The news may have moved on, but many of the Texas Democrats who fled the state in July to protest restrictive voting-rights legislation still haven’t returned. And Republicans are none too happy about it.
On Tuesday, the Texas House of Representatives voted 80-12 to authorize the roundup of the 52 Democrats who fled in July. The state’s House Speaker, Dade Phelan, then signed arrest warrants, which authorize the House sergeant-at-arms to task law-enforcement officers with retrieving the wayward legislators.
Hours earlier, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that Phelan and Texas governor Greg Abbott had the authority to round up the Democrats and bring them back to the voting floor. The decision overturned a previous ruling by a state district judge, which had temporarily prohibited such tactics. (If any Democrats are arrested, they will not face actual criminal charges.)
Some Democrats have already returned to the House chambers — 11 of them, and one Republican, voted against rounding up their colleagues — and others are nearby but not participating in the legislative process. Many still remain in Washington, though. The whole group had originally decamped there to urge their national counterparts to pass large-scale voting-rights legislation that would obviate the Texas bill. But since that isn’t happening anytime soon, Texas Democrats seem unlikely to achieve their goal of scuttling the legislation they’re protesting, which would, like many of the bills circulating in red states, make it harder for Texas to vote.
Because the Dems’ absence prevented a quorum, an Abbott-ordered special legislative session that ended on Friday failed to advance the voting-rights legislation. But Abbott immediately convened another one, and the House is only a few lawmakers short of the necessary 100 to begin voting. It’s probably only a matter of time before their quixotic efforts end in failure.
Some lawmakers were still defiant, though.
“I just question whether … anyone can break down my door to come and put me in shackles and drag me there,” Vikki Goodwin, an Austin Democrat, told the Dallas Morning News. “I feel certain that I can stay in my home, and stay off the House floor.”