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Texas Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-141), joined by fellow Democratic state representatives, speaks during a news conference about voting rights outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. on August 6, 2021. (Photo: Drew Angerer via Getty Images)

Texas Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-141), joined by fellow Democratic state representatives, speaks during a news conference about voting rights outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. on August 6, 2021. (Photo: Drew Angerer via Getty Images)

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

GOP-appointed judges sided with Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott and right-wing lawmakers in the state, who are seeking to secure a quorum to pass legislation attacking voting rights.

Kenny Stancil

If any of the dozens of Texas House Democrats who fled Austin 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 urge those 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 U.S. Supreme Court gutted the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

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