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June 25, 2013 11:16 PM Abortion, Heroes and Scoundrels

By Mark Kleiman

Texas Sen. Wendy Davis is a hero.

Texas Sen. Tommy Williams, by contrast, isn’t even a gentleman.

Davis is in now in the final three hours of a thirteen-hour ordeal to block a law that would make legal abortions virtually unobtainable in most of Texas by creating unmeetable rules (e.g., the physician must hold admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic). As it happens, Davis only holds office due to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which prevented the Republicans from districting her out of her seat.

The Texas Senate filibuster rules require a single senator to hold the floor and to remain standing at all times, without food or water. The senator must keep speaking unless relieved by colleague who asks a question, but must keep standing in any case, without leaning on anything or receiving assistance from anyone to remain standing. That sounds to me like a rule against holding someone up.

But when a colleague helped Davis adjust her back brace, the low-life scoundrel Williams raised a point of order, the coward David Dewhurst, presiding, lacked the guts to make a ruling, and the Republican majority in the Senate duly voted that Davis had broken the rules. She was called out on another occasion for what the Republicans held was non-germane speech. If they find a third excuse to ding her before midnight, they can then invoke cloture.

Alas, Rick Perry has the power to call the Legislature back into session, so Davis’s heroics probably won’t succeed in stopping the bill from becoming law. But she has already succeeded in forcing the GOP to demonstrate, once again, how utterly removed it is from the basic human decencies. I have a feeling – and a hope – that we will be hearing from her in the future.

Footnote If you Tweet, the hashtag is #standwithwendy. Davis has already gotten a Twitter shout-out from the President.

Update Dewhurst has now ruled that Davis’s remarks on Texas’s transvaginal sonogram law – a law passed for the same purpose as the measure under debate, to wit vitiating the right to choose under Roe v. Wade by making its exercise uncomfortable, expensive, and impracticable – were not germane to the debate. The Democrats are now extending the filibuster by raising points of order of their own and attempting to force a debate on overruling Dewhurst’s ruling.

It’s not looking good for the good guys. The moral of the story, once again, is that Republicans lie, cheat, and steal to get their way. Is it – barely – possible that today’s antics in Texas and Washington will spark a backlash at the polls in 2014. It seems to me that Barack Obama, having already earned his Not An Angry Black Man merit badge, needs to show some righteous anger.

Second update After the presiding officer twice refused to recognize a female Democratic Senator to make privileged motions, she called him out with a “parliamentary inquiry”: “At what point does a female senator need to raise her voice to be heard over the male colleagues in the room?”

That set off the crowd in the galleries, who are still making so much noise that the vote on the motion on the previous question could not be completed for fifteen minutes. Unless there’s a “stop the clock” rule, I think the good guys managed to run the clock out. Astounding!

Third update No, they’re voting on the bill, clearly after midnight. Remarkable what you can get away with when there’s no limit on your willingness to cheat.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-based Community]

Mark Kleiman is a professor of public policy at the University of California Los Angeles.