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

Share
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?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Windows 3rd Line System Administrator

£35000 - £39000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Lifting Equipment Service / Installation Engineer

£24000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Lifting Equipment Service/Ins...

Recruitment Genius: Junior / Apprentice Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£11000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This financial company offer ma...

Guru Careers: International Project Coordinator / Account Coordinator

Circa £26,500 DOE: Guru Careers: An International Project Coordinator / Accoun...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

No more big characters or Tory clowns like Boris Johnson. London desperately needs a boring mayor

Rachel Holdsworth
Cilla Black lived her life in front of the lens, whether on television or her earlier pop career  

Cilla Black death: A sad farewell to the singer who gave us a 'lorra, lorra laughs'

Gerard Gilbert
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen