Texas Supreme Court Says Dems Who Fled State to Block Voter Suppression Package Can Be Arrested

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.

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.

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.

Dozens of lawmakers from Texas and other states have been urging Democratic members of Congress to act immediately to protect U.S. democracy amid the GOP’s nationwide assault on the franchise.

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.

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.

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  1. ArkansasAngie

    Over 80% of American want Voter ID’s. Democrats have framed this as anti-voter. It isn’t.

    1. vlade

      If the IDs are freely accessible, at trivial to no-cost (both in money and time), to all (eligible), then it isn’t.

      If not, it is a voter suppression.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          The voice of privilege. Old people who don’t drive don’t have IDs. Low income people in cities may not for exactly the same reason.

          My mother is going to have to go to a ton of trouble to get an ID when her license (which the last driver’s bureau guy let her renew even though he shouldn’t) expires this fall, not just in general (it’s very hard for her to leave the house) but also because I am sure she will be forced to adhere to Real ID standards. She’s pretty sure it’s not worth the bother.

          1. Glossolalia

            I just did a few minutes’ research on another (hyopthetical) scenario. Let’s say you live in the poorest country in Mississippi, Holmes County. To apply for a drivers license or state ID you need to go in-person to your local DPS office. There’s only one in the county, in Lexington. Plugging that address in to Google Maps shows no public transportation options, so you have to have a car or someone who’s willing to take you, or pay for a taxi. The fee is $33. You have to present a copy of your Social Security card and certified copy of your birth certificate. You most likely have to take a day off work and/or find someone to watch the kids.

            1. Code Name D

              And there are plenty of scenarios that complicate it even further. If you changed your name because of marriage, or because of a marriage of your parents, you have to prove that your current name is the same one on your birth certificate. And not all certificates are the same. Most certificates are issued by the county, then notarized (recognized) later by the state. Some counters never saw the need to send their certificates to the state for notarizing, or perhaps not all the Ts were cross and Is were dotted. And that is assuming you even have a certificate. If you were born at home, you might not even have a certificate. Or the certificate might have been created after the fact. Poor county records were not always kept the best, or on rare occasion lost to a fire or flood. What then?

              This tends to happen a lot to poor demographics.

          2. MK

            “She’s pretty sure it’s not worth the bother.”

            That’s her choice – just like it’s everyone’s choice whether or not to get ID regardless of the difficulty. Just get a non-driver license state issued picture ID. In fact, they are much cheaper than a driver license.

            If it’s not important enough to have ID to vote, why should it be important to the rest of us?

            1. Pat

              Ever tried to get the paperwork for that ID if your originals were lost or destroyed?
              Decades ago it was a piece of cake, but cost money. Now it is not a piece of cake and costs much more money.
              And that is for someone where there are government records of the documents. People in their seventies or eighties aren’t quite so assured of there being government records. And then there are those places where the appropriate government entity lost records due to fire or natural disaster….
              Look if the state wishes to take on the expense of the ID for everyone and the expense and the red tape of getting an ID where no records currently exist, I for one have no problem with requiring one. But that is not what is going on.

              It really isn’t about keeping out people ineligible to vote but wanting every one eligible to vote. And that says it all about the actual intent of these laws.

              1. Pat

                I just realized my last paragraph was not clear. Apologies.

                That last bit should read:

                It really isn’t just about keeping out people ineligible to vote but is also not about wanting every one eligible to vote. And that says it all about the actual intent of these laws.

            2. Bruce Elrick

              This seems like the most American of responses. Conditional caring.The most cynical interpretation of your fellow human”s motives. The most generous interpretation of your own.

              1. Glossolalia

                Well said. If something is difficult to do it’s a personal failing, not a system designed to set you up for failure.

                1. sharron

                  In Fort Worth, Texas you can wait 4 to 6 hours to get your id updated in person. This can be hard for the elderly. In my rural town, I must drive 20 miles to get a drivers license renewed. All of this is hard for the elderly or poor. You can renew a current license via the internet, again it can be hard for the elderly or poor. It is a feature not a bug.

