Yves here. While you were busy watching Afghanistan coverage, a pitched battle continues in the US, that of the effort of Democratic legislators in Texas to stymie a bill that would suppress votes by fleeing the state to prevent a quorum from being present. You’ll see that politics ain’t beanbag. Texas can and will compel a vote.
By Kenny Stancil, staff writer at Common Dreams. Originally published at Common Dreams
If any of the dozens of Texas House Democrats who fledAustin last month to prevent right-wing lawmakers from passing a sweeping voter suppression package refuse to present themselves at the state Capitol, they can be arrested and forcibly taken into the lower chamber, the Lone Star State’s all-Republican Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.
Last week, as Common Dreams reported, the Texas high court voided Travis County District Judge Brad Urrutia’s temporary restraining order prohibiting the arrest of Democratic lawmakers whose extended absences have made it impossible for the GOP-controlled state House to reach the quorum necessary to advance its anti-voter legislation.
Soon after that decision, the House approved a motion directing law enforcement officials to find and arrest quorum-busting Democrats, prompting progressives to urgethose legislators to leave or remain outside Texas, where state troopers lack authority to detain them.
With Tuesday’s ruling, the state Supreme Court directed Urrutia to revoke his order shielding Democrats from prosecution, The Texas Tribune reported.
“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,” Justice Jimmy Blacklock said in the court’s opinion (pdf). “We conclude that it does, and we therefore direct the district court to withdraw” the temporary restraining order.
Justice Jimmy Blaylock delivers for ex-boss @GregAbbott_TX:
‘[T]he Texas Constitution gives the House of Representatives the authority to physically compel the attendance of absent members,’ Blaylock writes, as Texas Supreme Court quashes TRO. https://t.co/OviEVoWicm
— Bob Garrett (@RobertTGarrett) August 18, 2021
As the Tribune noted, the Texas high court had already blocked lower court rulings issued by Urrutia and a Harris County district judge to protect quorum-breaking Democrats, but “Tuesday’s ruling signified that it’s legal under the state Constitution for House leaders to compel members to be physically present in the House, even if it means their arrest.”
Texas is now in the midst of its second special legislative session of the summer. Earlier this month, GOP Texas Gov. Greg Abbott called for the current special session to begin on August 7, immediately after the previous one—rendered moot when 57 Texas Democrats traveled to Washington, D.C.—ended.
July’s special session, Texas’ first of the year, was called by Abbott after state Democratic lawmakers in late May successfully thwarted the GOP’s voter suppression legislation for the first time—by walking off the House floor, thereby denying the chamber’s Republican majority a quorum and bringing the regular session to a close.
Texas GOP issuing arrest warrants for Texas Dems to pass new voter suppression bill
GOP could retake House based on extreme gerrymandering in TX GA FL NC alone after redistricting data released today
Dems running out of time to protect voting rights https://t.co/TNrl4WqdxU
— Ari Berman (@AriBerman) August 12, 2021
Republican Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan (R-21) has already signed arrest warrants for 52 Democrats who were still absent from the state’s lower chamber as of last week.
According to The Dallas Morning News: “It wouldn’t take many arrests for the House to be back in business. A quorum requires two-thirds of the 150 members on site. Since Monday, 96 House members have checked in as present—just four shy.”
The newspaper reported that at least two dozen Texas House Democrats were still in the nation’s Capitol as of last Tuesday.
For months, progressive lawmakers and pro-democracy advocates have issued a consistent message to Senate Democrats: Abolish the 60-vote filibuster rule and pass the For the People Act as well as the recently reintroduced John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.
Before the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, the Department of Justice blocked Texas Republicans from passing anti-voter bills 207 times. That’s why Congress needs to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and #RestoreTheVRA to full strength.
— Stand Up America (@StandUpAmerica) August 18, 2021
If enacted, the legislation would effectively neutralize state-level Republicans’ ongoing voter suppression efforts and restore anti-discrimination protections that were weakened in 2013 when the the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the 1965 Voting Rights Act.