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Posted on Wednesday 26 June 2013 at 7:18 pm

But vs. And [Warning: Politics Ahead!]


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The past couple of days have been a roller coaster for someone as politically interested as me. There were the US Supreme Court rulings on Affirmative Action and the Voting Rights Act. There was the Texas filibuster craziness on abortion. There were the US Supreme Court rulings on DOMA and Prop 8. There was the ouster of Australia's first woman PM (hey, look, it isn't all US!). I've been watching the news roll in on all of them and having, as the saying goes, SO MANY FEELS! If you don't know what any of these are or why I would care, I'll be happy to explain them as best I can, but be warned that I'm very opinionated and passionate about all of them so don't expect anything even vaguely resembling an impartial or unbiased analysis. The short versions in my opinion are lose for racial equality, win for women's rights, win for marriage equality, lose for feminism.

All of the loses for what I would consider my side, can only come with a "but we can keep fighting" attitude from me. Unfortunately all the wins should also come with a pretty hefty "but..." after them. Yes, Texas State Senator Davis, with help from a few colleagues and a very vocal batch of citizens, prevented Texas from passing a draconian measure designed to restrict women's rights to a safe abortion if they decide that is in their best interest. This makes me unbelievably happy and proud. But... protect the right to choose had to come down to parliamentary games and this is only a temporary victory that will not last a month as the governor has already called another special session to convene 1 July to pass the same law that was just defeated and no one can filibuster for 30 days. [Again, if anyone wants an explanation of things like Texas special sessions, filibusters, etc., I can do all that so just ask]. Yes, an important provision of DOMA was struck down. But.... all that means is the US government has to recognize as valid all marriages recognized by any state and there are still more states that do not allow gay marriage than do and this does nothing to force those states to recognize marriages performed elsewhere or to start allowing gay marriages themselves.

I'm a bit tired of the buts, though. I know they are real and important. The victories, even the ones that can not stand, still have to mean something. So I'm trying to find the ands. I'm trying to find the places for hope. Texas was prevented from passing a draconian measure designed to restrict women's rights to a safe abortion. And... this shows that even in a place supposedly as conservative as they come, there are many liberals and progressives willing to fight for their rights (and OMG! what a fight they put up!) and the rights of others no matter the odds and this can and hopefully will galvanize more people to do the same and even if it is switched later that does nothing to take away from the amazing accomplishment of last night and the energy and enthusiasm that can create to keep fighting. An important provision of DOMA was struck down. And... this automatically means hundreds of thousands of people have access to legal benefits in tax codes, access to easier immigration rules, etc. and the immediate impact of this on people's lives cannot be denied. I read about one deportation order already rescinded on the grounds that the non-US citizen's marriage to his US citizen husband is now recognized so his immigration status has changed. Even if it is just one, that is one loving couple who no longer has to fear separation of national borders because of their sexuality.

There are still battles to fight, and celebrating the merely symbolic victories and the real ones that just don't go all the way does nothing to take away from the commitment to keep fighting.

Comments:

aoife
failte_aoife at 2:12 pm on 27 June 2013 (UTC) (Link)
I think I am somewhat confused by this whole fillibuster-thing, less in the 'what happened there yesterday'-sense and more in the generell 'what is this?'-sense because afaik we don't have anything like this here.

I must admit that, while I am of course really happy about what happened part of me also went 'so...if you talk long enough you can stop a law from being passed? That is...odd.' (I know it's a lot more than 'just talking'...I still think it's a strange system)...and now from how I understand your and some other comments it might/could/will still pass anyway?
Is there some historical reason for this fillibustering? It's just that I can't imagine why someone would make up a rule that says 'A law will be passed unless there is someone who is willing to talk about it for 13+ hours without hesitation, deviation or repetition'

How often do fillibusters happen? I assume considering everything you have to go through it's not exactly something people rush to do but I vaguely recall reading that Davies already did this on another occasion so it is still something like a semi-regular occurence?
Rachael
bratty_jedi at 7:27 pm on 27 June 2013 (UTC) (Link)

Filibuster Part I

Filibusters are weird, that's for sure. First, since the US has such strong state governments in addition to the national or federal government, there are multiple different versions of the filibuster that can happen. Most, perhaps even all, state governments and the federal government have two legislative houses and each chamber gets to set its own rules for operating. The filibuster arose out of some of those rules and are typically only allowed for in the rules of the upper chambers but not the lower chambers. So the House will never have a filibuster, only the Senate. The idea behind a filibuster is basically that as long as someone has something to say on a bill, you shouldn't vote on it. It started as a "gentlemen's agreement" to just make sure everyone's voice was heard, everyone got a chance to debate their side, before a vote was called on a bill. Under very specific circumstances, this then means that one person willing to keep talking on a bill can prevent everyone else from being able to vote on it. The exact specific circumstances necessary vary from legislature to legislature, as do the rules for breaking the filibuster.

