Elimination of a Co-equal Branch of Gov’t is More than a “Political Question”— Texas Constitution’s Separation of Powers Guarantee is at Stake
Petitioners Urge Supreme Court to Take Briefing on the Case as Workers Suffer at Hands of Abbott’s Unconstitutional Action
Austin, T.X. — Today, 66 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.
In their reply, the coalition of lawmakers and staffers explain that “Governor Abbott’s decision to place Article X funding on the special session call is another attempt to usurp the Legislature’s authority over lawmaking
by forcing the Legislature to pass his preferred laws.” Indeed, Gov. Abbott has “not indicated that he is willing to sign an appropriation into law, and there is good reason to think he will not unless and until the Legislature has first fulfilled his other agenda items.”
Gov. Abbott’s legal defense adds insult to the ongoing injury to workers by, as the reply explains, attempting “to blame the victim by putting the onus on the Legislature to rectify Governor Abbott’s unconstitutional conduct.” As today’s filing states:
- “[T]he fact that elected officials are using the constitutional tools available to them to serve their constituents does not justify the Governor’s injury to state employees who have no say in that decision whatsoever.”
- “[T]he decision of some Members to break quorum provides no basis for sustaining the Governor’s veto… Exercising the right to defeat a quorum is an appropriate tool undertaken in accordance with the Constitution and the House rules.”
Over the last two centuries, Democratic and Republican lawmakers have broken quorums in legislatures across the country. Gov. Abbott cannot justify his unconstitutional action just because he does not like how members of the Legislature have lawfully chosen to represent their constituents.
“Ken Paxton and Greg Abbott need to stop playing political games with the livelihoods of state employees,” Texas AFL-CIO President Rick Levy said. “This ‘legal brief’ is bogus.”
“Texas Gov. Abbott violated the long-held guarantee of the separation of powers enshrined in the Texas Constitution. Recent events in the special session of the Texas Legislature do not change Governor Abbott’s unconstitutional action at the end of the regular session,” said Democracy Forward President and CEO Skye Perryman. “Blame shifting does not absolve Gov. Abbott of his responsibility in causing this constitutional crisis, which is upending the lives of workers. It is the role of the courts to declare Governor Abbott’s action unconstitutional. We urge the Texas Supreme Court to hear our clients’ petition, which has been supported by former and current lawmakers from both political parties.”
Gov. Abbott’s defunding of the legislature violates the separation of powers guarantee in the Texas Constitution and affects more than 2,000 legislative staffers’ livelihoods. Set to lose their income and benefits on September 1 when funding runs dry, these legislative branch employees are being forced to make impossible decisions about how to support themselves and their families.
The Texas lawmakers, state employees, and the Texas AFL-CIO filed their petition for a writ of mandamus in the Texas Supreme Court on June 25. The 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. Learn more about their lawsuit 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.
The Texas AFL-CIO is the state labor federation consisting of 240,000 affiliated union members who advocate for working families in Texas.