Texas Supreme Court says police can arrest Democratic lawmakers who fled the state to block GOP agenda

·3 min read
police stand in line outside building
Police look on as a protest takes place outside the Texas Capitol on May 29 in Austin. Photo by Sergio Flores/Getty Images
  • The court ruled that authorities can arrest the lawmakers missing the second special session.

  • If arrested, the legislators will not be charged with a crime and will be brought to the Capitol.

  • The ruling overturned a decision from a district judge that blocked lawmakers from being detained.

  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

Police now have the authority to arrest the Democratic Texas legislators who broke quorum, according to a new ruling from the Texas Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court's ruling allows officers from the Department of Public Safety to detain and return missing representatives to the House chamber in an effort to meet quorum and vote on legislation.

Fifty-seven of the state's Democratic lawmakers abandoned Texas in July to prevent a Republican elections bill restricting voting rights in the state. The vast majority of the group traveled to Washington, DC, to work with federal legislators on passing a national voting-rights bill.

A temporary restraining order from District Judge Brad Urrutia prevented authorities from arresting any truant legislators for 14 days, leading Gov. Greg Abbott and Republican House Leader Rep. Dade Phelan to petition the state Supreme Court to block the ruling.

Texas House leaders voted on a "Call of the House" motion at the beginning of Abbott's first special legislative session compelling all members to be present in the House chamber and giving permission to authorities to detain missing lawmakers and bring them to the Capitol.

But even with the motion, there wasn't an avenue for police to pursue the missing legislators in Washington, as they were out of the jurisdiction of Texas police departments. Some state legislators have since returned to Texas from Washington but are still avoiding the Capitol to maintain a broken quorum.

Now that some are back, they can be compelled by authorities to return to the chamber, according to the court's ruling. A "Call of the House" can also command the sergeant-at-arms to lock the chamber and prevent members from leaving.

Texas' House of Representatives needs a two-thirds majority present in the chamber to establish a quorum and vote on legislation. There are 67 Democrats and 82 Republicans in the House, meaning that at least 18 Democrats must be present to establish a quorum if every Republican legislator is also in the chamber.

Abbott's second special legislative session began on Saturday. As with the first session, his agenda for the second special session includes a number of right-wing causes including:

  • Forbidding schools from mandating COVID-19 vaccinations or face coverings.

  • Restricting bail from some accused criminals.

  • Providing a legal remedy for people banned via "censorship" from social-media and email platforms.

  • Restricting transgender athletes from participating on teams that correlate with their gender identity.

  • Banning "critical race theory" from being taught in schools.

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