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Texas Republicans Can’t Arrest Democrats Who Fled State To Block Voting Bill, Judge Says

By News Creatives Authors , in Business , at August 9, 2021

Topline

Texas House Republicans cannot issue warrants for their Democratic colleagues to be arrested if they don’t return to the state Capitol and allow restrictive voting legislation to move forward, a state judge ruled Sunday, allowing Democrats to return home without the threat of arrest after remaining out of state for weeks to block the voting bill.

Key Facts

A district judge in Travis County, Texas, issued a temporary restraining order for 14 days that blocks Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and House Speaker Dade Phelan from “detaining, confining or otherwise restricting” House Democrats’ movements in the state or issuing arrest warrants.

The order can be extended, and a court hearing will be held on August 20 in the litigation, which was brought by 19 House Democrats who had fled the state.

Texas House lawmakers had voted in July to authorize the sergeant-at-arms to compel lawmakers to come back to the state Capitol—including by arresting them if needed—after Democrats fled the state in order to keep the House from having the necessary quorum to pass the new voting restrictions.

That authorization did not extend across state lines, meaning Democrats were protected as long as they remained out of state, though the Austin American-Statesman reports there was an arrest warrant issued for one legislator who briefly returned to Texas.

That arrest warrant and order has now expired since the legislature’s first special session ended last week, and the Statesman reports the House did not authorize the arrest of any Democrats when it convened a second special session on Saturday.

While Democrats’ plans are still unclear, the ruling means lawmakers could go back to Texas without returning to the Capitol if they so choose, which would continue the block on the voting legislation if enough lawmakers stay away to keep the House from having a quorum.

Crucial Quote

“It clearly appears from the facts set forth…that Defendants have erroneously interpreted Texas law and legislative rules to permit the detention, confinement or other restriction of members of the Texas House of Representatives within the state of Texas in response to a call for quorum, and that, unless Defendants are immediately restrained…Plaintiffs will suffer immediate and irreparable harm,” State District Judge Brad Urrutia, a Democrat, ruled Sunday.

What To Watch For

Phelan’s office has not yet responded to a request for comment on the ruling and the Texas House Republicans’ next steps. The ruling comes as more Democratic lawmakers could be poised to return to Texas, which would now be without the threat of arrest. Though the Texas House convened on Saturday without the quorum necessary to hold votes on legislation like the voting bill, the Texas Tribune reports two Democrats were present who had initially left the state. One of the lawmakers, Rep. Eddie Lucio, predicted the House could achieve a quorum “as early as this week” as he expects more of his Democratic colleagues to return. At least 26 Democrats have said they intend to stay in Washington, D.C., but the Tribune notes this would not be enough to stop the Texas House from having a quorum and voting on legislation.

Key Background

Texas House Democrats have been fighting their Republican colleagues on the voting legislation since May, when Democrats walked off the House floor as the bill was being debated and blocked it from being passed before the session expired. Abbott then called a special session of the state legislature to pass the voting legislation and other bills, prompting 57 Democrats to leave the state in order to prevent the House from having the necessary quorum to pass the legislation. When that special session expired this week without any votes being able to take place, Abbott then called a second special session to start immediately afterwards, and has vowed to “continue to call special session after special session” until the legislative items can be passed. The voting legislation—which includes such measures as restricting ballot drop boxes and drive-through voting and adding additional barriers to mail-in voting—is expected to pass the GOP-controlled legislature whenever a vote does take place. Texas Democrats have acknowledged this, and have been lobbying for federal voting legislation in Washington, D.C., that could block those state restrictions.

Further Reading

Texas Gov. Abbott Calls Another Special Session With Democrats Still In D.C. — Here’s What That Means For Passing Voting Restrictions (Forbes)

Texas House Votes To Arrest Democrats Who Fled State To Block Voting Bill — Here’s What Could Happen Next (Forbes)

Another special session to pass a GOP voting bill started without a quorum. This time it’s unclear if Democrats will stay away. (Texas Tribune)

Travis County judge signs order temporarily blocking arrest of quorum-busting Democrats (Austin American-Statesman)

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