Texas’s Republican House speaker, Rep. Dan Phelan, signed arrest warrants Tuesday night for 52 House Democrats who fled the state last month in protest of GOP plans for restrictive new voting rights legislation.
The Dallas Morning News first reported that the warrants had been issued, adding that they will be delivered to the Texas House sergeant-at-arms on Wednesday morning. The newspaper added that at least two dozen lawmakers are still in Washington, D.C., and others are outside the jurisdiction of local officials.
The civil arrest warrants came just hours after Texas’s all-Republican Supreme Court said the rogue lawmakers could be detained and returned to the state, vacating a lower court’s order that protected them. The Texas House voted shortly afterward to force their Democratic colleagues to return, authorizing law enforcement to find those missing and bring them home.
Democrats, who argue the restrictive legislation would unduly target communities of color and low-income voters, have remained defiant and vowed to break quorum in an attempt to prevent the any bills’ passage.
“We broke quorum because anti-voter bills are nefarious attempts to disenfranchise Texans & these authoritarian motions by Republicans just cement that we are on the right side of history,” Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D) wrote on Twitter. “We must hold the line against these desperate attempts to destroy our democracy.”
Rep. Chris Turner (D), the chair of the Texas House Democratic Caucus, told the Texas Tribune that legislators were “fully within their rights … to break quorum” and said they would continue to fight “with everything we have against Republicans’ attacks on our freedom to vote.”
Dozens of Texas Democrats fled Austin last month for Washington to block the passage of the legislation, echoing a similar move earlier this year when they secretly left the chamber before a vote on a restrictive bill. Both efforts left the legislature without the quorum needed to proceed.
Gov. Greg Abbott (R), furious with the move, called a special session in June to proceed on the proposed voting changes, but it expired last week. Abbott ordered a second special session on Saturday, vowing to call “special session after special session” until the legislature votes.
Some of the Democrats have returned to Texas, and the chamber is only about four members shy of a quorum, the Dallas Morning News reported, meaning all 52 of the rogue lawmakers wouldn’t have to be forcibly returned for voting to proceed.
The fight over the legislation has only escalated in recent days. On Friday, 22 House Democrats sued Abbott, Phelan and other Republican leaders, saying the effort to bring them back to the state violated their constitutional rights to free speech and the power to petition the government.
“It is no surprise that Republican Governor Greg Abbott and House Speaker Dade Phelan want to arrest their political opponents,” Reps. Trey Martinez Fischer (D) and Gina Hinojosa (D) said after the court ruling, according to the Texas Tribune. “Thankfully, this is still the United States of America. We will defend the freedom to vote, and we look forward to our temporary injunction hearing on August 20th.”
Texas’s attempts to pass the restrictive bill are part of the GOP’s broader effort to rein in voting following President Joe Biden’s win over Donald Trump in 2020. The efforts rely on unfounded and false claims about widespread voter fraud in the November presidential vote. Democrats nationwide have lambasted the legislation as an opaque attempt to make it harder for communities of color and other traditionally left-leaning voters to cast ballots.
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