            3. TimH

              I remember reading that a lot of Black Americans born in, say, the 1950s didn’t get birth certificates because Jim Crow didn’t allow birthing in hospitals. Without that fundamental document, what do you do without spending a LOT or money.

            4. Yves Smith Post author

              WHY SHOULD IT BE DIFFICULT TO VOTE? My mother pays property taxes, high income taxes (due to having $ in an IRA she inherited from her husband), sales taxes, you name it, but you think it’s fine to screw her?

              Handicapped people also face difficulties in getting to and waiting to get IDs. But they like my mother aren’t physically fit so screw them.

              1. Basil Pesto

                I can only blink disbelievingly at all these impediments. Meanwhile, in this hemisphere, I have a backlog of fines accrued for not having voted.

          3. LaRuse

            The Real ID stuff is particularly difficult for married women or anyone who has changed their name; and if you lost your paperwork and documentation in a fire, flood, or to a destructive ex, the difficulty just ramps up.
            I was lucky and had everything I needed at hand for my Real ID back in 2019. But silly me, I went to the VA DMV exactly 2 weeks before my license expired to ensure I never risked driving on an expired license and had to shell out an additional $20 for my license because…wait for it…it was being renewed early. I was like seriously, 2 weeks early and I had to pay extra for it? The very nice lady said yes and that if I had let it expire and run the risk of a ticket for driving on an expired license or waited until exactly the day it expired, I wouldn’t have had to pay the extra $20.
            Anyone who needs their documents reprinted from a Vital Statistics agency or a court is forced to add more time and more $$$ to the process. I think my Mom had to shell out several hours and probably $100 in getting all of her documents from her marriage certificate to a certified divorce decree to get her Real ID.

          4. Glossolalia

            Yves, I don’t know if a passport would work as an ID for your mother, but I recently had to get a new ID for mother and the passport turned out to be a lot easier than a drivers license. She was going to have to go in person to the DMV which was not possible. However she had an expired passport (it has to have been issued in the last 15 years) and I was able to just take her picture with my phone and get it printed at a Walmart. Sent in the application and old passport by mail and while it took almost 4 months she did get her new passport in the mail.

          5. Gareth

            Hi Yves,

            Texas has an Election Identity Certificate, which allows people to vote but lets them avoid the RealID hassle. It looks like Alabama has something similar called the Alabama Photo Voter ID card. Your mom could not use it to fly, but she should be able to vote with it if she wants.

            I just went through the process of renewing photo ID for my great grandparents, who are in their late 90s. It was a definitely a pain, and it took around three weeks to get all the necessary documents together. As others have noted, documenting all the name changes for great grandma, who married twice, was the hardest part.

          6. Starry Gordon

            Here in enlightened New York State, I, upper-middle-class culturally, with all kinds of identifying documentation including birth certificate, DD-214, valid driver’s license, passport, lease to my apartment, bills to self at given address, could not get a ‘Real ID’ on two tries; I talked to people with similar documentation who could not get one in five or six. This was without political motive, it was just bureaucrats doing their thing, finding undotted i’s and uncrossed t’s. I can imagine what would happen in Texas if it were a matter of an improperly pigmented person trying to vote. People who say ‘Just get an ID’ need to actually look into the situation, unless, of course, they agree with what’s going on. After all, ”we” all supported the wonderful war in Afghanistan, too.

        2. Glossolalia

          Would it be correct to say that you have a car and the ability to take a day off work without worrying about getting fired and/or paying your rent?

        3. howseth

          These new voter ID laws are ALL instigated by Republican legislators – aren’t they? Therefore the purpose is designed to help elect Republican candidates: these laws are indeed about winning, not fair elections…or Democracy… or true identity. Is this not obvious?

          Why not re-institute paper ballots – or other measures to keep the voting machines not hack-able? Instead, we get identity gauntlets.

