Is NAACP right to ask DOJ investigate arrest warrants for Texas lawmakers?
- The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was established in 1909 to fight against racial injustice and is the “largest civil rights organization in the nation” with over 2,200 units and 2 million activists.
- Gregory Wayne Abbott is the 48th governor of Texas, serving since 2015. He was labeled “best governor in the nation” in 2020, known for his commitment to community, job creation, and quality healthcare.
- On July 13, 2021, fifty-one Texas House Democrats left the state to deny Republicans from passing new voting and election reforms. The following day, Governor Greg Abbott announced that Democrats who fled “will be arrested” upon returning to the state.
- A month later, on August 12, the Texas Supreme Court deputized law enforcement to bring the forty-five still-missing House Democrats to the state Capitol in Austin. This came after the Court struck down a Harris County judge’s orders protecting the absent lawmakers.
- Texas’s House and Senate-proposed election reform bills (SB 1 and HB 3) make changes to current voting standards, such as requiring ID requirements to vote-by-mail, halting the automatic sending of unsolicited ballots to residents, allowing poll watchers to have “free movement” while also making obstructing view of the poll a criminal offense, and removes drive-thru and 24-hour polling places as voting options.
- Texas’s Senate chamber passed SB 1 on August 11th in an 18-11 party-line vote.
According to AP News, Texas issued arrest warrants for 'more than 50 absent Democrats' as a result of differing political views and affiliations. It was only the Democrats who left the state to avoid voting on the state's new election bill who earned warrants issued against them. As the Washington Examiner reports, 'There is no allegation that any of the Democrats to be arrested has committed any crime.' Because there is no criminality in leaving, as the Democrats did, and the warrants were issued by Republicans who hold different values and beliefs from the Democrats that were targeted, it's clear the motivation is politically driven and partisan.
The NAACP is one of the nation's leading civil rights groups, so if the NAACP sees an issue, such as this, as being large enough to prompt a full investigation, then there was clearly a line crossed when the Republicans issued these arrest warrants. By refusing to return to the state, Democrats are making their stance clear on the new voting bill in Texas. Because this protest is their right, our country's Department of Justice should protect it. In a letter written by NAACP President Derrick Johnson to Kristen Clarke, who runs the Justice Department's civil rights division, it states, 'Without DOJ's protection [. . .] reminiscent of authoritarian regimes, Texas's government will be able to jail and detain those who stand up to those in power.' The NAACP is making the right move in demanding the Department of Justice do its duty and bring justice into a state trying to keep Americans from exercising their rights.
The NAACP thinks issuing warrants is criminal; however, doing so breaks no law. The Texas constitution states that members can 'compel the attendance of absent members' (Article 3 Section 10), and Texas's House rules say that absent members may 'be sent for and arrested' (Rule 5 Section 8). The civil warrants issued by Texas Speaker Dade Phelan are in line with these state rules and regulations.
Despite their lawsuit, these lawmakers are not being targeted due to their race, creed, political affiliation, etc., but simply because they are absent from the legislative session. Any Republican who removed themselves the way these Democrats did, obstructing their duty to the people who elected them, would be subject to the same arrest warrants.
In requiring attendance, Texas law is consistent with other states and the federal government. For example, California can use force and take absent members into custody (Senate Rules 3, 42). In a similar case, Robert Byrd (D) instructed the Sergeant at Arms to arrest absentee members who had left to prevent a quorum. Oregon Senator Robert Packwood (R) was carried feet-first into the Senate chamber.
With civil warrants, there are no criminal charges; nobody would be jailed or fined. Law enforcement would bring members back to the House to attend the legislative session, thus fulfilling their sworn duty. Additionally, as a violation of Texas House rules, the warrants are only enforceable in Texas. As long as the members remain out-of-state, nobody is going after them. It's ironic Democrats claim to be protecting voting rights, but by running away, they are in actuality effectively denying the rights of Texans who voted for a Republican majority in their Congress.