At 43 Hours, Texas Senator Set Filibuster Record in '77

Texas Sen. Bil Meier during his 43 hour filibuster in 1977.
Texas Sen. Bil Meier during his 43 hour filibuster in 1977.

FORT WORTH – To Judge Bill Meier, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul’s recent filibuster was a valiant effort. 

“I admire his tenacity and undertaking. … He was only 31 hours short, though, in getting to the world record,” Meier said of the senator from Kentucky, who held the floor for more than 12 hours last week to draw attention to the government’s policies related to drone attacks.

In 1977, Meier set the world record for longest filibuster. From the floor of the Texas Senate, Meier spoke mostly uninterrupted for 43 hours to fight a bill he viewed as an attack on the state's open records laws.

The achievement was recognized in the Guinness Book of World Records for well over a decade. Guinness eventually stopped tracking that record in its book, so it’s not clear if anyone has ever beaten him. The Legislative Reference Library still describes Meier as holding the "national record."

Meier, now a Republican judge on the Second Court of Appeals in Fort Worth, was elected to the Texas Senate in 1973 as a Democrat to represent part of Tarrant County. He launched his only filibuster in his third legislative session over a bill from state Sen. Ray Farabee that aimed to make workplace injury claims filed with the Industrial Accident Board confidential.

Meier guessed that the bill would easily pass the Senate but was hopeful he could promote his concerns enough that the House would reject it.

“I thought it was time to slow that bill down and talk about the Open Records Act,” Meier said.

Meier said he believed employers should be able to check the board’s claims to see if job applicants were hiding a previous workplace injury that could be relevant in a new position.

“The other side of it, which was the side of Sen. Farabee who filed Senate Bill 1275, was the employers are only going to use this information to blacklist workers,” Meier said.

The bill ultimately passed and became law, but Meier’s achievement gained him a place in history.

At 3:20 p.m. on May 2, Meier stood at his desk and began speaking. He continued until May 4, at 10:20 a.m. In compliance with the rules of a filibuster, he didn’t lean on anything, he said. He stuck to the topic of the bill, a requirement of a filibuster per Senate parliamentary rules, by spending hours reading aloud from law books about legal cases that have to do with the right to privacy.

Looking back, Meier said he probably picked the perfect moment to tackle such a feat. In 1977, he exercised regularly and went on two-mile runs. 

“I was in the best physical condition I think I’ve ever been in my life,” Meier said.

To prepare for the filibuster, Meier said, he ate lightly in the days prior. He also outfitted himself with an “astronaut bag” so he could relieve himself without leaving the Senate floor.

Meier recalled that when his “bag” was full, Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby arranged to take a message from the House, a maneuver that allowed Meier to briefly leave the floor without having to end his filibuster. Meier used the time to run to the ladies' restroom, the facility closest to his desk, and empty his waste bag. Two sergeants-at-arms went with him to ensure he never sat down, he said.

“Gov. Hobby’s a gentleman and he thought that was a more appropriate conduct for a modern Senate floor than what the other choices were,” Meier said.

Hobby was the one who persuaded Meier to end his filibuster after 43 hours, Meier said.

After it was over, the Senate passed the bill 23-7. Meier held a press conference and then went home with plans to take a bath and have something to eat. After briefly nodding off in the tub, he went straight to bed and stayed there for more than 20 hours.

Though he lost the battle, Meier noted that the Legislature overhauled its workers’ compensation system several years later and replaced the Industrial Accident Board with the Workers' Compensation Commission.

“I think that the filibuster was a starting point for people to begin to look at the way the Industrial Accident Board functioned and the way workers’ comp was handled in Texas,” Meier said.

Over the years, Meier has occasionally received a call from a state senator planning to filibuster and inviting him to watch his record be broken.

Meier has a pat response ready: “Call me after you finished 24 hours, and I’ll give it some consideration.”

Below, this video looks further into Meier's filibuster.

 

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