Twice this year, Democrats in the Texas Legislature have scooted across state lines to block passage of a Republican redistricting plan. Although exerting such effort to prevent a quorum is unusual, it is not entirely without precedent.
Desperate legislative minorities have used the rules to undermine majorities all the way back to colonial times. In Pennsylvania, anti- federalists tried to block a ratifying convention of the U.S. Constitution by staying away from an Assembly meeting. A Philadelphia mob grabbed a pair of the wayward delegates and hauled them from their lodgings to the State House, forcing them to stay until the vote went through.
The forebears of today's Democrats in Austin staged a walkout in 1870 in hopes of blocking a police and militia measure proposed by the Reconstruction government. "In their case," notes University of Arkansas historian Carl Moneyhon, "they didn't make it to New Mexico. They just made it down the hall." Still, the sergeant at arms had to climb through a window to get into their locked room and retrieve them. Several of these Democrats were kept under arrest for three weeks, until the legislation could pass.
In 1924, a filibuster went on for days in the Rhode Island Senate as Republicans sought to block a resolution calling for a constitutional convention. Their state party chairman allegedly hired underworld figures from Boston to open a bromide gas capsule in the chamber. Not only did the fumes break up the session, they also created an opportunity for nearly all the state's GOP senators to flee to Rutland, Massachusetts, where they holed up for six months.
They succeeded in blocking the measure until after a Republican majority had been elected. But that's not the end of the story: At least three weddings took place as a result of members of senatorial families getting to know one another during their stay in Rutland.