Former Republican and Democratic Speakers of the House, Lt. Governor Among Those Urging Court to Invalidate Abbott’s Act, Assert “Governor’s Veto is a Threat to Texas’s System of Government” … “Should be Rebuked by People of All Political Persuasions”
Effort to Eliminate State Legislature Violates Texas Constitution’s Separation of Powers Clause, Harms Livelihoods of More than 2,000 State Employees
Austin, TX — Today a bipartisan group of current and former Texas elected officials along with leading legal scholars filed amicus briefs in the Texas Supreme Court supporting a petition seeking to invalidate Texas Governor Abbott’s unprecedented, unconstitutional veto defunding the legislative branch.
Those urging the Texas Supreme Court to halt the unconstitutional veto include former Republican and Democratic Speakers of the House Joe Straus and Pete Laney and former Republican Lieutenant Governor Bill Ratliff.
The briefs were filed in support of the original challenge to Abbott’s actions by 66 current lawmakers, state employees, and the Texas AFL-CIO. If not invalidated, the veto would eliminate all funding for the legislature and its staff, including non-partisan offices, rendering the legislative branch of the Texas government inoperable on September 1, 2021.
In their brief, former Speakers Straus and Laney and former Lt. Governor Ratliff describe Texas’ Constitutional guarantee of separation of powers, stating, “Texas has expressly protected separation of powers dating back to its days as a Republic… Substantially identical separation-of-powers clauses appeared in all four of the State’s constitutions since statehood in 1845” and “By constitutional design, Members of the Legislature are not controlled by any Governor—Republican or Democrat.” Governor Abbott’s veto of funding for the legislative branch exceeds his authority under the Texas Constitution and is a violation of the separation of powers, the brief explains.
The brief, filed by three prominent and respected Texas lawmakers with more than 60 years of collective experience in Texas leadership, states that “In a situation where one branch of government interferes with the effective exercise of another branch’s constitutional duties, or assumes powers outside its own branch, it is the obligation of the Judiciary to protect the balance of power and defend the constitutional order that has governed in Texas for almost two centuries.”
Five current and former Republican lawmakers, one former judge on the Court of Criminal Appeals, along with 13 current members of the Texas State Senate, which would lose funding on September 1 if the veto is not halted, similarly urged the Court to invalidate the Governor’s veto. Legal scholars on the brief include Bruce Ackerman, Harold Bruff, and Mimi Marziani.
The brief notes that its signers include both those who generally support Governor Abbott politically and those who do not, and states that, “[a]lthough the origin of the present dispute may lie in partisan politics, the issue before the Court is not a political one.” Under the Texas constitution, the signers argue “no branch of government can assume another branch’s powers or prevent another branch from exercising its constitutionally mandated duties.” The “Governor’s attempted use of his discretionary veto power to prevent the Legislature from making laws is an abuse of discretion.” The signers further state that “to preserve Texas’ commitment to separate, coequal branches of government, and to ensure that the Legislature is able to continue to function, amici urge this Court to find the Governor’s attempted veto unconstitutional.”
The briefs filed today were prepared by Jessica Ellsworth, Blayne Thompson, and Harmony Gbe of Hogan Lovells, who represent amici in the filings. “Separation of powers and a guarantee of three co-equal branches of government is fundamental to American democracy and is enshrined in the Texas Constitution,” said Jessica Ellsworth, a partner at Hogan Lovells and pro bono counsel for amici on the brief. “We are honored to represent a broad bipartisan coalition of current and former Texas lawmakers, as well as prominent legal scholars, who firmly believe that Texans of all political persuasions should be gravely concerned about the Governor’s unprecedented and unconstitutional action that would eliminate the functioning of the legislative branch.”
Counsel and plaintiffs in the legal challenge welcomed these briefs. Democracy Forward serves as counsel to the legislative staffers and the Texas AFL-CIO who filed the initial petition. Democracy Forward President and CEO Skye Perryman, JD, said, “Governor Abbott’s action hurts the people of Texas, including the vital and hardworking state employees whose livelihoods are being upended, and it undermines the State’s long-held commitment to separation of powers and co-equal branches of government. Today’s filings demonstrate that ensuring that Texas is governed in accordance with its Constitution is fundamental to democracy—a conviction that rises above personal political agendas. We are pleased by this broad showing of support for our clients’ challenge to the Governor’s unconstitutional and harmful veto.”
“Texas House Democrats are heartened by the filing of these amicus briefs. These strong words from some of the prominent former Republican leaders in our state show what we have said all along—this is not about politics. This is about the Constitution and the rule of law,” said Rep. Chris Turner, (D – Grand Prairie), Chair of the Texas House Democratic Caucus.
The lawsuit, filed in the Texas Supreme Court on June 25, seeks expeditious consideration of a petition for a writ of mandamus to reject the governor’s unconstitutional, coercive action to eliminate the legislature and allow the state Legislature to be funded. The livelihoods of more than 2,000 state employees, like plaintiff Donovon Rodriguez, are being upended by the governor’s action.
The lawsuit was filed by the 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 Texas lawmakers are represented by Chad Dunn of Brazil & Dunn and Kevin Vickers of Brady & Peavey. The Texas AFL-CIO and individual staff are represented by Jim Dunnam of Dunnam & Dunnam and lawyers at Democracy Forward.
The petition for a writ of mandamus was filed in the Texas Supreme Court on June 25. Read it in full here.
Democracy Forward is a nonprofit legal organization founded in 2017 to litigate challenges to unlawful executive branch action on behalf of organizations, individuals, and municipalities. The organization has taken 650 legal actions and reversed dozens of harmful policies. Democracy Forward is expanding its work, building on its success to confront unlawful threats to democracy and social progress.