TX Voting Rights Fight Takes Ugly Turn as House GOP Vote to Arrest Dem Lawmakers

Texas lawmakers in the state’s House of Representatives voted on Tuesday to order state law enforcement to forcibly return Democrats to the legislative chamber, including potentially arresting them, in order to force a vote on implementing restrictive voting provisions in future elections in the state.

The 80-12 vote total did not include dozens of Democrats who remain absent from the legislative chamber. All votes in favor of the warrants were from Republicans, while 11 Democrats who were present, joined by one GOP lawmaker, voted against issuing the warrants.

After the vote was held, Republican Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives Dade Phelan signed 52 civil arrest warrants for those Democrats who remain absent.

The vote was made possible on Tuesday after the state Supreme Court temporarily blocked a lower court order, which would have prevented such warrants from being issued. The state’s highest court issued a stay of that lower court’s ruling, granting Democrats time to respond to the stay later on this week, but permitting Republicans to hold the vote on the warrants later in the day.

More than 60 of the Texas House’s Democratic legislators left the state in May and traveled to Washington, D.C. to prevent a quorum, blocking the passage of a bill that would have restricted access to voting for Texas residents. Since then, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has called two consecutive special sessions in order to keep the matter alive in the legislature, resulting in the Democrats having to stay away longer.

At least 20 of those Democrats remain in the nation’s capital. The whereabouts of the others are unknown, and it’s possible some have returned to Texas. The warrants that were issued would only allow for those lawmakers to be compelled to appear in the state House if they were detained in Texas.

The Texas Democratic Party expressed strong criticism of the actions of Republicans in the state House on Tuesday.

“Texas Republicans continue to show they’ll stop at nothing to cling onto their power, but Texas Democrats made a promise to defend the #FreedomToVote at all costs,” the state party’s official Twitter account posted.

The Democratic lawmakers made their exodus to Washington, D.C. in order to push for passage of voting and election reform bills, the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would prevent state legislatures from enacting restrictive measures such as the ones that Texas Republicans have proposed. The state representatives held rallies in the nation’s capital and spoke directly to federal lawmakers on the need to pass those bills — including the need to end or amend the Senate filibuster rule in order to do so.

“We came to Washington, D.C. to demand action and draw the nation’s eyes to the fight for the freedom to vote,” Texas state Rep. Trey Martinez Fisher, one of the Democrats who left Texas, said earlier this month.

Centrist Democrats, and even President Joe Biden, have been sympathetic and agreeable on the passage of those bills, but they have not been willing to call for the filibuster’s end in order to pass them into law. Without at least 10 Republicans in the U.S. Senate voting with Democrats, the voting rights bills seem destined to fail.