Quorum - Quorum-busting

The tactic of quorum-busting—causing a quorum to be prevented from meeting—has been used in legislative bodies by minorities seeking to block the adoption of some measure they oppose. Rules to discourage quorum-busting have been adopted by legislative bodies, such as the call of the house, outlined above.

Quorum-busting has been used for centuries. For instance, during his time in the state legislature, Abraham Lincoln leapt out of a first story window (the doors of the Capitol had been locked to prevent legislators from fleeing) in a failed attempt to prevent a quorum from being present.

On October 7, 1893, in the middle of a filibuster in the US Senate, the call went out for the yeas and nays. A large number of senators, however, failed to respond when the clerk called their names. The Senate’s presiding officer noted that the needed majority of members had not voted, even though there were more than a sufficient number of senators seated in the chamber to make a quorum.

When the chair once again ordered the clerk to call the roll to determine if a quorum was present, a majority of members answered to their names. However, when the roll call on the pending measure occurred, the filibustering cohort refused to vote. In one 40-hour session, this tactic produced a succession of 39 quorum calls but only four recorded votes.

In 1897, seeking to overcome the quorum busting tactics, the Senate changed its rules to effectively end the practice. This reform, however, triggered a return to an earlier tactic by recalcitrant senators of merely staying away when votes were scheduled.

A recent prominent example of quorum-busting occurred during the 2003 Texas redistricting, in which the majority Republicans in the Texas House of Representatives sought to carry out a controversial mid-decade congressional redistricting bill which would have favored Republicans by displacing five Democratic U.S. Representatives from Texas (the Texas Five) from their districts. The House Democrats, certain of defeat if a quorum were present, took a plane to the neighboring state of Oklahoma to prevent a quorum from being present (and thus the passage of the bill). The group gained the nickname "the Killer Ds."

Similarly, the minority Democrats in the Texas Legislature's upper chamber, the Texas Senate, fled to New Mexico to prevent a quorum of the Senate to prevent a redistricting bill from being considered during a special session. The Texas Eleven stayed in New Mexico for 46 days before John Whitmire returned to Texas, creating a quorum. Because there was now no point in staying in New Mexico, the remaining ten members of the Texas Eleven returned to Texas to vote in opposition to the bill.

During the 2011 Wisconsin protests, fourteen Democratic members of the Wisconsin Senate went to Illinois in order to bust the necessary 20-member quorum. Democrats in the Indiana House of Representatives did the same in order to block another union-related bill, causing the legislative clock on the bill to expire. Traveling out of their state placed these legislators beyond the jurisdiction of state troopers who could compel them to return to the chamber.

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