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Wendy Davis v. Rand Paul: Whose Filibuster Was Better?

Eric Schlegel/Getty Images News

Last night Texas state Senator Wendy Davis, a Democrat, filibustered SB 5, a bill that would have banned all abortions after 20 weeks and shut down most of the state’s abortion providers. With over 100,000 people watching the Senate’s live feed as the bill’s vote missed its deadline, Davis is poised to go down in filibuster history. But how does her filibuster stack up against the other recently famous filibuster, a less dramatic—but no less impressive—performance from Kentucky Senator Rand Paul back in March? To demand answers on the domestic use of drones, Paul attempted to filibuster the nomination of John Brennan to head the CIA.


Davis: Texas Senate in Austin.

Paul: U.S. Senate in Washington, D.C.

Filibuster rules

Davis was not allowed to sit, eat, drink, use the restroom, get off topic, or stop talking—except to take questions from colleagues—during her filibuster. When she answered questions, she had to remain in the chamber. A point of order was even brought against her for receiving help from a fellow senator when donning a back brace at around 7 p.m.

Paul faced similar rules. He was also allowed to yield to questions, and got some help from fellow Republican senators Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.).

Starting time

Davis: 11:18 a.m. CST

Paul: 11:47 a.m. EST

Opening lines

Davis: “Partisanship and ambition are not unusual in a state capitol, but here in Texas, right now, it has risen to a level of profound irresponsibility and the raw abuse of power.”

Paul: "I rise today to begin to filibuster John Brennan's nomination for the CIA I will speak until I can no longer speak. I will speak as long as it takes, until the alarm is sounded from coast to coast that our Constitution is important, that your rights to trial by jury are precious, that no American should be killed by a drone on American soil without first being charged with a crime, without first being found to be guilty by a court. That Americans could be killed in a cafe in San Francisco or in a restaurant in Houston or at their home in Bowling Green, Kentucky, is an abomination."

Reason for opposition

Davis: “The real aim of this bill is not to make women safer, but to force the closure of multiple facilities across the state of Texas without a single care or concern for the women whose lives will be impacted by that decision. Not a single care or concern.”

Paul: “This discussion tonight really isn't so much about John Brennan. It isn't about his nomination so much as it's about whether or not we believe that in America there are some rights that are so special that we're not willing to give up on these.”

Most unexpected moment

As Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, a Republican, attempted to declare Davis's third filibuster violation, the crowd in the gallery began to chant “Let her speak!”

In the mid-afternoon, Paul received a letter from Attorney General Eric Holder stating that President Barack Obama does not have “the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil.”

Most memorable moment

While reading testimony from a woman who had to have an abortion for medical reasons, Davis began crying. “Instead of choosing an outfit for her to move home, I was picking out her burial gown. I held her—kissed her—watched her get baptized—told her that I loved her and I said, ‘Goodbye,’” she read.

Near the end of his filibuster, Paul joked about his need of a restroom, saying, “I have discovered that there are some limits to filibustering, and I’m going to have to go take care of one of those in a few minutes here.” 

Final line

Davis was speaking about the impact of the 2011 Texas abortion sonogram law when Senator Donna Campbell brought a point of order against her for getting off topic. Though Davis tried to argue that her discussion of the 2011 law was relevant to SB 5's inclusion of sonogram requirements, Dewhurst sustained Campbell's point of order. As The Texas Tribune explained, this was Davis's third violation of filibuster procedure (the first was for the germaneness of the discussion, the second was for receiving assistance with her back brace), thereby allowing the Senate to vote to end her filibuster and vote on SB 5. However, the filibuster continued for another 32 minutes while Democratic senators Kirk Watson and Royce West attempted to appeal Dewhurst's decision. 

Paul ended his filibuster with a nod to Strom Thurmond’s record (24 hours, 18 minutes) and a hope that “[the topic of domestic drone strikes] won’t be swept under the rug, that this isn’t the end of this, but will be the beginning of this.”

Ending time

Davis: At 10:39 p.m., Dewhurst maintained his ruling on Davis’s third violation, effectively ending her filibuster.

Paul: At 12:39 a.m. EST, Paul ended his closing remarks and yields the floor.

Length of filibuster

Davis: 11 hours, 39 minutes

Paul: 12 hours, 52 minutes


After the filibuster officially ended and Dewhurst's decision was not appealed, the Senate took a vote on SB 5. It passed, 19 to 10. But after much confusion, the vote was invalidated. According to the Times, Dewhurst said "all the ruckus and noise going on" was preventing him from making the vote official; Senate Democrats, meanwhile, "said the real reason the vote could not be made official was a time stamp on official documents that showed the bill passed after midnight." At the end of the session, Davis gathered with her fellow senators and told the crowd, “You should all be proud of yourselves, because you were amazing today, [and] in those last few minutes, when you brought the house down."

Having received an “explicit answer” to his question on the domestic use of drones, Paul dropped his filibuster just before the vote, and Brennan was nominated. His filibuster was later criticized by the coalition Fix the Senate Now. There is speculation that Paul will also filibuster the nomination of James Comey as director of the FBI. Though Paul sent a letter to FBI Director Robert Mueller demanding answers on drone strikes shortly before Comey’s nomination, his communications director, Moira Bagley, has said “it’s too early to tell” if another filibuster is in the works. 

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Paul was not required to remain in the chamber and was able to take bathroom and food breaks. In fact, Paul was required to remain in the chamber, and thus, according to Bagley, did not use the bathroom until after he ended his filibuster.