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House Democrats who refuse to run for the Legislature may soon be detained by law enforcement and brought back to the State Capitol, after the Texas Supreme Court overturned the order on Tuesday. temporary ban by a state district judge prohibiting their arrest.
The all-Republican high court order came at the behest of Gov. Greg Abbott and Speaker of the House Dade Phelan, also Republicans, who asked the court on Monday to overturn a recent ruling by a county district judge of Travis who prevented them from ordering the arrest. quorum-breaking Democrats, who were in Washington, DC, for about a month. The House Democrats involved have until 4 p.m. Thursday to respond in court. Democrats arrested would not face criminal charges and could not be jailed or fined. Law enforcement officers executing arrest warrants by state officials could only try to get them into the chambers of the House.
“The Texas Supreme Court quickly rejected this dangerous attempt by the Texas Democrats to undermine our Constitution and avoid doing the job they were elected to do,” said Renae Eze, spokesperson for Abbott. “We look forward to the Supreme Court upholding the rule of law and stopping yet another blockade tactic for Texas Democrats.”
In a joint statement, Democratic state officials Trey Martinez Fischer of San Antonio, Gina Hinojosa of Austin and Jasmine Crockett of Dallas said they will continue to fight for a temporary injunction at the district court level.
“It’s no surprise that Republican Gov. Greg Abbott and Speaker of the House Dade Phelan want to arrest their political opponents. Fortunately, it is still the United States of America. We will defend the freedom to vote, and we look forward to our temporary injunction hearing on August 20. “
Democrats fled the state in July to block passage of a Republican elections bill they said would restrict voting rights in the state. They were successful in thwarting the bill in a 30-day special session that ended on Friday, but Abbott immediately called for a second special session that began on Saturday. Although some House Democrats have returned, many have stayed away from Capitol Hill to prevent the House from having enough members in attendance to conduct its business.
“There is no way in hell that I can go to this floor of the house as long as I have the protection of a judge’s order,” said State Representative Celia Israel, D- Austin, Texas Tribune Tuesday morning before Supreme Court action. Israel said she was back in Austin.
In the first special session, Republican lawmakers voted for a “House appeal,” a procedural step that allowed them to allow law enforcement to arrest members who were not present. But he had no teeth since law enforcement in Texas has no jurisdiction outside the state. On Monday, the House, which is still a few quorum, called for the second time. But this time, he only asked that the bedroom doors be locked and did not approach the members making the arrest, possibly due to the temporary restraining order blocking such arrests.
After the Supreme Court blocked the lower court order on Tuesday, House lawmakers again ordered the chamber sergeant-at-arms and any law enforcement officers under their direction to round up the missing Democrats “under arrest warrant if necessary”.
Without the intervention of the Supreme Court, Abbott and Phelan would have had no assurance that the temporary restraining order would be lifted, and these orders are not subject to appeal. The first hearing scheduled in the district court is set for August 20, when Judge Brad Urrutia, a Democrat, will decide whether or not to grant a temporary injunction to House Democrats. Waiting until then “virtually guarantees that no major legislation will be passed in this session,” argued Judd E. Stone II, the state’s solicitor general, in his emergency petition to the Supreme Court.
The state also argued that the Supreme Court’s action is justified because the Speaker of the House is immune from prosecution for legislative acts.
“Obtaining the presence of absent members by the Chamber is a legislative act par excellence”, one reads in the motion of the State, adding that the “hasty” order of Urrutia “ignores this fundamental principle”.
The state has also argued that the demands of House Democrats are “quintessential political issues” beyond the decision-making power of a court. House rules allow current members to compel the presence of missing lawmakers, and at least 41 other states have similar provisions in their constitutions, the motion says.
In a response, lawyers for the House Democrats who received the temporary restraining order said the state had sought an order that would allow it “to forcibly arrest political opponents who have committed no crime. “.
Unlike other states, whose rules only require the presence of a majority of members to achieve a quorum, Texas requires a qualified two-thirds majority “because the drafters of the Texas Constitution have prioritized at high levels of participation and consensus building in legislative decision-making, even if this increased the costs of the process and the possibility that the process could end in a dead end, “argued lawyers for the Democrats.
“In other words, the architects of the Texas government fully expected, and even encouraged, the power of a cohesive minority of members to ‘break the quorum’ as a means of participation in the decision-making process,” it reads. in their response, adding that Democrats “were acting like real Texans.”
They also argued that the state had failed to prove that it would suffer harm if the Supreme Court did not grant a stay, while House Democrats – some of whom had already returned to the state, being understood that the order of Urrutia protected them from arrest – would suffer prejudice.
Once one of those lawmakers has been arrested “without a premeditated crime or due process, the court can no longer ring the bell,” argued lawyers for the Democrats.
Patrick Svitek contributed to this report.
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