The Killer Ds are a group of Texas House Democrats who left the state of Texas for Ardmore, Oklahoma during the week of May 12, 2003. The Killer Ds left to prevent House consideration of the redistricting legislation that would have benefited Texas Republicans.
The Texas Constitution requires 100 representatives, or two-thirds of the 150-member House, to conduct business in the lower chamber. The absence of 52 House Democrats prevented Republican passage of the redistricting plan during the 2003 regular session
The Texas Eleven were a group of Texas Senate Democrats who fled the state of Texas for Albuquerque, New Mexico for 46 days in 2003 aimed at preventing the passage of controversial redistricting legislation that would have benefited Texas Republicans. A group of Texas House representatives, dubbed the Killer Ds, had fled the state earlier that same summer for the same reason.
U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, then a powerful figure in Texas politics, advocated arresting the Texas Eleven, telling reporters that he supported using FBI agents or U.S. Marshals to arrest the runaway Democrats and bring them back to Austin, asserting that redistricting is a matter of federal concern.
The Texas Constitution calls for the 32-member Texas Senate — 31 Senators and the Lt. Governor — to have a quorum of two-thirds of its members present in order to conduct a vote, which means that the absence of 11 members can prevent the Senate from voting. Eleven Democrats left the state to avoid being forced return to the Senate by Texas Rangers, going to Oklahoma and New Mexico and out of reach of Texas’ authorities. After successfully preventing a quorum for an entire 30-day special session of the legislature, Senator John Whitmire left New Mexico and returned to Texas. The remaining ten Senate Democrats (often referred to as the “Texas Eleven Minus One” following Whitmire's departure), stayed in Albuquerque for several more days, but returned to Austin and the Texas Senate after Whitmire's presence on the Senate floor created the quorum needed for the Senate to meet.
Texas political advisor Harold Cook helped organize the quorum break. Cook served as the group's primary spokesman, and stayed with the senators for the duration of their time in New Mexico.
Legislative bodies often have rules to discourage quorum-busting. In many U.S. legislative bodies, such as the United States Senate and House of Representatives, if there is no quorum present a call of the house could be ordered, which would cause absent members to be brought to the floor of the body.
A prominent example of quorum-busting occurred in 2003, when the Texas House of Representativeswas going to vote on a redistricting bill that would have favored the Republicans in the state. The House Democrats, certain of defeat if a quorum were present, chose not to be present in the House that day, but instead took a plane to Oklahoma, preventing the bill from passing due to a lack of a quorum. The group gained the nickname Killer D's for their successful efforts in blocking the legislation.
The same year, the Texas Eleven, of the Texas Senate, fled to New Mexico to prevent a quorum of the Senate to prevent another redistricting bill during a special legislative session. Though the Democrats stayed in New Mexico for 46 days, one returned to Texas, creating a quorum; because there was now no point in staying in New Mexico, the Texas Eleven Minus One returned to Texas to oppose the bill with votes in opposition. The bill ultimately passed both the House and the Senate as the 2003 Texas redistricting legislation, which was ruled constitutional by the US Supreme Court in 2006, though Congressional District 23 was deemed an unconstitutional case of gerrymandering.
The technique of the disappearing quorum (refusing to vote although physically present on the floor) was used by the minority to block votes in the US House of Representatives until 1890.
The practice was shattered on January 29, 1890. On that day a resolution was brought to the House floor that concerned who should be seated from the Fourth District of West Virginia: James M. Jackson, the Democrat, or Charles B. Smith, the Republican. Speaker Thomas Reed put this question to the Members: "Will the House consider the resolution?"
The yeas and nays were demanded with this result: 162 yeas, 3 nays, and 163 not voting. Democrats, led by Charles Crisp (who succeeded Reed as Speaker in the next two Congresses), then declared that the absence of a quorum—a quorum was 179—prevented the House from making decisions. As dictated by House rules for the suggestion of the absence of a quorum, Speaker Reed began an attendance roll call - but directed the Clerk to record as present any Member who was then in the chamber, whether they answered the roll call or not.
Immediately, Reed's action produced an uproar in the House. "Tyranny," "scandal," and "revolution" were some of the words used to describe Reed's action. Democrats "foamed with rage," wrote historian Barbara Tuchman.
A hundred of them were on their feet howling for recognition. 'Fighting Joe' Wheeler, the diminutive former Confederate cavalry general, unable to reach the front because of the crowded aisles, came down from the rear leaping from desk to desk as an ibex leaps from crag to crag. As the excitement grew wilder, the only Democrat not on his feet was a huge representative from Texas who sat in his seat significantly whetting a bowie knife on his boot.
Speaker Reed remained firm in the face of this parliamentary tumult and angry debate. He continued to count nonvoting legislators for quorum purposes. Reed even ordered the doors of the chamber locked when Democrats tried to exit; instead, Democrats began hiding under their desks, which left Reed undeterred in counting them. Finally, after five days of stridency, the contested election case was taken up and Republican Smith emerged the victor by a vote of 166 yeas, 0 nays, and 162 not voting. Then, on February 6, 1890, the Reed-led Rules Committee reported a new set of House rules. One of the new rules--Rule 15--established a new procedure for determining quorums (counting lawmakers in the chamber who had voted as well as those who did not vote).