Austin's NPR Station
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
Crime & Justice

Austin Judge Blocks Arrests Of Democratic House Members Who Fled To D.C. To Break Quorum

Texas House Speaker Dade Phalen talks with members of the House of Representatives as the House remains "at ease."
Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT
Texas House Speaker Dade Phalen talks with other lawmakers as the House of Representatives remains "at ease" on Monday. Democrats fled to Washington, D.C., last month, denying the chamber a quorum to discuss legislation during the special sessions.

A district judge in Austin has temporarily blocked the arrest of Democrats refusing to return to Texas for the special legislative sessions.

In his order issuing the block Sunday, District Judge Brad Urrutia wrote that Gov. Greg Abbott and Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan “have erroneously interpreted Texas Law and legislative rules to permit the detention, confinement, or other restriction of members of the Texas House of Representatives within the State of Texas in response to a call for quorum.”

Early on in the last special session, a group of roughly 50 House Democrats fled to Washington, D.C., in an effort to deny Republicans the ability to pass legislation, in particular a set of bills that would have created more voting restrictions.

Shortly after, Republicans called for a quorum and voted to have members arrested if they set foot across state lines. According to state law, those House members could then be detained and brought back to the Capitol for a vote.

In his ruling, Urrutia specifically blocked Abbott and Phelan from “detaining, confining, or otherwise restricting a Texas House Democrat’s movement without his or her consent … issuing any warrants of other instruments commanding detention … [and] commanding the sergeant-at-arms, officers appointed by the Texas House sergeant-at-arms, Department of Public Safety, Texas Rangers, Texas Highway Patrol Officers, Capitol Police Officers, or other law enforcement to detain or confine” members of the House.

In a statement, Democratic state Rep. Jasmine Crockett said Republican efforts to have House members arrested is another sign that leaders in Texas are “out of control.”

“Greg Abbott is issuing bans on the most effective strategy we have to protect Texans from COVID at school, on the job, and going about their daily business,” she said. “Dan Patrick is killing Senate rules that give the public a say on laws that he’s jamming through in the dead of night. And the Speaker thinks he can wave his hand and have his political opponents rounded up and arrested. We’re watching a major political party backslide in real time from fair representation, the rule of law, and democracy itself.”

Republicans have accused Democrats of shirking their duties and using time they should be working to “vacation” in Washington for the past few weeks.

During a press conference last week, as the first special session was coming to an end, Republican state Sen. Larry Taylor called the Senate’s inability to send legislation to the House “disappointing” and frustrating.

“Not only is it a waste of money time and effort, it is also causing people of Texas not to receive the benefits that would have been received from those bills,” he said.

While in Washington, Democrats were pushing Congress to pass federal voting protections that would supersede state-level efforts to make voting harder. Texas Republicans are pursuing legislation that would ban 24-hour voting centers and drive-thru voting, as well as create new restrictions on mail-in and curbside voting.

Voting groups are concerned the bills would create a slew of criminal penalties that could ensnare voters who make innocent mistakes.

Right before the first special session ended, Abbott called for another special session that started Saturday.

The Texas House still does not have a quorum, but the Senate on Monday began holding public hearings for similar voting legislation.

Related Content