THE BLOG
06/27/2013 09:28 am ET Updated Aug 27, 2013

Wendy Davis's Filibuster: Keeping Gridlock Alive

Let me get the following information out of the way: I believe that Wendy Davis performed an act for heroic reasons in the Texas State Senate this Tuesday. I believe that the anti-abortion bill would have been catastrophic for Texas women, closing all abortion clinics and criminalizing abortion after 20 weeks. I also believe that the use of the filibuster in this way is inappropriate. What Davis had to do -- standing for 13 hours (and speaking continuously on abortion for almost 11) without being able to lean on anything, take a bathroom break, eat or drink -- is unnecessary and inhumane.

Human rights aside, the filibuster as it has been used recently in state senates and in the United States Senate also goes against the purpose of Congress. This tactic is supposed to be employed once in a while to stall a piece of legislation. Now it is used often and in place of conversation and deliberation among our state representatives. The filibuster isn't even necessarily a long-term solution -- Governor Rick Perry has already called another special session to pass SB-5.

After Rand Paul's 13-hour filibuster in March, author and political analyst Earl Ofari Hutchinson said,

The filibuster has been used time and again to wreak more political harm than good. This was evident during the endless debates and filibusters over civil rights to judicial appointments, and agency and cabinet appointments... Reinforcing the GOP's dwindling arsenal of Senate weapons by keeping the filibuster virtually intact has been a prime reason for much of the gridlock in Washington.

This time around, the Democrats have done their part in keeping gridlock alive. And that's not a good thing. Again, I support Senator Davis and I oppose the bill she fought against. However, that doesn't change my opinion of the filibuster tactic and the way it is used now, both in individual state senates and in the U.S. Senate. It's a shame that the only way we can (sort of) accomplish things in government today is by wasting time filibustering.

Congress was never supposed to make decisions or be forced to make decisions through the filibuster. This tool became popular in the 1850s when it was used by senators as well as representatives, but that changed as the House grew in size. In the Senate, unlimited debate continued and senators spoke as long as necessary on any issue. The process was always accompanied by fanfare, especially in the 1930s, when Senator Huey P. Long stood for 15 hours reciting Shakespeare and recipes while filibustering bills that favored the rich over the poor. Senator J. Strom Thurmond infamously filibustered for 24 hours and 18 minutes against the 1957 Civil Rights Act. In 1975, the Senate reduced the number of votes required to stop debate (cloture) from two-thirds to three-fifths, or 60 of the current one hundred senators instead of 67.

The filibuster needs to be reformed -- in state senates and federally -- beyond what was decided upon in January, and regardless of the issue in question or the party presenting it. No matter how you slice it, it's a wasteful way to conduct our government. Senate majority leader Harry Reid agrees: "If there were anything that ever needed changing in this body," he has said, "it's the filibuster rules, because it's been abused, abused, abused." The dramatic Mr. Smith Goes to Washington-esque presentations of the filibuster, as described above, are outdated. While the purpose of the filibuster always was to obstruct a bill, it carries more weight in a Congress that can't get much done. Since 2007, Democrats have had to end Republican filibusters more than 360 times.

Davis's "three strikes" demonstrate the absurd nature of the Texas State Senate regulations. The first strike occurred when Davis mentioned Planned Parenthood's budget, which was ruled not germane to the conversation. Davis was given strike two when a colleague helped her adjust a back brace. She didn't sit or lean -- arbitrary rules to begin with -- yet she only had one more strike before getting kicked off the floor. That final strike came at 10:07 p.m., 11 hours in, when Davis began discussing a 2011 sonogram law that Texas passed. This also was ruled off-topic, even though it really wasn't. Davis was trying to explain that further limitations on top of the already existing restrictions would be too difficult to bear.

The women of Texas received justice through Davis's filibuster, but I still believe it obstructs the kinds of proceedings that should be occurring in Congress, regardless of which party is using it. Federally, no senator should be allowed to read the phone book out loud to delay the passage of a bill. In 2013 especially, this tactic makes Congress seem even more like a group of preschoolers than their petty partisanship and lack of decision making does. State senates, Texas in particular, need to abandon their harsh, arduous policies associated with the filibuster. All any of this accomplishes is more gridlock and less conversation, exactly what the people don't need among our leaders.

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