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What you can't do if you want to keep filibustering

Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, centre, who tried to filibuster an abortion bill, holds up a no vote as time runs out on an abortion bill vote, Wednesday, June 26, 2013, in Austin, Texas.

Eric Gay/AP

Filibustering legislators are back in the news again after a Texas senator stood and talked for close to 11 hours straight on Tuesday in a successful bid to derail a draconian new anti-abortion bill. Now the one thing everyone wants to know is: How do they pee?

The answer is: They don't – not if they want to keep filibustering. In fact, the single biggest limit on a filibustering lawmaker's ability to continue is his or her capacity to impose closure on their bladder and prevent amendments to their underpants.

The basic rules of filibustering allow a person or a party to continue speaking on a proposed bill until they have either exhausted themselves or, if there is a preset time limit on speeches, their supply of legislators. In the U.S. Senate, a filibusterer is allowed to continue as long as he or she doesn't stop talking, sit down or leave the chamber – rules that preclude micturition.

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Another recent newsworthy filibuster, this one by Republican senator Paul Rand in March, ended after 12 hours for reasons the senator was happy to explain. "I would go for another 12 hours," Rand said toward the end of his marathon. "But I've discovered that there are some limits to filibustering, and I'm going to have to go take care of that in a few minutes."

That prompted another Republican senator, Gabriel Gomez, to make the unusual boast that his Navy SEAL-trained bladder would have allowed him to outlast Rand.

The record for the longest one-person filibuster in U.S. history is held by Strom Thurmond, the long-serving senator from South Carolina. In 1957, while he was still a Democrat, he held it in for a sphincter-bending 24 hours and 18 minutes in a grandstanding show of defiance against a civil rights bill that gave blacks the right to vote.

According to the Associated Press, Thurmond prepared for his marathon by repeatedly visiting the Senate steam room in order to dehydrate himself as much as possible. He started talking at 8:54 p.m. and continued to 9:12 the next evening, fortifying himself with throat lozenges and sips of water. Aides reportedly waited in the Senate cloakroom with a bucket; the plan was that if Thurmond absolutely had to go, he could keep one foot in the chamber while he relieved himself.

He apparently never resorted to the bucket, but he did give his voice a rest by letting other senators ask him questions and make comments, and he was allowed to sit at times. Among the things he read to keep talking were the U.S. criminal code and the Declaration of Independence. Thurmond's filibuster had no impact on the bill; it passed easily, and the senator subsequently joined the Republican party in disgust.

Democrat senator Wendy Davis's filibuster was more successful, helping to force the vote past the end of the legislative session and temporarily halting the bill. Her filibuster was brought to an end by Republican opponents who claimed she had broken the rules, however, not by her bladder. Still, 11 hours ... Impressive.

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