The key to a filibuster is that it can only happen near the required end of a session of congress. In this specific case.... Texans hate government. That's just the general popular opinion and attitude and it has been so for a very long time, basically since the state came into existence. The Texas state constitution allows the legislature to meet to pass laws only once every two years and then only for a few months. If there is an emergency when the legislature is not in session, say for example a foreign army invades Texas, the governor is allowed to call a special session to meet outside the usually allowed once every two years. Special sessions have to be called for a specific purpose and can only last 30 days. They cannot meet for longer than the 30 days, no matter what, and they are supposed to only consider laws dealing with the specific purpose of the special session. Special sessions also have loser requirements for passing the laws so it is easier to get a law passed in a special session. A governor calling a special session for anything other than an emergency should be an abuse of power, but it is done all the time and sucks. In this instance, the governor called a special session for another purpose and only after that was dealt with did the legislature take up the anti abortion bill. This should not have been allowed because the anti abortion bill was not the purpose of the special session, but they did it anyway. Tuesday was the last day of the 30-days of the special session. The Texas state house had already passed the anti-abortion bill and if it passed the senate then the governor would sign it into law. This all had to happen before the end of the 30-days at midnight. Davis's filibuster was to run out the clock to the end of the 30-days when the state constitution declared that the senate was no longer in session and could not pass the law. The craziness of the last two hours of the filibuster was about people trying to break the filibuster (Texas rules require that filibusters be on topic and they kept trying to say she was going off topic for example) and then about them voting and passing the law after midnight and trying to pretend like it was before midnight. The reason her filibuster is pointless to a degree is because the governor can now call another special session and they will have a full 30 days in which to get the law to pass both chambers of the Texas legislature and the governor to sign it. No one can filibuster for a full 30 days so all this did was buy time for those who oppose the bill to try to rally support and convince some people who voted for it the first time to vote against it the next time. The governor has in fact already called the new special session to deal with this law and it meets for a new 30 days starting Monday.
Rachael
bratty_jedi at 7:28 pm on 27 June 2013 (UTC) (Link)

Filibuster Part II (I'm opinionated and long-winded!)


At the national level, things have gotten completely out of hand. To break a filibuster in the US Senate requires that 60 of the 100 senators vote to end debate and move forward with voting even though someone was speaking. For some unknown reason, the rules have become too lose and no one is ever required to actually filibuster at the national level anymore. All a senator has to do is indicate that he might be willing to filibuster, and everyone pretends that he is actually doing so and won't proceed to the vote on that bill unless they can get 60 votes to OK that. This is stupid and needs to be stopped. It not only means that filibusters can happen at any time, not just near the end of a session, but it also means the people "filibustering" don't actually have to talk. If someone wants to filibuster, they'd bloody well better have to actually stand up there and talk. In the current situation, the Republicans basically threaten to filibuster everything so every law now requires a 60-vote super majority rather than just 51 out of 100 and this is largely responsible for much of the current stalemate in US politics.

There are decidedly mixed views on the filibuster within America. Unfortunately, the general rule seems to be that if a filibuster prevents the passage of a law you hated, you think it is great tool to protect the rights of the minority from the tyranny of the majority. If it is used to prevent a law passing that you like, you think it is a subversion of the democratic process and how dare one idiot stand in the way of the majority view. I can't stand this kind of intellectual dishonesty and hypocrisy. I think a true filibuster, one like Davis's in Texas where someone actually speaks, is a good thing and should be allowed. It is a last ditch effort of a minority against the majority and sometimes the majority is wrong. When I don't agree with the person doing the filibuster, I still think it should be allowed because I am a big believer in freedom of speech as one of the most important rights to protect. I don't like to have it violated and one of the reasons why I consider it so valuable is that I think the best way to stop a stupid idea from spreading isn't to try to suppress it but rather to let everyone hear just how stupid it is. Some of the longest and the most famous filibusters in American history were in the 1960s in opposition to rights for African Americans. I completely disagree with the racists who stood up there and gave their filibusters, but them having to stand there and defend their terrible views on national TV actually helped swing public opinion against them even more. It doesn't always work that way, but nothing is perfect and to me that is better than the alternative of not allowing the voices to be heard and the people to judge the ideas on their own merit. The pretend filibuster abominations going on in the US senate now where no one actually has to speak and everyone just pretends is just ridiculous and has nothing to do with free speech as no one is speaking and they need to stop.
aoife
failte_aoife at 10:56 am on 01 July 2013 (UTC) (Link)

Re: Filibuster Part II (I'm opinionated and long-winded!)

Thanks for the long answer. It does all make much more sense now. As said I somehow tried to figure out who would have advantages from making up such a rule but it having developed this way is much easier to understand.

I see your point about why real Filibusters are a good thing (as said...before I was somehow torn between 'yay for what she achieved' and 'the how is a bit odd for me'


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