Wendy Davis' 10-hour speech propels her into the filibuster super league. She's in varied company

The rules for speaking in the Texas Senate are strict, so Davis' speech blocking an anti-abortion bill is a historical achievement - even if she missed her self-imposed target

Related Topics

Though Wendy Davis has not pulled off the longest filibuster in American history, her achievement in staying on her feet for ten hours is in its way unique, even if she missed her self-imposed target.

The rules for speaking in the 31 member Texas Senate are strict. Senator Davis took the floor at 11.18 am, needing to keep talking for 12 hours and 42 minutes to ensure that the bill to close most of Texas’s abortion clinics and ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy missed its midnight deadline. She was not allowed to go off the topic, or to take food or water, or nip to the ladies, or lean on her desk. Her chair was taken away as she began: no sitting allowed.

After 10 hours, in which her marathon was trending on social media, the chairman ruled that the 50 year old senator had strayed off the point and brought her speech to an end. She had failed to reach midnight, but had done enough to block the bill.

Her task would have been easier in the US Senate in Washington, birthplace of the filibuster – a word derived from the Spanish filibustero, which American adventurers picked up in the mid-19th century. The longest in history was the performance by the racist bigot from South Carolina, Strom Thurmond, who delivered a speech that endured for 24 hours and 18 minutes, in a successful bid to block the 1957 Civil Rights Act. He began at 8.54 pm on 28 August 1957, and ended at 9.12 pm the following day.

But Thurmond was operating under easier rules, which allowed him to take the floor equipped with cough drops and malted milk tablets. He was also allowed short interventions from other senators, during which he could sneak to the cloakroom and gobble down a sandwich. An aide was on hand there holding a bucket in case the senator was caught short.

In Parliament, MPs operate under rules almost as strict as those that eventually defeated Senator Davis, though they are allowed to take questions from other MPs in mid speech, or be interrupted by points of order, which help them keep going. In June 1985, when Enoch Powell was due to present a private members’ bill that would have banned stem cell research, Dennis Skinner took up two and a half hours speaking about whether or not to move the writ for a by-election in a seat whose MP had recently died. He made a three-hour speech in January 1989 on the same topic, though involving a different constituency, to prevent Ann Widdecombe introducing a bill to limit abortions.

The longest speech ever delivered on the floor of the Commons during the 20th century was by the Tory barrister, Sir Ivan Lawrence, in March 1985. He spent four hours and 23 minutes on his feet opposing the Flouridation bill.

The Labour MP John Golding holds the 20th century record for the longest parliamentary speech, when he spoke for 11 hours on the Telecommunications bill. But this was in a committee, not in the Commons Chamber, which meant that he could take breaks for lunch and dinner.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 3rd Line Virtualisation, Windows & Server Engineer

£40000 - £47000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 3rd Line Virtualisation / Sto...

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Fixed Term Contract

£17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently require an experie...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Army reservist Corporal James Dunsby  

Whether it’s in the City, the Army or at school, this ritual sadism has to stop

Chris Blackhurst
Caitlyn Jenner, the transgender Olympic champion formerly known as Bruce, unveiled her new name on Monday  

'I'm the happiest I've been for a long time and I finally know where I fit': Here's why role models matter for trans kids

Susie Green
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific