Late Friday afternoon, Judge Lynn Hughes of the Southern District of Texas ruled in federal court that the Republican Party of Texas can go forward with an in-person convention at George R. Brown Convention Center either this weekend or next.
The decision was based on a lawsuit previously filed by conservative activist Steven Hotze and Houston attorney Jared Woodfill earlier this week, and came hours after the RPT and state GOP Chairman James Dickey signed on as plaintiffs on Friday afternoon.
Last week, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner ordered the city’s convention arm, Houston First Corporation, to withdraw from the convention event contract with the state GOP due to the ongoing pandemic. In Friday's ruling, Hughes said that the City of Houston had violated the RPT’s constitutional rights by cancelling the in-person convention earlier this month.
Originally set to happen July 16 through 18 at GRB, the state GOP’s executive committee voted to hold the convention online after the Texas Supreme Court ruled against their previous lawsuit. Due to a plethora of technical difficulties, the RPT decided late Wednesday night to postpone the virtual convention until Saturday morning. The RPT must now decide whether to continue with their virtual convention or opt to have it in-person, as long as this afternoon's decision isn't overturned by a higher court.
The Republican Party of Texas and the City of Houston did not immediately respond to requests for comment from the Houston Press.
Mayor Turner expressed his frustration with the new federal ruling in favor of the state GOP in a statement issued Friday evening.
“We are in the midst of a pandemic, a public health crisis. More people are being admitted to our hospitals and ICUs, and more people are dying. The State Republican Executive Committee is being totally irresponsible in continuing to push for an indoor, in-person convention,” Turner said.
Turner argued that the actions of the Republican Party of Texas reflect “a total disregard for the health and safety of employees and people in our city,” before promising that the City would take legal action to once again try and prevent the in-person convention from going forward.
“Upon receiving a written order from the federal judge, the City of Houston and Houston First will appeal,” Turner said.
Update 6:30 p.m. :
Republican Party of Texas Chairman James Dickey thanked Judge Hughes Friday evening for his ruling, but explained that the state GOP still plans as of now to hold their convention virtually starting Saturday morning.
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If the online convention isn’t able to go through as planned due to continued technical flubs, however, Dickey said they would reserve their newly-granted right to have an in-person convention at GRB as a failsafe plan.
“After the technical issues we experienced at RPT yesterday, immediate redundancy became a key objective. I was invited to join this lawsuit and took the opportunity to provide a last-resort method in-person if we needed it to secure our national election obligations,” Dickey said.
“The RPT is on track to hold its convention online with its approved plan from the State Republican Executive Committee,” Dickey explained, due to the party’s belief that an online convention still “provides the greatest opportunity for as many delegates who want to participate in the Convention as possible.” That said, Dickey reiterated that the RPT would pivot to an in-person convention at GRB at a later date “if for any reason there is an issue tomorrow.”
“I hope this ruling sets a precedent for other state and local Republican parties and organizations who come against a bully Democrat mayor’s malicious shutdown,” Dickey concluded.