Texas high court upholds authority to arrest Dem lawmakers who left state

A group of Texas Democrats made headlines last month for leaving the state in an effort to deny a quorum necessary to advance an election reform bill.

Now, the state Supreme Court has granted approval for law enforcement to end the protest by arresting those lawmakers who fled the state.

“The job they were elected to do”

State Republicans did not hesitate to issue warrants for the 52 lawmakers after the state’s highest court overturned a lower court’s restraining order, effectively ordering Democrats to return to the state legislature or face arrest.

Lawmakers have been unable to act since the Democrats absconded to Washington D.C. to block the voter integrity measures. Participants in the protest have vowed not to return to Texas until the special session has ended.

Although their stunt was widely heralded among progressives, the protest has subsequently dwindled. About half have already returned to the state as another special session begins.

There is still no quorum, however, with many Democrats still refusing to return. About a month after Republicans ordered law enforcement to arrest the lawmakers when they arrived, a federal district judge issued a restraining order to prevent any such arrests.

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott petitioned the state Supreme Court to intervene and the order was ultimately overturned. Abbott lauded the court for rejecting “this dangerous attempt by Texas Democrats to undermine our Constitution and avoid doing the job they were elected to do.”

“Fighting with everything we have”

State House Speaker Dade Phelan, also a Republican, issued civil arrest warrants for the 52 Democrats and ordered them to return.

For his part, House Democratic Caucus Chair Chris Turner said that it is “fully within our rights to break quorum to protect our constituents.”

In a statement on the matter, he asserted: “Texas House Democrats are committed to fighting with everything we have against Republicans’ attacks on our freedom to vote.”

The election law in question would have rolled back measures like drive-thru voting meant to make voting more convenient, specifically during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many Democrats hope to make the changes permanent.

Even a few Democrats, including state Rep. James Talarico, seem to acknowledge that leaving the state is not an effective long-term strategy. He has since returned to the House, asserting that his party is effectively out of options.

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