Tuesday night, Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan officially signed 52 civil arrest warrants for 52 House Democrats who have yet to report to the House floor for the second special session which began Saturday in an attempt to finally give his chamber the 100 members needed to pass new laws.
Once the warrants are delivered to the Texas House’s Sergeant-at-Arms as expected Wednesday morning, state law enforcement will be authorized to round up any House Democrats in Texas and bring them to the House floor. The House Republicans present in the Capitol on Tuesday voted to allow Phelan to issue the arrest warrants, and had previously voted in favor of a “call of the House,” meaning the doors of the House chambers will stay locked while the special session is in progress and requiring any representative who wants to leave the building to get written permission from Phelan.
A majority of House Democrats have still refused to report to the House to prevent the chamber from being able to pass the controversial Republican-backed election reform law they argue will increase barriers to voting for Texans of color and disabled Texans.
State Republicans insist their push for electoral reforms isn’t based on former President Donald Trump’s repeated insistence that the election was stolen from him, even though Republican-led states including Texas, Florida and Georgia didn’t begin pushing for such restrictive new laws before Trump convinced a large number of his supporters that voter fraud cost him his seat in the White House, despite there being no evidence of widespread voter fraud during the 2020 election in Texas or elsewhere.
Phelan issued his civil arrest warrants after the Texas Supreme Court on Tuesday overruled a Travis County judge’s order that temporarily blocked his ability to order absentee Democrats to be taken in by law enforcement. The state Supreme Court’s move came after Phelan and Gov. Greg Abbott asked the court to consider weighing in on the issue.
The civil arrest warrants only carry weight within Texas’ borders. Out of the 57 House Democrats who broke quorum during the first special session, only 26 are still in Washington, D.C., out of reach from Phelan’s order and still intent on pushing Congress to pass sweeping federal voting rights protections, a battle that seems increasingly unlikely to succeed as the U.S. Senate’s August recess approaches.
Of the 31 House Democrats who’ve left D.C., four of them have returned to the House floor over the past several days. Others are reportedly within Texas staying with their families and checking on their businesses, but could now be compelled by state police to head back to Austin if they’re able to be tracked down.
Last session, Phelan only issued one civil arrest warrant for state Rep. Philip Cortez (D-San Antonio). Cortez temporarily left D.C. and headed back to Austin to allegedly try and negotiate with Republicans over the controversial voting bill. But by the time Phelan had signed the warrant, Cortez had passed the Texas border and was already headed back to Washington, D.C.