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Texas State Rep. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, joined by fellow Democratic Texas state representatives, speaks at a press conference on Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and the group’s meetings with federal lawmakers on voting rights on July 20, 2021 in Washington, DC.
The Texas Supreme Court has ruled that the state House may compel the attendance of its members by civil arrest, overturning a lower court order from earlier this month.
The Texas House has yet to reach a quorum during the second called special session because the majority of House Democrats have been absent from the floor since July 12, when they initially fled the state to break quorum during the first special session as a way to block restrictive voting legislation.
The state House speaker last week signed 52 civil arrest warrants for Democrats who are absent without excuse. The sergeant-at-arms last week sent the warrants to those Democrats, deputized law enforcement to find them and even dropped paperwork off at some members’ homes, though no arrests have been made.
“The question now before this Court is not whether it is a good idea for the Texas House of Representatives to arrest absent members to compel a quorum. Nor is the question whether the proposed voting legislation giving rise to this dispute is desirable,” wrote Justice Jimmy Blacklock in Tuesday’s opinion. “Those are political questions far outside the scope of the judicial function. The legal question before this Court concerns only whether the Texas Constitution gives the House of Representatives the authority to physically compel the attendance of absent members. We conclude that it does, and we therefore direct the district court to withdraw” the temporary restraining order.
The ruling stems from a petition that 19 Texas House Democrats filed in Travis County, where a state district judge issued a temporary restraining order. The all-Republican Texas Supreme Court quickly issued a temporary stay on the Democratic judge’s order, pending further review.
“The district court very clearly abused its discretion by issuing the TRO. The defendants have no adequate appellate remedy,” Blacklock wrote, noting the lower court’s order was issued without involving the defendants or their attorneys.
“I’m very disappointed in the Supreme Court’s opinion. We will continue to consult with our legal team to pursue a federal remedy that isn’t closely tied to Governor Abbott,” state Rep. Ron Reynolds, one of the 19 Democrats who filed the original petition, told CNN in a text message Tuesday night.
CNN has reached out to the offices of Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan and Gov. Greg Abbott for comment.
“As predicted, the law is on our side. House Democrats were elected to do a job – and it is time for them to come home and do just that, regardless if the outcome doesn’t lean in their favor. Childish antics will not be tolerated,” the Texas Attorney General’s Office tweeted shortly after the ruling was issued.