Abbott’s Retaliatory and Coercive Veto is a Threat to Democracy, Poses Immediate Harm to Texans
Abuse of Power Violates Texas Constitution, Sets a Dangerous Precedent
Austin, T.X. — Today, a broad coalition representing Texas lawmakers and state workers sued to stop Governor Abbott’s unprecedented and unconstitutional veto of funding for the Texas Legislature. The lawsuit, filed 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 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.
On June 18, Governor Abbott signed into law two years of spending authorization for the state of Texas, but vetoed funding for the Legislature—rendering inoperative and effectively abolishing the Legislative Branch that represents the people of Texas. Governor Abbott’s veto is an unconstitutional attempt to grant himself coercive authority over the Legislative Branch. Specifically, his veto:
- Violates the Texas Constitution’s explicit separation of powers guarantee.
- Violates the Texas Constitution’s guarantee of legislator salaries.
- Threatens the livelihoods of thousands of public servants working for the Legislative Branch and denies Texans access to constituent services.
The following statement was issued by the challengers upon filing:
“When the Texas Legislature failed to pass last-minute bills he wanted to sign, Governor Abbott retaliated by defunding that co-equal branch of government, causing a constitutional crisis that requires an immediate response. Abbott is holding state workers hostage to his personal political agenda and seeking to wield power over those elected to represent Texans. His unlawful veto threatens the livelihoods of thousands of dedicated public servants. It will block critical work—like redistricting and responding to the energy crisis —from getting done. And it will cause Texans to lose access to vital constituent services.
“The governor’s actions are a threat to democracy, harmful to millions of Texans, and set a dangerous precedent. 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?
“The Texas Constitution guarantees the separation of powers. No one branch is all-powerful. We’re taking our case to Texas’ highest court to fight Governor Abbott’s abuse of power and restore funding to the co-equal Legislative Branch. ”
When the Texas House of Representatives did not pass several bills supported by Governor Abbott at the end of the regular session—including a restrictive election bill that would severely limit Texans’ access to the ballot box—Abbott threatened to retaliate. “Funding should not be provided for those who quit their jobs early,” he said in a proclamation on his veto. Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick made Abbott’s threat more explicit when he 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.”
Governor Abbott made good on his threat and, on June 18, signed into law two years of spending authorization for the state of Texas while vetoing funding for the state Legislature. This is an unprecedented and unlawful action. Abbott has since announced that a special session will commence on July 8 but has not announced the legislative agenda.
Without funding, as of September 1, the Texas State Senate, House of Representatives, and the nonpartisan offices of the Legislative Branch will shut down. The livelihoods of more than 2,100 full-time state employees working for the Legislative Branch are presently at risk. Governor Abbott’s veto will cause Texans to lose constituent services, will release state contractors from oversight, and will prevent pressing work—like redistricting and responding to the energy crisis—from getting done.
“In the union movement, we say an injury to one is an injury to all. Gov. Abbott’s bogus power grab has created one mighty large Texas injury involving 2,000 victims ranging from lawmakers themselves to legislative staffs to an infrastructure that makes law-writing possible,” said Texas AFL-CIO President Rick Levy. “These include members of the Texas State Employees Union, an affiliate of the Texas AFL-CIO. All the support staffers, whether Democratic, Republican, or strictly nonpartisan, have several things in common: They are bystanders in this brawl, their livelihoods are now in jeopardy, and they have reason to wonder whether they will be able to pay the bills and support their families after Sept 1. The Texas AFL-CIO joins in this lawsuit because Gov. Abbott’s ambition and obsession with control have caused real harm to real working families.”
“Governor Abbott’s attempt to eliminate the legislative branch is unconstitutional and represents an extraordinary and brazen attack on all Texans,” said Democracy Forward President and CEO Skye Perryman, JD. “When democracy is threatened by those who would abuse their power, Democracy Forward will use the law to fight back. Today 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.”
Absent swift intervention from the Supreme Court of Texas, Governor Abbott’s veto will unconstitutionally abolish the Legislature.
The legislative caucuses and the Texas AFL-CIO are joined in the suit by individual legislators and legislative staff members harmed by the governor’s unlawful veto. 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.
The Texas AFL-CIO is the state labor federation consisting of 240,000 affiliated union members who advocate for working families in Texas.