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The Texas Supreme Court ruled Tuesday to allow for the arrest or detention of Democratic legislators who fled the state to obstruct an election-reform bill spearheaded by the GOP.
Republican governor Greg Abbott vowed to send out warrants for the arrest of the Democratic defectors upon their return and force the chamber to conduct business to advance the legislation.
On Sunday, a state district judge gifted the House Democrats a temporary restraining order prohibiting their detainment, confinement, or arrest for two weeks. Abbott and House speaker Dade Phelan petitioned the high court Monday to overturn the arrest freeze from the lower court, according to the Texas Tribune. Granting them their request, Tuesday’s decision from the Texas supreme court reverses the earlier order protecting the Democrats from arrest, at least for now.
The House Democrats involved in the lawsuit have a deadline of Thursday at 4 p.m. to respond to the court.
“The Supreme Court of Texas swiftly rejected this dangerous attempt by Texas Democrats to undermine our Constitution and avoid doing the job they were elected to do,” Renae Eze, an Abbott spokeswoman, told the Texas Tribune. “We look forward to the Supreme Court upholding the rule of law and stopping another stall tactic by the Texas Democrats.”
The 57 Texas Democrats had been camping out in Washington, D.C., for nearly a month, protesting the GOP’s voting bill back home while lobbying for federal elections legislation that would relax voting requirements nationally. In their pursuit, they commanded the attention of Democratic Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer and other progressive lawmakers.
The Democrats originally walked out of the Texas House to deny Republicans quorum, or the minimum attendance required to proceed with the legislative process. Abbott made it clear that he would pursue all constitutional avenues to pass the elections bill, calling consecutive special sessions to reopen the legislating window.
Police enforcement of the orders by state officials could only bring arrested Democrats back to the legislature for session. Although they broke the law by exiting the state at the neglect of their elected duties, Democrats would not face imprisonment, fines, or criminal charges, the Texas Tribune confirmed.