I made a spur-of-the-moment decision yesterday to drive up to Austin from Houston to watch Senator Wendy Davis's filibuster of the special session. The news coverage that morning was riveting but sparse. By the afternoon, my escalating curiosity gave way to the sense that I would be ashamed of myself if I stayed away. 

I did not stop for lunch or a drink or anything on the way up, which turned out to be lucky, because once I got a seat in the chamber (at around 4 p.m.), I never left. When I first arrived, I landed in a seat facing across the senate floor, where I could see Dewhurst and the podium, but not Senator Davis. Right after the first Point of Order was sustained, I moved to a spot directly in front of Senator Davis. Here is how the first Point of Order argument looked from my initial vantage point: 
(Quick procedural overview, just in case: Dewhurst is the current Lieutenant Governor of Texas, which also makes him the  President of the Senate. That means he gets to "rule" on things the Senators do or ask for, like Points of Order to challenge a procedural aspect, or Points of Inquiry or Information to clarify what is going on. The woman in the white suit to his left in the above picture is the Parliamentarian, and advised him and others more or less constantly about what his rulings should be from a procedural point of view.  If a Senator thought Wendy was breaking a rule, he or she would bring a Point of Order regarding that rule. Dewhurst would then either sustain the Point of Order or overrule it. Three sustained Points of Order regarding Senator Davis's conduct would result in two warnings and then a vote on whether the filibuster would be allowed to continue. That was what was supposed to happen, anyways.)

The Senate Republicans got their three Points of Order against Senator Davis last night. Though those Points are more or less technicalities, I think they illustrated some basic truths about the broader situation. 

Most of the challenges (sustained or not) concerned relevance of testimony or questions. The second Point of Order, however, concerned the fact that Senator Ellis had apparently assisted Senator Davis in putting on a back brace. When the Point was raised, it was framed as though the back brace itself might be impermissible, like leaning on a desk would be. But quickly the objection morphed into one against the fact that Senator Ellis had helped. 

Back brace aside, that was absolutely true. Senator Ellis did indeed help, courageously and effectively, as did the other Democratic members present, especially Senator Watson, whose hour-plus questioning session no doubt provided some rest for Wendy's voice and vigilance; Senator Zaffirini, who was ready with a huge copy of the rule book and a measured challenge at every turn;  Senators West and Whitmire, who threw procedural elbows; and Senator Van De Putte, whose late, stirring entry to the session resulted in a late, stirring start of the ultimate ruckus. Watching those men and women pull together and execute was a thing of beauty. 

The first and third sustained Points of Order concerned the relevance of Senator Davis's testimony. The "offending" content the first time was about organizational budgets. (When the Point was raised, Wendy noted that she had testified to the same subject material during the original hearing on the bill.) When the third and final Point of Order was called, Wendy was testifying as to the practical effect of the State of Texas's abortion legislation as it would be, cumulatively, were that bill to pass. I was paying close attention to this testimony. She was laying out a kind of timeline of what a given woman - in her hypothetical, a woman who lived in a rural area of the state - would have to do to comply with the laws regulating abortion, including SB5. 

One of the things that woman would have to do is comply with the so-called "sonogram law," which requires a woman to get an ultrasound and a doctor to tell the woman certain things about what the ultrasound reveals within specific time perimeters of an abortion. (This article gives a harrowing account of the bill's effect.) Wendy was at that point in her hypothetical timeline of the Legally Compliant Texan Abortion Post-Passage of SB5 when Senator Campbell (a woman) challenged the relevance of the testimony. She charged that Senator Davis was talking about the previous bill - the ultrasound bill - and not the bill at hand, and therefore it was not germane. 

This was really shocking to me. Senator Campbell was asking for a ruling that the effects of abortion legislation in Texas are irrelevant to proposed abortion legislation in Texas. That the practical outcome of a law governing the conduct of women and doctors was irrelevant in considering a law governing the conduct of women and doctors. 

On its face, it seems absurd. But today it looks exactly right to me. Of course that is irrelevant to Senator Campbell. Of course she is not interested in how this plays out for women - especially poor, rural women. She does not want to hear it. Neither did the rest of the Senate Republicans. That is the point. And Dewhurst, after probably two hours of consultation with the Senators in question and the Parliamentarian, ruled in her favor.  Wendy Davis's testimony asked the Senators to look at the women whose desperate moments they were attempting to legislate further, and the Republicans responded "that is not germane."  The refusal to engage is cruel and willfully ignorant, but it is par for the course.  With that Point of Order, they shut down the hypothetical - shut down the exercise of visualizing and understanding the plight they were attempting to exacerbate for women in their state. Or rather, they tried. 

What followed was an outburst from the gallery that sounded just like the shock and deadening I felt. Soon thereafter, the yelling started in the rotunda. Both escalated until it became clear that the Democrats weren't giving up yet. Procedural motion after procedural motion came. When order was restored, the ranks in the gallery had been thinned a little by state troopers and by some observers leaving (presumably to join the crowd outside, thinking the session had ended). Dewhurst made it clear that if there were another outburst, the gallery would be emptied altogether.

The Senators mounted an impressive series of parries while Senator Davis stood calmly in her space. The 11:00 marker passed with Senators from both parties lobbing more and more motions into the confusion. Though there was considerable overlap, it appeared to me that the most serious worry was the motion for previous question brought by Hegar. I won't try to dissect what happened in this last hour and a half here, but it was dizzying. Senator Watson pleaded with the Senate not to end the session on a motion to table, of all things. I do not think the end of the filibuster was ever put to its required vote, but I can't be sure. What I do know is that during the roll call for a separate motion that would move proceedings closer to their end, Senator Van De Putte interrupted, and subsequently made her now-famous inquiry:  "At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over her male colleagues?"

The vote on SB5 had not yet happened. The gallery erupted into cheers at Senator Van De Putte's question. It was about a quarter until midnight. 

The applause grew. I was sure the state troopers would begin hauling us out, but they stood fast. I stopped being able to hear what was happening on the floor. We were all on our feet, and I kept my eyes on Senator Davis in front of me. To that point she had been an absolute model of professionalism and calm, never engaging with the gallery or stepping outside her measured testimony. But then she was holding up two fingers, the sign for the "no" vote. I realized they must have been trying to vote on the bill. Then I saw an aide make the "more noise" motion, and it dawned on me that the gallery was now the filibuster. She looked up into the gallery. The realization was spreading. Furiously clapping against my leg with one hand, I pulled out my phone and recorded Senator Davis standing, alone, holding up her "No" vote while the Senate Republicans crowded the podium. I apologize for the quality and size of this video, but hopefully it gives an idea of the moment: 

Wendy Davis raises her "No" vote (you might want to turn down the volume.)

Gradually, the other Democratic Senators gathered around her. The support they had shown for her throughout the day was truly moving - they were absolutely critical to the effort - and watching them rally at her side to hold up their own "No" votes made me so, so proud. Same disclaimers on this clip: 

Democratic Senators join Wendy Davis

This kept up until after midnight, at which point the gallery was ringed by state troopers.  You know the rest. The ostensible vote, the changed date stamp on the Senate record, the eventual and petulant admission that the vote had not been timely. I imagine the legislature will adopt rules in response to this that if observers interrupt proceedings, the time is paused, and added back once order is restored, because this simply can't be the way business proceeds in the future. But it was thrilling to be part of it. 

Senator Davis never did sit down. 





 


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