Responding to an emergency motion filed hours earlier, the Texas Supreme Court on Tuesday blocked an Austin district judge’s order that prohibited the arrest of Democrats participating in the ongoing quorum break.
Gov. Greg Abbott and House Speaker Dade Phelan, represented by Attorney General Ken Paxton, argued that state District Judge Brad Urrutia’s order improperly stopped them from exercising authority specifically granted by the Texas Constitution.
“Compelling the attendance of its members is a prerogative given to the House by the Texas Constitution,” the petition said.
More: Travis County judge signs order temporarily blocking arrest of quorum-busting Democrats
The appeal asked the all-Republican Supreme Court to overturn the order by Urrutia, a Democrat, before 5 p.m. Tuesday, noting that the second special session is ongoing and the “House Democrats’ return to Texas is imminent.” Abbott and Phelan also said Uruttia’s plan to hold an Aug. 20 hearing on the matter would come too late in a special session that can run no later than Sept. 5.
In response, the state’s highest civil court blocked enforcement of Urrutia’s order while justices weighed the legal issues. The House Democrats were given until 4 p.m. to file a response.
The appeal came one day after Democrats continued to deny Republicans a quorum in the House despite Monday’s return of four lawmakers who participated in the walkout — Reps. James Talarico of Round Rock and Joe Moody, Mary Gonzalez and Art Fierro of El Paso.
That pushed the Democratic attendance total to 13 out of 67 members. All 82 Republicans were present, including Rep. Travis Clardy, who was diagnosed with COVID-19 and sitting in a quarantine room just off the House floor.
After it became apparent Monday evening that a quorum of 100 members was out of reach, House Republicans voted to lock the chamber doors and require lawmakers to receive written permission to leave the chamber each day, one of the few actions available to present members when they lack the numbers to take official action.
But unlike during the first special session, lawmakers stopped short of calling on state law enforcement to compel the presence of absent members.
Also Tuesday, 21 voting-rights, abortion-rights and progressive groups issued a plea for House Democrats to continue their quorum break.
“In the face of an assault on voting rights unlike anything we’ve seen since Jim Crow, on transgender kids looking to participate in youth sports programs, on access to safe medication and abortion care, on teachers looking to teach an uncensored version of history, and so much more, Texas lawmakers cannot give in to Gov. Abbott’s attempts at tyranny,” the groups said in a joint statement.
“The only way to preserve our right to vote and the best way to fight is to stay off the House floor,” the groups concluded.
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