After wrangling in the courts for a few weeks, Texas Republicans have (as I predicted) ordered the arrest of all Texas House Democrats who left the state to stop a quorum for the state's special legislative session to gut voting rights, and the state's GOP says they will bring in these "fugitives from justice" by any means necessary.
Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan (R) escalated a showdown with Democratic lawmakers who broke quorum for the third time over voting rights, signing arrest warrants Tuesday that a spokesman said would be delivered "for service" Wednesday morning.
The move followed approval of a House motion to send for absent members, which enabled Phelan to issue the warrants. The Texas Supreme Court on Tuesday also stayed a trial court judge’s ruling that would have protected absent Democrats from arrest.
Phelan spokesman Enrique Marquez said warrants were signed for 52 Democrats who failed to return during the fourth day of the House’s second special session, leaving the chamber eight members short of a quorum. In the first special session, Phelan signed a warrant for only one member — Rep. Phil Cortez (D) — who fled to Washington with other Democrats, returned to Austin where he checked in on the floor, then left again for D.C.
While lawmakers would not be jailed if arrested, they may be brought into the Capitol by law enforcement once the warrants are delivered to the House sergeant-at-arms to be served.
It is unclear exactly how many House Democrats have returned to Texas since 57 fled to Washington in mid-July in an exodus that again blocked passage of new voting restrictions. In Washington, the Democrats advocated for federal voting rights protections in the U.S. Senate.
In anticipation of a possible Senate vote on a narrower elections-and-ethics bill, 26 of the Texas Democrats have vowed to remain in Washington “for as long as Congress is working and making progress” on the issue of voting rights, keeping themselves outside the reach of Texas law enforcement.
State Rep. Celia Israel (D) returned to her home in Austin but not to the House floor. She said Tuesday night that she did not fear being arrested — but acknowledged that the state chamber was in uncharted waters.
“I think they’re bluffing. Do they really want to arrest a woman of color?” Israel said in a phone interview. “They’re just thumping their chests.”
Asked whether she would be on the House floor Wednesday morning, Israel responded, “Hell no.” She said a legal team was working on the House Democrats’ case, with “punching and counterpunching happening by the hour.”
In a session that can last up to 30 days, Israel said, “every day that we don’t have to deal with these far-right policies is a good day.”
Quorum has been broken previously, but never in Texas have lawmakers had to be rounded up and taken to the House or Senate chambers by law enforcement, Israel said.
“We’ve never been down this road before,” she said.
Republicans in the Texas House of Representatives advanced a measure on Tuesday that would allow the legislature to operate without having two-thirds of the members present after House Democrats twice left the state to prevent the passage of an elections reform bill.
The Texas state constitution requires that two-thirds of the House and Senate be present in order for the legislature to operate, which allowed Democrats — 57 out of 150 total House members — to block legislation from passing while they traveled to D.C. to advocate for federal voting legislation.
As the Austin American-Statesman reports, a Texas Senate committee approved a joint resolution that would ask voters to amend the state's constitution so that a simple majority could establish a quorum in the House and Senate.
"Our state cannot allow a minority of lawmakers to wield such a disproportionate power so as to render the Texas Legislature incapable of responding to our state's needs," state Sen. Brian Birdwell (R) said during a hearing on the resolution on Monday, adding that this would prevent "a minority from crippling or disabling the Legislature."
Birdwell noted that Texas is one of only four states that require a supermajority in order to establish a quorum.
The bill must receive the support of at least two-thirds of the House and Senate before it can be put up for voter approval, the Statesman notes. This means three Democrats in the House and 18 in the Senate would need to join with all of their Republican colleagues to support it.
I'm betting that arresting Democrats will be a way to try to "gently convince" enough Democrats to back the quorum measure.
Of course, this is what Republicans in power do with power: they abuse it.