Last month, dozens of Texas Democrats fled the state to deny a quorum, thus preventing Republicans from advancing an election reform bill.
In response, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott threatened to arrest the absent Democrats upon their return and compel their presence in the legislature — but any such arrests are far less likely after a judge’s recent ruling.
“Erroneously interpreted Texas law”
According to the Epoch Times, the judge issued a temporary restraining order blocking arrests or warrants for the Democratic lawmakers in the near term.
Texas State District Judge Brad Urrutia handed down his ruling in response to a lawsuit filed by several of those Democrats in hopes of avoiding arrest upon their return to the state from D.C., where they headed to avoid a special legislative session called by Abbott.
In addition to the governor, defendants in the case included GOP state House Speaker Dade Phelan and the state as a whole.
Urrutia determined that they had “erroneously interpreted Texas law and legislative rules” to broadly include “detention, confinement, or restrictions” on members of the state House.
The judge further found that plaintiffs stood to “suffer imminent and irreparable harm” through the loss of liberty or arrest without the court’s intervention.
“Contrary to the Texas Constitution”
As such, Urrutia restrained Abbott, Phelan, and anyone working for them from “detaining, confining, or otherwise restricting” Democratic House members. Furthermore, his order prevents the issuance of “any warrants or other instruments” that would lead to such a result.
In addition, the judge specifically noted that his ruling applied to the Texas House sergeant-at-arms and his officers, the Texas Department of Public Safety, the Texas Rangers, the Texas Highway Patrol, the U.S. Capitol Police, and any other law enforcement officials who might act to detain, confine or restrict the Democrats who fled the state.
According to the Austin American-Statesman, Abbot’s office was apparently annoyed but not overly concerned by the order, which is set to expire in two weeks.
Abbott spokesperson Renae Eze issued a statement declaring: “The ruling by the Travis County judge is contrary to the Texas Consitution and violates the separation of powers between the different branches of government. Texas Democrats need to stop the charades and get back to work.”
Phelan’s office issued a similar statement via spokesperson Enrique Marquez, who promised a “swift response” to any legal filing.