No one saw this coming. When Sen. Chris Murphy, whose home state of Connecticut saw the Sandy Hook shooting, took the Senate floor, everyone assumed he would submit another ho-hum Post Office renaming or $100 billion defense program.
Instead, Sen. Murphy started talking. He started talking and talking, and he promised not to stop talking until Congress passed a frankly bipartisan commonsense bill to create a secret government blacklist of folks who can’t own guns.
Sen. Murphy was joined by 40 of his colleagues, who banded together in support of the #HoldTheFloor movement. Watching this, we insiders all had one thought: Who knows when they’ll yield the floor? And frankly, who cares?
This is a real filibuster. Not that fake stuff, where you say you’re going to filibuster a bill, someone files a cloture motion, and everyone moves on, leaving loyal CSPAN-2 viewers unfulfilled. No, what we’re seeing is legit. A good old fashioned talk-a-thon. These are Real Senate Hours, folks. Smash that motherfreaking gavel.
It’s no secret that the Dig loves filibusters. Filibusters are like a movie marathon for Democracy They have all the thrill of a big budget Hollywood blockbuster: leviathans of legislating wielding arcane Senate procedure and Robert’s Rules of Order while the entire nation watches with bated breath.
The speaker might read from the phone book or dictionary as a ploy to kill time. The wily opposition leader might submit a devious Motion to Commit to the Consideration of the Previous Amendment. And all us viewers place bets on who will be the first to urinate themselves (smart money: Cory Booker). Just about anything can happen in this real life Frank Capra movie. Real Senate Hours.
So in honor of this thriller unfolding before our eyes, I thought I’d pull myself away from the boob tube just long enough to share with you The Dig’s personal picks for most heroic filibusters of all time:
Strom Thurmond’s filibuster of the Civil Rights Act (1957)
In 1957, Strom Thurmond took a stand.
Let me clarify that I do not agree with his stand, as Thurmond was firmly against the already compromised-to-hell-and-back 1957 Civil Rights Act, and the Dig Man is a strong believer in civil rights (especially when they have been put through the arduous process of compromise).
That said, his passion and dedication to the process was simply remarkable. My sportswatcher friend Billiards Fool called it the “Jordan Flu Game” (whatever that means) of Senate procedural racism.
Strom Thurmond may have been famous for wearing diapers in his last two Senate terms, but it was this particular moment where he wore diapers that I will remember him for.
Wendy Davis’ filibuster of Texas Senate Bill 5 (2013)
When the conservative Texas Senate held a special session to pass one of the strictest abortion bills in the country, a little-known senator named Wendy Davis slipped on her pink sneakers and stepped up to the podium.
Davis wanted to run out the clock until the end of the special session, and to do that she had to stand on her poor soles for a punishing 11-hour-long standing filibuster. One can only imagine how much arch and toe pain she forced her feet to endure. Surely, by the eleventh hour, Wendy Davis’ heels were veiny and red, those pink sneakers just sopping wet with hot perspiration.
In the end, Davis and her pink sneakers succeeded, and the bill was declared dead, until the next month when a second special session was held to pass it. But that night, as she was being carried off the floor by her jubilant colleagues, Davis knew she had won a moral victory, just by taking a stand.
Carl Diggler’s filibuster of the Family Court ruling in In re unsupervised custody of Colby Diggler (2014)
The odds were against him. Everyone doubted him. The votes weren’t in his favor, either. Still he rose, because what’s right is right, and if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.
Yes, in November of 2014, treacherous family court Judge Ellen Tao wanted to deny an unsupervised trip to the National Portrait Gallery. She banged down her gavel with the callousness of a woman who will never understand the love a father has for his round son.
And that was that — or so she thought.
For 15 straight hours, he decimated the star chamber with blistering logical deconstructions, heartwarming stories his boy, and recitations of the Joycelyn Elders confirmation hearings.
Because the heavy-handed bailiff was out sick, this filibuster went on unimpeded. The man expertly deployed urine in small bursts so as to not fully wet his pants and cause embarrassment; and then he replenished his fluids with Fresca and Sanka in equal parts.
And, for once, the good guy won. Judge Tao’s stone heart was moved. The man got to take his boy to the gallery, and though his nose was buried in a mobile gaming device, the boy was proud his pop fought for his right to show him a painting of John C. Calhoun.
Carl “The Dig” Diggler has covered national politics for 30 years, and is the author of “Think-ocracy: The Rise Of The Brainy Congressman”. Got a question for the Dig? E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or Tweet to @carl_diggler.