US

Texas Supreme Court rules runaway Dems CAN be arrested, brought to House to vote on GOP voting bill 

The all-Republican Texas Supreme Court decided on Tuesday that the Democratic lawmakers who fled in order to delay passage of election security legislation can be arrested and brought to the state House of Representatives.

Plaintiffs in the case were Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan. 

The unanimous ruling overturns a county judge’s restraining order blocking their arrest, the third attempt by a lower court to shield the state representatives. 

In his opinion Tuesday, Justice Jimmy Blacklock insisted the ruling doesn’t have to do with whether arresting the absent members is a ‘good idea’ or if the voting legislation they’re avoiding is ‘desirable.’

‘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,’ Blacklock wrote.

The Texas Supreme Court’s decision means that state lawmakers who are arrested can be compelled to return to the State House floor

Justice Jimmy Blacklock wrote the court's unanimous opinion

Justice Jimmy Blacklock wrote the court’s unanimous opinion

In deciding that Texas’s constitution grants the House the power to ‘compel the attendance of absent members,’ the opinion points out that the phrase literally means ‘a physical state of being.’ 

‘Although arrest of absent members may seem an extreme step to some observers, the fact remains that if the absent members are sufficiently motivated to resist, the quorum-forcing authority given by the constitution to the present members can only be effectuated by physical compulsion,’ the justice concluded.

The Texas attorney general’s office posted on Twitter in support of the decision and ripped the missing Democrats.

‘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,’ the post read. 

‘Childish antics will not be tolerated.’  

Phelan, a Republican, issued arrest warrants for 52 of the Democratic lawmakers who broke quorum for the third time over voting rights.

The Texas Attorney General's office praised the decision on Twitter

The Texas Attorney General’s office praised the decision on Twitter

Texas Governor Greg Abbott is one of the plaintiffs in the court's decision

Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan signed 52 arrest warrants for the missing Democrats earlier this month

Texas Governor Greg Abbott and House Speaker Dade Phelan (right), both Republicans, scored a win as plaintiffs in the suit

The decision was approved after the Texas House voted 80-12 to move forward with the arrests for absent members, which enabled Phelan to issue the warrants. It’s the second time that such a vote has been taking during ongoing quorum-bust.

Unlike the court’s ruling from earlier in August which cleared the way for Abbott and Phelan to arrest the politicians, Tuesday’s decision states they can be compelled to attend House sessions while under arrest.

The forced attendance, if exercised, would give lawmakers in Texas’s lower house enough members once again to form a quorum and let the voting bill proceed.

A quorum requires at least 100 lawmakers to be present and voting on legislation.

 But on July 12th, with passage of the bill all but guaranteed in the state’s GOP-dominated legislature, more than 50 state House Democrats fled on private jets to Washington, DC and left state Republicans’ hands temporarily tied. 

More than 50 Texas House Democrats fled the state for Washington, DC on July 12 to avoid voting on the election security bill

More than 50 Texas House Democrats fled the state for Washington, DC on July 12 to avoid voting on the election security bill

Numerous members still remained in DC as of August. In this file photo taken on August 6th, Texas State Democratic Representative Trey Martinez Fischer speaks outside the US Capitol

Numerous members still remained in DC as of August. In this file photo taken on August 6th, Texas State Democratic Representative Trey Martinez Fischer speaks outside the US Capitol

In this August 11th photo, Texas Rep. Erin Zwiener speaks from an undisclosed location. She is one of the Democrats still missing from the House floor

In this August 11th photo, Texas Rep. Erin Zwiener speaks from an undisclosed location. She is one of the Democrats still missing from the House floor

However numerous Democrats have returned since the arrest threats became serious. More than 90 lawmakers were present on the House floor earlier this month, according to reports from the time.  

The push to enhance election security got renewed momentum recently when the Texas Senate passed a third version of the legislation, with minimal changes from the previous two. 

The upper house passed the measure easily after Democratic State Senator Carol Alvarado spent roughly 15 hours filibustering the measure.

State Senator Carol Alvarado filibustered Republicans' third version of the bill for roughly 15 hours before it easily passed

State Senator Carol Alvarado filibustered Republicans’ third version of the bill for roughly 15 hours before it easily passed

Per state rules Alvarado was unable to eat, drink, use the restroom, stop talking or lean on her desk the entire time.

Critics of the bill say is an attempt to disenfranchise people of color and other groups that historically vote Democrat.

The bill prohibits drive-through voting and 24-hour voting, both of which were heavily used in Alvarado’s Harris County – which includes Houston.

The bill was passed quickly after she stopped, and is now due back in the House for a vote.

TEXAS’ VOTING RIGHTS BILLS: WHAT’S IN THEM AND WHY THE DEMOCRATS THINK THEY ‘RESTRICT’ ELECTIONS  

  • The bills – House Bill 3 and Senate Bill 1 – were filed last week during a special legislative session called by Texas Governor Greg Abbott.
  • The proposed legislation creates harsher criminal penalties for people who help voters at the polls or those planning to vote by mail.
  • The bills, if passed, would be a ban on 24-hour voting. Instead, there would be a new voting window from 6am to 10pm on election day.
  • Rules would require residents to fill out paperwork if you are taking someone who is not a relative to vote in person.
  • Regulations would require someone to exit their car during curbside voting. 
  • Bills would mean voters would have to provide their drivers license or the last four digits of their social security number to cast a ballot.
  • New rules would stop local election officials from sending out mail-in ballots to those who haven’t requested them.  
  • Drive-in voting would be banned.  
  • Expands what partisan poll watchers can observe during counts.
  • Prohibits poll watchers from being removed for violating election laws.
  • Both bills would increase early voting from eight to nine hours. 
  • Also lowers the population threshold required for counties to provide at least 12 hours of early voting each weekday of the second week of early voting. 
  • Protects the legitimacy of elections and avoids fraud, according to Republicans.   

Democrats argue that:

  • The measures included in the bills would mainly stop minority communities and shift workers from voting because of the restricted hours.
  • The regulations in the bills would make it harder to control disruptive partisan poll watchers.
  • Would make it easier for losing candidates to try and overturn election results and harass winning candidates with court battles and recounts.
  • Democrats also claim the provisions do nothing to make elections more secure in Texas.
  • Insists the proposed legislation would help further the claims of election fraud Donald Trump has made in the aftermath of the 2020 election. 
  • Argue that restricted voting hours on a Sunday would have impacted the ability of black churchgoers, also known as ‘souls of the polls’, to cast their ballots.
  • They instead want the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act to be passed by Congress to address elections on a federal level.
  • But Republicans insist that this is a power grab and would represent a ‘federal takeover’ of elections 

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