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Texas Legislature Makes Quorum After State Supreme Court Says Runaway Reps Can Be Arrested

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OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author's opinion.


The quagmire in the Texas legislature appears to be headed to a close as the Texas Supreme Court has made a ruling.

This week the court decided that the Democrat lawmakers who have fled from the legislature in order for it to not meet quorum can be arrested and brought back to the state Capitol, CNN reported.

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.

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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,” Justice Jimmy Blacklock said in Tuesday’s decision. “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 district court very clearly abused its discretion by issuing the TRO. The defendants have no adequate appellate remedy,” he said.

Democrat State Rep. Ron Reynolds, one of the Democrats who filed the petition, said he was disappointed with the decision in a text to CNN.

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“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,” he said.

But the office of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton celebrated the decision.

“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,” it said.

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But the Democrats’ attempt to stop the Texas legislature from voting on the new proposed voting laws all but ended on Thursday when at least three Democrats returned to the legislature, giving it the ability to make quorum, CNN reported.

Texas House Democrats’ historic quorum break unexpectedly ended Thursday evening when at least three new Democrats returned to the floor, paving the way for state Republicans to pass restrictive voting legislation.

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The surprise turn of events quickly led to public accusations of betrayal among Democrats, as the House now has the required two-thirds of members necessary for a quorum. The voting legislation, which had been recently passed in the state’s Republican-controlled Senate, was among the bills quickly referred to committees for action. The current special session ends early next month, and a public House committee hearing on the voting bill has been scheduled for Saturday.

It’s the first time the Texas House has reached quorum since Democrats fled the state 38 days ago, which held up legislative business in the chamber and prompted Republican House Speaker Dade Phelan to sign civil arrest warrants for the 52 House Democrats who had fled the state in an effort to compel their return.

The three Democrat Reps. Garnet Coleman, Ana Hernandez and Armando Walle said they were “proud of the heroic work” they did by breaking quorum but “Now, we continue the fight on the House floor.”

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