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Law Permits Arrest of Absent Lawmakers, Says Texas Supreme Court
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As required by the state constitution, the state House of Representatives could physically compel attendance at meetings.

As a result of a ruling by Texas’ Supreme Court, the state House of Representatives may arrest absent members and compel them to return to the chamber for legislative purposes.

It is a victory for House Republicans that the court decided in their favor. In doing so, the court lifted a temporary restraining order issued by a county judge last week, blocking dozens of arrest warrants targeting House Democrats who fled the state to block Republicans from passing a voting bill that would restrict their right to vote.

  
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“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 of whether the proposed voting legislation giving rise to this dispute is desirable. Those are political questions far outside the scope of the judicial function,” the court said in an 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 temporary restraining order.

Brad Urrutia, a Democrat from Travis County, issued the order prohibiting any arrest, detention, or confinement of the Texas Democrats for two weeks.

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The state House and Senate, as well as the Governor’s Mansion, are controlled by Republicans. Delay tactics are the only way Democrats can block legislation. Several delegation members departed for Washington to take action on the state’s voting bill in July and to press Congress to pass national voting rights legislation.

In its opinion, the court said that the district court misinterpreted the state constitution.



“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,’” the court said. “Neither the passage of time nor the passions of a hotly contested legislative dispute can change what it means.”



 

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