    2. WhatdoIknow

      Its absolutely un-comprehensible to any outsider that you wont need an ID to vote.
      I dont get why this is an issue to anyone, on the right or the left side of the debate.
      We can get covid passports for free but we cant get voter ID.

        1. JBird4049

          Voting fraud at the level of the individual voter is essentially nonexistent. There has not been any research showing that it is.

          Requiring an ID to vote, as well as increasing the complexity, which turns it into a time and money sink. Many people, and the lower the class the more likely it is, do not have much of either time or money to give. This is very convenient for some politicians.

          If people insist on solving a problem that does not exist, they must make the answer as painless as possible to the public especially with those who have the least.

        2. Starry Gordon

          I have observed that in another country, where they come to see the registrant, sort of the way the census in the US does, because it’s a legal obligation like jury duty. If people were actually concerned about the sanctity of the electorate, that would solve the problem. Obviously they’re not. It’s a waste of time to discuss it because it’s a symbolic issue.

      1. Joe Well

        The same Republicans who want to require voter ID don’t want to give people free anything, much less assist the vulnerable with paperwork.

        It is all about voter suppression.

      1. The Rev Kev

        Consider this. This poll was taken of 1,200 registered voters nationwide. Seriously? That’s all? As about 160 million people voted last year, that would mean that each of those people polled represented about 13,3333 voters from last year. And where those people lived that were polled makes a difference too. And here I mean urban/country, Republican/Democrat areas, wealthy/poor, professional/working, etc. So that poll could have been taken in Nancy Pelosi’s street for all you know and so is to be dismissed.

      2. Sas

        “The poll was conducted by the Honest Elections Project, a nonpartisan group led by Jason Snead, who previously worked at the conservative Heritage Foundation”

        Nonpartisan group led by ‘former’ partisan. Talk about an elephant in the room.

        From their copy on their ‘election reform report’:

        “Mismanagement, dysfunction, clear instances of fraud, and persistent attempts to weaken voting
        safeguards under the guise of pandemic response have taken their toll. Left unaddressed, these issues will reoccur and cast a cloud over future elections.”

        Puh-lease. I recommend everyone read it if only to get a sense of what the ‘softened’ anti-democratic rhetoric will look like.

  2. Eric377

    If I take Georgia as a kind of reference, what I see is that the opponents of the recent legislation have struggled mightily to identify valid Georgian voters who will experience the new law as a significant obstacle to voting. At the very best, they can identify a very small group who have known for the past 3 months what they need to do sometime in the next year approximately. Yet Georgian Democrats express a great deal of apprehension that they cannot win under the new law. This apprehension does not seem to be fake. The question is why are these changes creating such angst if the actual impact on valid voting should be really close to nothing? My hypothesis is that the changes probably will reduce mail-in voting significantly. It’s as if Georgian Democrats are afraid that elections with higher percentages of votes cast in secret in the voting booth are a disadvantage for them.

    1. Glossolalia

      It’s more likely that they are afraid of polling stations being closed in heavily Democratic areas so that it’s more difficult to get to a polling station and that you’ll have to wait in a long line once you do.

    2. marym

      The GA bill isn’t only about restricting [despite any evidence of fraud] absentee voting. It also contains provisions for voter intimidation at the polling place and disempowerment of election officials. (Link)

      Given decades of unsubstantiated allegations of fraud, not to mention their own statements regarding current changes to voting laws

      WATCH: In today’s hearing on #HB531, Republican Rep. Alan Powell admits there is NO evidence of widespread voter fraud, and that it is “just in people’s minds.” (Link)

      But while [TX Republican state Rep. Steve} Toth said he would support a statewide [audit] effort, he also argued the undertaking would be too expensive and time-consuming. Asked if he would consider including some smaller counties, Toth replied, “What’s the point? I mean, all the small counties are red.” (Link)

      it’s clear that Republicans are afraid that elections with higher turnout, in-person or absentee, of voters whose votes are likely not to be for them are a disadvantage for them.

