Texas Democrats can be dragged into the legislative chambers to do the job they were elected to do, a court ruled Tuesday.
Dozens of Democratic state legislators fled the state last month when confronted with an election integrity bill of which they disapproved but lacked the votes to block. Fleeing the state denied Republicans a quorum, which meant the bill has languished.
Texas Republicans have sought to compel the Democrats to attend and last week issued civil arrest warrants that would force those in the state to attend.
Democrats have pushed back against those warrants and won lower court rulings to protect them.
On Tuesday, however, the Texas Supreme Court said that a temporary restraining order from Travis County to block the arrests was out of line. A similar one from Harris County had been thrown out last week.
“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,” the court said in its ruling. “Nor is the question whether the proposed voting legislation giving rise to this dispute 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, and we therefore direct the district court to withdraw the TRO.”
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. pic.twitter.com/aRP5h9o0TE
— Texas Attorney General (@TXAG) August 17, 2021
In the ruling, the court said Democrats have it wrong in arguing that legislators could not be compelled to attend.
“[W]e conclude that the disputed provision means just what it says,” it said. “The Texas Constitution empowers the House to ‘compel the attendance of absent members’ and authorizes the House to do so ‘in such manner and under such penalties as [the] House may provide.’
“The text of article III, section 10 is clear, and the uniform understanding of the provision throughout our state’s history — including around the time of its enactment — has been that it confers on the legislature the power to physically compel the attendance of absent members to achieve a quorum.”
The ruling said the section in question “represents a conscious decision by those who framed our constitution to counter-balance the minority’s quorum-breaking ability with a quorum-forcing authority vested in the present members.”
“They patterned this quorum-forcing authority on the federal constitution, which has long been interpreted to authorize arrest and imprisonment to force a quorum,” the court said. “We are provided with no reason to doubt that the framers of our constitution understood article III, section 10 to operate just as it has been understood to operate in the many decades since its ratification — to authorize each chamber to compel the attendance of absent members, by physical compulsion if necessary.”
The ruling seeks to put an end to the multiple debates over the arrests.
“The district court very clearly abused its discretion by issuing the TRO. The defendants have no adequate appellate remedy,” the court said.
Despite the ruling, Democrats may keep staying away from the special session call by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott.
“I’m very disappointed in the Supreme Court’s opinion,” Democratic state Rep. Ron Reynolds said, according to CNN. “We will continue to consult with our legal team to pursue a federal remedy that isn’t closely tied to Governor Abbott.”
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