Texas Supreme Court Rules Democrats Absent From State Capitol Can Be Arrested

By Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen
Reporter
Isabel van Brugen is an award-winning journalist and currently a news reporter at The Epoch Times. She holds a master's in newspaper journalism from City, University of London.
August 18, 2021 Updated: August 18, 2021

The Texas Supreme Court ruled on Aug. 17 that the state’s House Democrats can be arrested if they refuse to return to the state Capitol to conduct legislative business.

The opinion (pdf) orders district courts to rescind their temporary restraining orders handed to state Democrats who have broken quorum since last month. In July, 52 state House Democrats absented themselves from legislative business in order to block Republican-led election reforms.

House members can be compelled by leaders to be present to conduct legislative business under the state Constitution, and those who refuse can be arrested and brought to the chamber, the ruling stipulates.

“The question now before this Court is not whether it is a good idea for the Texas House of Representatives to arrest absent members to compel a quorum. Nor is the question whether the proposed voting legislation giving rise to this dispute is desirable. Those are political questions far outside the scope of the judicial function,” Justice Jimmy Blacklock wrote in the opinion.

“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. We conclude that it does, and we therefore direct the district court to withdraw the TRO [temporary restraining order].”

The ruling comes after Travis County State District Judge Brad Urrutia, a Democrat, last week issued an order to block the dozens of Texas Democrats who fled the state from being arrested or detained for 14 days.

Previously, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, threatened that Democrats who broke quorum to prevent the start of the special legislative session would be arrested.

The Aug. 17 opinion said the state’s constitution was incorrectly interpreted by the district court.

“The Texas Constitution empowers the House to ‘compel the attendance of absent members’ and authorizes the House to do so ‘in such manner and under such penalties as [the] House may provide,’” it said. “Neither the passage of time nor the passions of a hotly contested legislative dispute can change what it means.”

While Republicans control both legislative chambers in Texas, as well as the governor’s mansion, two-thirds of lawmakers must be present to constitute a quorum. Republicans only hold 82 seats in the 150-seat lower chamber.

Democrats have argued that the GOP-backed voting overhaul bill would place unfair restrictions on minority groups when they cast their ballots, while Republicans have said the measure is needed to safeguard future elections and would restore the public’s confidence in them.

Abbott’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request by The Epoch Times for comment.

“As predicted, the law is on our side. House Democrats were elected to do a job—and it is time for them to come home and do just that, regardless if the outcome doesn’t lean in their favor. Childish antics will not be tolerated,” the Texas Attorney General’s office wrote on Twitter shortly after the ruling.

Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen
Reporter
Isabel van Brugen is an award-winning journalist and currently a news reporter at The Epoch Times. She holds a master's in newspaper journalism from City, University of London.