Law & the Courts

Texas Republicans Vote to Arrest Democrats Who Fled State

Congressman Lloyd Doggett (D., Texas) joins other Democratic members of the Texas House of Representatives as they speak in front of the Capitol in Washington, D.C., July 13, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

The Texas House voted Tuesday to send law enforcement to track down, and possibly issue warrants for the arrest of, Democratic lawmakers who walked out on the legislature’s special session to prevent the GOP from advancing a key voting bill.

The Texas Republicans voted Tuesday to order a “call of the House,” which stops members from arriving at or leaving the chamber. A separate vote asked the sergeant-at-arms to “send for all absentees…under warrant of arrest if necessary.”

Fifty-seven Democratic House legislators abandoned the chamber in protest Monday and traveled to Washington, D.C. to lobby for national voting legislation, denying the Texas legislature quorum, or the minimum number of members needed in attendance to conduct business.

The sergeant-in-arm’s authority only applies in Texas, however, so the defectors can’t be detained until they return to the state. Special sessions can last a maximum of 30 days, so the runaway lawmakers may remain away for weeks.

With a Republican majority in the legislature, Governor Greg Abbott has signaled that the ruling party will pursue all necessary legislative avenues to enact the voting reforms, vowing to prolong special sessions until they get approved. He said Monday that the Democrats “will be arrested” and “cabined inside the Texas Capitol until they get their job done.” Abbott added that Democrats would need to stay out of the state for  “well over a year” to kill the bill, an unlikely scenario.

In their technically illegal departure from the chamber, Democratic state Senator Royce West told the Washington Post that the Texas Democrats are “buying time” by leaving the state while “hoping that something gets done at the national level.”

While the Texas House lacks quorum, the Texas Senate has maintained its quorum and passed the voting legislation Tuesday, although the bill cannot proceed.

This episode marks the second walk-out the Democrats staged to stall a voting bill they have condemned as a restrictive measure that disenfranchises minorities and underprivileged Texans from exercising their civic duty. Advocates believe it will bring integrity and transparency to the Texas voting system, by more closely regulating poll-watching, prohibiting 24-hour and drive-thru voting, and cracking down on paid “ballot harvesting” as well as mass mail-in ballot distributions.

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