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Texas Supreme Court clears way for law enforcement to round up Texas House Dems

UPDATE: AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas law enforcement was deputized Thursday to track down Texas House Democrats still missing from the chamber and bring them to the state Capitol in Austin, a process that Speaker Dade Phelan's office said "will begin in earnest immediately."

The news came as the Texas Supreme Court cleared the way for their civil arrests after it temporarily blocked Harris County judges’ orders protecting 45 Democrats from such a move.

Law enforcement was tapped “to assist in the House’s efforts to compel a quorum,” Phelan spokesperson Enrique Marquez said in an emailed statement. Earlier this week, Phelan, a Beaumont Republican, signed warrants for those missing lawmakers, many of whom have refused to return to the chamber for weeks to block a GOP elections bill. Their absence has prevented the chamber from having a quorum, the number of present lawmakers needed to move legislation.

If lawmakers are arrested, they will not face criminal charges or fines and could only be brought to the House chamber.

Earlier Thursday, state Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston, told The Texas Tribune that 44 of his colleagues had joined him in gaining temporary protection against those warrants should law enforcement track them down. Three judges in Harris County granted the orders.

By the time the House came to order around 4 p.m. though, news had surfaced that both law enforcement had been deployed and the all-GOP Supreme Court had halted Democrats’ efforts to block their civil arrests, with the court setting an 8 a.m. Monday deadline for a response.

ORIGINAL REPORT: HOUSTON, Texas -- Three state district judges in Houston have signed orders to temporarily protect more than 40 Texas Democrats from civil arrest for being absent from the state House, state Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston, told The Texas Tribune on Thursday.

House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, signed warrants earlier this week for those lawmakers, many of whom have refused to return to the chamber for weeks to block a GOP elections bill. But on Wednesday, Wu was granted the same order by one of those state district judges, Judge Chris Morton of the 230th Criminal District Court, which the lawmaker said temporarily shields him against the warrant should law enforcement track him down.

"Now, 44 of my colleagues have the same protections I have, at least temporarily," Wu said in a statement. "Nobody can detain or drag us back to the House floor against our will."

It's unclear how long the orders will remain in place.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has already said he plans to fight Wu's order in a similar manner to how the state fought a previous temporarily restraining order by a state district judge in Travis County that sought to block the arrest of the quorum-breaking Democrats. In that case, the all-GOP court voided the order temporarily on Tuesday. Those Democrats have said they plan to push forward with their request for a temporary injunction in Travis County on Aug. 20. That injunction, if granted, could again grant them protection from arrest.

"If we have to take it to the Texas Supreme Court," Paxton told Lubbock radio host Chad Hasty, "we'll do it."

Asked about Thursday's additional legal challenges to the warrants, Phelan's office also pointed to the Texas Supreme Court.

“The Texas Supreme Court will be the ultimate arbiter on this issue," said Phelan spokesperson Enrique Marquez. "Speaker Phelan feels confident in the arguments that were made and we expect a timely resolution of this issue in the immediate future. The Supreme Court’s ruling will be binding across the entire state.”

A spokesperson for Gov. Greg Abbott, who joined Phelan in asking the Supreme Court to overturn that ruling from a Travis County judge, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Texas Tribune



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