen. Whitmire is still in the Texas Senate (in fact, he is the longest serving member). So, Democrats would need a solid block of the other 11 Senators to pull off a shut down.
But Democrats were successful in blocking a quorum in 1979 that prevented a change in the Texas primary that would have benefited a Republican candidate. The story is told by former Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby (R):
The whole thing was a fiasco. In protest, twelve “Killer Bee” senators flew the Capitol to break a quorum. The “Worker Bees,” who stayed behind, spent each session haranguing the absentees, since we didn’t have the quorum necessary to transact any business. And we were in the very last weeks of the session with lots of legislation in the pipeline.
Before long, the Worker Bees put a call on the Senate. This action required all absentees to return. The Worker Bees sent the Texas Rangers to net the Killer Bees wherever they had flown. The fact was, for several days the Killer Bees had been hived up in Dora McDonald’s small garage apartment. Dora McDonald, Sen. Carl Parker’s chief of staff, lived only blocks from the Capitol. Her guests passed the time playing cards, arguing, and listening to each other snore. The Worker Bees continued to harangue them from the Senate floor.
One senator, Gene Jones, left the hive — he wanted to see his granddaughter. The Rangers heard that Jones was home in Houston. Photo in hand, they knocked on his door. A man who looked a lot like the picture opened the door. The Ranger asked him if he was Jones. He said yes. They arrested him and took him to Austin. He was Jones all right, but not Gene Jones. They had arrested Gene’s brother, Clayton. When the knock came at the door the senator had jumped over the back fence and stayed lost for another day.
The other possibility is for the House Democrats to flee the state. In fact, 52 Texas House Democrats fled the state earlier in 2003 during the regular session, as well. Of the 150 member House, a 2/3rds quorum is required, so that if 51 members are absent, the House shuts down. Currently there are 55 Democratic members and 95 Republicans. So…this isn’t out of the question.
Ultimately, it would be great if the Senate and House joined forces and every Democratic legislator left the state. They would likely endure fines and ridicule, but they would be saving lives of women and teen girls.
That kind-a makes it worthwhile.