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The Texas Supreme Court gave its approval to a Republican plan to arrest Democratic lawmakers in order to force them into the chamber for a vote.
The state’s highest court, which is made up exclusively of Republican judges, ruled Tuesday that the Texas Constitution “gives the House of Representatives the authority to physically compel the attendance of absent members” so the House can reach a quorum of two-thirds of its members. The decision ends a court-ordered temporary restraining order, issued earlier this month, against arresting the Democrats.
Dozens of Democratic lawmakers fled the state more than a month ago in order to stop the Republican-majority Legislature from forcing through a bill to restrict access to voting. Though some of the Democratic legislators have returned to the state at this point, with some returning to the Capitol, many have stayed in D.C.—where they lobbied congressional Democrats to pass a federal voting rights bill—and the caucus continues to deny Republicans a quorum by a narrow margin.
Senate Bill 1 would, among other things, prohibit election officials from sending mail-in ballot applications to voters without requests and force people assisting voters to swear an oath that they didn’t “encourage, pressure, or coerce the voter into choosing me to provide assistance.” It would also ban local officials from allowing drive-thru and 24-hour voting as counties like Harris, the state’s largest, did last year. Republicans say the point of the legislation is to fight voter and election fraud, neither of which have been proven to exist on any substantial level.
Gov. Greg Abbott called another special session earlier this month, and said he would continue to do so until the bills were forced through. But enough House Democrats have stayed away from the state Capitol in order to prevent the House from advancing bills. Last week the bill passed the Texas Senate after a 15-hour filibuster effort by Democratic Sen. Carol Alvarado.
GOP House Speaker Dade Phelan signed arrest warrants for 52 House Democrats last week, and though some of the Democratic legislators are back in the state, none of them have been detained so far. “I don’t know that they’re gonna get to that level,” GOP Rep. Jim Murphy, chair of the Republican caucus, told Spectrum News 1 Monday. “At this point, it’s more like a jury summons, a paper that’s delivered, and that’ll be another conversation down the line.”
“We’re ready to come back to work to address the coronavirus spread… we’re ready to come back to work to fix the broken grid,” Rep. Rafael Anchia told Spectrum Monday. “What gets me about the governor is he lights the house on fire and then complains that we’re not showing up with buckets to put it out.”