Last month, dozens of Democrats in the Texas House fled the state in an attempt to block anti-voting legislation. Now their Republican colleagues have empowered law enforcement to round-up the absentee lawmakers and compel them to return to the state Capitol “under warrant of arrest, if necessary.”
The latest escalation in a weeks-long drama was approved on Tuesday by the all-Republican Texas Supreme Court, which overturned an earlier ruling by a district judge who said Republicans lacked the authority to arrest other elected officials.
But with the higher court’s approval, the House voted 80-12 on Tuesday to issue the civil arrest warrants. Soon after, Republican House Speaker Dade Phelan signed dozens of them with the hope of forcing Democrats to return. If enough do, the House will have a quorum – enough members present to hold a vote – and the passage of Senate Bill 7 is all but assured in the deep-red legislative body. SB7 reduces polling hours and curbs access to mail-in voting.
“I hope this kind of wakes them up and allows them to say, ‘All right, it’s time to get back to work,’” said Matt Krause, a Republican State Representative.
State Rep. Lyle Larson was the sole Republican to vote against arresting his colleagues, tweeting “Have we got to the point where we believe our own bull shizz so much that we arrest our own colleagues. Civil discourse took a nasty turn today.”
The Democrats do not face criminal charges. “I think we really need to be thinking about this more in terms of an escort than trying to analogize it as a criminal situation,” Sandra Thompson, a University of Houston law professor, told PolitiFact.
Eleven Democrats have already returned to the House, but dozens of others are decamped throughout the state or in Washington, DC. One of the Democrats blocking a quorum, Celia Israel, said fleeing was “our last resort” to stop a bill “that will deliberately make it harder for Texans to cast their ballots freely, safely and equally.”
The Democrats fled on the last day of Texas’ legislative session. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has since called two special sessions and has vowed to initiate more until the legislation is passed.