As the curtain continues to fall on the circus act the Texas Democratic runaways have been putting on for several weeks, at least one of the AWOL lawmakers is continuing to look for a legal lifeline.
The absentees have already received an unfavorable ruling from the Texas Supreme Court regarding Republican Governor Greg Abbott’s authority to veto the funding bill that provides for their payroll. Their salaries and their staff’s paychecks will end at the end of September if they have not returned to work by that time.
In response to the governor’s promise to arrest willfully absent lawmakers for compelling their attendance at a special legislative session, the runaways obtained a restraining order against Abbott from a trial court judge. That also resulted in a defeat before the Texas Supreme Court, which issued a stay against enforcing that order. The governor has since issued civil arrest warrants according to the Texas state constitution.
One of the most public of the absentees has now filed a new case. Gene Wu has sued the governor in the state 230th Criminal District Court of Harris County in an attempt to stop the civil warrant issued to compel his attendance at the capitol.
The very unusual lawsuit left Judge Chris Morton in doubt about the ultimate validity of Wu’s claims. The judge ruled that his court has jurisdiction to grant an order releasing Wu from custody if he is arrested until the court could make a final determination about the governor’s power to stop legislators and bring them into session.
The judge expressed uncertainty about his jurisdiction over the state legislature’s sergeant-at-arms and whether his criminal court could hear the matter at all. He told Wu’s attorneys that they should have sought the advice of the Texas Attorney General before bringing the case.
The case may take on an entirely different posture as the governor’s attorneys can respond to the point, and the state attorney general takes an official position in the matter. The Texas Supreme Court’s previous ruling placing a stay on the last restraining order is likely to carry significant weight in the new case.
While there is virtually no historical legal precedent for the current situation, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has said that he researched the same legal issue years ago and that, in his opinion, the governor has explicit authority to detain willfully absent legislators and bring them to the capitol to carry out their constitutional duties.
No further hearing has been scheduled for this latest stall tactic to delay the inevitable, although immediate responses from the named defendants are expected.