  3. marym

    The Texas bill, like other bills being proposed and passed across the country, isn’t about “Voter ID.”

    The TX bill provides enhanced opportunities for intimidation and legal liability of election workers, makes it more difficult for disabled voters to vote by mail (vote by mail already very restricted in TX), requires voters to include their driver’s license number or last for digits of ssn on the ballot envelope.

    The Brennan Center links provide an overview of these proposals to make it more difficult to vote, harass and penalize voters and election workers, and disempower courts from adjudicating election disputes:


    Adding: Many states have no photo ID requirement. No fraud either.

  4. Grumpy Engineer

    I find the concept of arresting legislators for not doing their jobs to be rather disturbing. It’s a police state type of action. With the exception of certain military positions, simply walking off the job isn’t grounds for arrest. If I refuse to do work any more, my employer cannot demand that police seize my person, no matter how desperately they need my work. I can be fired, of course, but arrested? No way.

    And this reveals the stupidity of Gov Abbott. Even if he does arrest the wayward legislators, I would presume that they land in jail, and there would still be no quorum. [And just think of the photo ops for the Democrats.] Perhaps he should have threatened to terminate their roles as legislators (for failure to do their jobs) and have them replaced by special election. I suspect the threat of job loss would be more effective at motivating their return.

    1. Gareth

      First, they will not be put in jail. Compelling a quorum is a time-honored tradition, and they only face a civil arrest. That means that DPS or a Texas Ranger will put them in the House chamber by force if necessary. The doors are then locked, and the member remains there until the House finishes its business. After that, the member is free to go. They are not required to vote or speak, either.

      It is standard operating procedure in the US Senate, too. See this article; it was last used in there in 1988. NC’s British commenters might be able to tell us if something similar exists or existed for Parliament.

      Second, you are mistaken to think that Abbott can terminate a representative. It is not within his power to dismiss a member of the legislative branch. A member of the House can only be expelled from the body by a vote of its members, which, of course, requires a quorum. Hence, the mechanism of compelling a quorum is part of the Texas Constitution in order for the body to function properly. The optics don’t look good if Speaker Phelan has them drug kicking and screaming through the door, but their rights are not being violated. They signed up to the rules when they took the oath of office, and they are free to relinquish their position at any time if they object to their treatment.

      1. Grumpy Engineer

        Hmm. I must confess that I didn’t fully research this topic before commenting. If legislators cannot be fired for refusing to work, then an arrest to compel a quorum seems appropriate. It’s not reasonable for AWOL legislators to be able to halt the business of the legislature indefinitely. There must be a way of breaking the impasse.

        So I guess they’re going to get arrested. And given that they knew the rules ahead of time (like members of the US military do), I find I have less sympathy.

    2. PHLDenizen

      Photos of the Democrats in jail as “freeloaders who won’t legislate and do their jobs, like every struggling American does” is a great campaign ad for the conservatives.

      Trump could campaign on that.

      “Lock ‘em up! I was right! And people have finally had enough of the socialists! They just steal tax payer money and go on vacation instead of doing their jobs! Our Republican party is sacrificing themselves to get this wonderful, beautiful bill passed for the wonderful people of the wonderful state of Texas! Those socialist, liberals are too busy driving around in their limousines and brunching to help the American people! They’re welfare queens! Elect me and my party so we can lock ‘em up and actually run this country like adults! The time for lazy liberals is over! America was great and then Sleepy Joe was the president. Now the do-nothing Dems are back and America is a terrible place again.”

      Something like that. But you get Trump up there doing the Trump thing with giant photos of jailed Dems behind him, particularly with their brand so poisoned? Dude. That’s a great piece of propaganda. And it certainly fires up the base.

  5. SteveB

    So you would have no issue with the Republican members of the US Senate leaving their posts
    and playing “hookey” to avoid a quorum in the senate.. IE the Democrats can’t pass any bills?

    Is that correct?… Abbott can’t fire them… so what are the alternatives to arrest? Stocks, Pillories perhaps an Iron Maiden………..

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