Latest Update July 8, 2021

Coalition Responds to Texas' Flawed Legal Defense of Gov. Abbott, Which Concedes Veto of Legislator Salaries Was Unconstitutional

The state’s legal response has “little to say about the separation of powers” guarantee enshrined in the Texas State Constitution. The filing does, however, admit that—despite Governor Abbott’s stated intention to punish legislators—vetoing legislators’ salaries is unconstitutional. That means that more than 2,100 legislative staffers will be left “to bear the economic brunt of the veto.” Governor Abbott’s retaliatory veto exerts coercive pressure on legislators to do his bidding during the ongoing special session in order to get their funding back.

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When the Texas House of Representatives did not pass several bills supported by Governor Greg Abbott at the end of the regular session—including a restrictive election bill—Governor Abbott retaliated by vetoing funding for the state Legislature’s operations, effectively eliminating the co-equal branch for the next two years. Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick explained that vetoing the Legislature’s budget would mean lawmakers will “have to fire” their staff, which would “force them to come back” so that the Governor’s allies in the Legislature could “pass those other bills.” Since then, the Governor announced that a special session will commence on July 8.

Governor Abbott’s veto is unprecedented and unlawful.

Without funding, the Texas State Senate, House of Representatives, and many nonpartisan state offices will shut down on September 1st—jeopardizing the livelihoods of more than 2,100 full-time public servants. Governor Abbott’s veto will cause Texans to lose constituent services, will release state contractors from oversight, and will prevent pressing work, such as redistricting and responding to the energy crisis, from getting done.

Furthermore, the Governor’s action is an unconstitutional attempt to grant himself coercive authority over the Legislative Branch. It violates the Texas Constitution’s explicit separation of powers guarantee and guarantee of legislator salaries. It sets a dangerous precedent for abuse of power: if the governor can veto funding for the co-equal Legislative Branch of government because he dislikes how the Legislature acted, what would stop the governor from just as easily vetoing funding for the state judiciary?

“Governor Abbott’s attempt to eliminate the legislative branch is unconstitutional and represents an extraordinary and brazen attack on all Texans. When democracy is threatened by those who would abuse their power, Democracy Forward will use the law to fight back.

“We are honored to represent the Texas AFL-CIO and individual staff members—who, alongside lawmakers, are challenging this unprecedented and unlawful action that is antithetical to the promise of democracy and harms the people of Texas.”

-Democracy Forward President and CEO Skye Perryman, JD

 

We are representing the Texas AFL-CIO and individual state employees—alongside a broad coalition of Texas lawmakers and legislative caucuses—to stop Governor Abbott’s attempt to eliminate the legislative branch. The litigation is led by Chair of the House Democratic Caucus Representative Chris Turner; the Texas AFL-CIO; the House Democratic Caucus; the Mexican American Legislative Caucus; the Texas Legislative Black Caucus; the Legislative Study Group; 66 Members of the House of Representatives; and state employees.

The lawsuit, filed on June 25 in the Texas Supreme Court, seeks expeditious consideration of a petition for a writ of mandamus to reject the governor’s unconstitutional veto and allow the state Legislature to be funded. The Texas AFL-CIO and individual staff are represented by Jim Dunnam of Dunnam & Dunnam and lawyers at Democracy Forward. The Legislative Members and caucuses are represented by Chad Dunn of Brazil & Dunn and Kevin Vickers of Brady & Peavey.

May 31, 2021

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott makes his threat to defund the co-equal Legislative Branch.

“Fresh off the defeat of two of his legislative priorities Sunday night when Democrats abandoned the Texas House to block a sweeping elections bill, Gov. Greg Abbott flexed his executive muscle Monday — vowing to defund a co-equal branch of government while raising questions about the separation of powers in Texas. ‘I will veto Article 10 of the budget passed by the legislature,’ he wrote on Twitter. ‘Article 10 funds the legislative branch. No pay for those who abandon their responsibilities.’” (Texas Tribune, James Barragan). The threat was criticized by the Texas Speaker of the House, a member of the Governor’s own party.

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June 18, 2021

Gov. Abbott vetoes funding for the Texas Legislature.

Gov. Abbott made good on his threat: On June 18, he signed into law two years of spending authorization for the state of Texas—but vetoed funding for the entire state Legislature, including nonpartisan agencies.

June 25, 2021

Broad coalition of Texas Legislators, Legislative Caucuses, State Employees and the Texas AFL-CIO file suit to halt the unconstitutional veto.

July 5, 2021

The Texas attorney general's office replied.

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July 5, 2021

Bipartisan group of current and former Texas elected officials along with leading legal scholars filed amicus briefs in the Texas Supreme Court.

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July 8, 2021

We File our Response to the State's flawed Legal Defense of the Governor's veto.

The coalition’s reply highlights how Abbott’s unconstitutional action is harming legislative staffers and urges the Texas Supreme Court to rule swiftly on the coalition’s petition, which is supported by leading legal scholars and current and former elected officials from both parties.

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July 14, 2021

AG Paxton wrongly asserts that Abbott's veto is a "political question" the courts cannot decide.

Texas lawmakers, affected state employees, and the Texas AFL-CIO again rejected Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s flawed defense of Gov. Abbott’s unconstitutional elimination of the legislative branch. Paxton’s latest legal submission, filed on July 13, asserts that Gov. Abbott’s unconstitutional defunding of the Texas Legislature is a “political question” that cannot be challenged in court and wrongly blames the constitutional crisis in Texas on legislative staffers and lawmakers.

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July 22, 2021

Republican-chaired Texas House Administration Committee publishes Memo detailing significant impact of Abbott's veto.

The memo makes the costs of Gov. Abbott’s unlawful action abundantly clear—costs that state legislative employees represented by Democracy Forward in a petition pending before the Texas Supreme Court have repeatedly highlighted.

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Jessica Morton

Senior Counsel

Litigating challenges to unlawful actions, abuses of power, and threats to democracy on behalf of those who are harmed.

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John Lewis

Senior Counsel

Litigating challenges to unlawful actions involving immigration, civil rights, health care, education, and more.

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