Held Hostage by Abbott’s Personal Agenda and Facing Loss of Livelihoods, Legislative Staffers Scramble to Make Ends Meet
Texas Constitution Guarantees Separation of Powers; Petitioners Urge Texas Supreme Court to Honor That Guarantee, Resolve Constitutional Crisis
Austin, TX — Today, 66 Texas lawmakers, affected state employees, and the Texas AFL-CIO responded in court to the flawed legal defense of Governor Abbott’s unprecedented and unconstitutional veto of funding for the Legislative Branch. The coalition’s reply highlights how Abbott’s unconstitutional action is harming legislative staffers. It 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.
In their reply, the broad coalition of legislators and staff explain that “Governor Abbott’s veto of the Legislature’s funding presents a vital question of not a ‘preferred policy outcome,’ … but of Texas constitutional law: whether one branch of government may effectively abolish another.”
In an amicus brief submitted Monday, former Speakers Joe Straus and Pete Laney and former Lt. Governor Bill Ratliff explained that: “Texas has expressly protected separation of powers dating back to its days as a Republic.” With his unconstitutional veto, Governor Abbott attempted to coerce the Legislative Branch into enacting his preferred bills, in violation of the Texas Constitution’s explicit separation of powers guarantee.
But, as pointed out in today’s reply, 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.”
In defense of Governor Abbott’s unconstitutional veto, the state argued that legislators and staff are unharmed by the defunding of their positions and loss of income. But staff were harmed the moment Governor Abbott acted to eliminate the legislature. Set to lose their income and benefits on September 1, Texas legislative staffers are already taking steps to prepare, including:
- Front-loading some expenses and medical appointments;
- Eliminating other expenses; and
- Revisiting plans to purchase a home and prepare for a wedding.
They are experiencing considerable stress as a result. Come September 1, these legislative staffers will have difficulty making ends meet, supporting their families, paying rent, and buying groceries. One staffer may have to drop out of school. Another may not be able to access critical medications without their health insurance.
“The state’s assertion that legislative staffers have suffered no harm following Gov. Abbott’s unconstitutional abuse of his veto power is brazenly out of touch, offensive, and just plain wrong,” Texas AFL-CIO President Rick Levy said. “Gov. Abbott used state employees as human shields in his war on Texas voters. The state’s legal arguments should offend every working Texan and the Governor should replace them with an apology to the dedicated workers whose lives he has upended.”
“The Governor has created a constitutional crisis with his unprecedented veto of Article X,” said Rep. Chris Turner (D-Grand Prairie), Chair of the Texas House Democratic Caucus. “We are asking the Court to step in and protect the integrity of our democratic system. A free and fair legislative process depends on it.”
“Governor Abbott’s defunding of the legislature is unconstitutional, untenable, and cruel,” said Democracy Forward President and CEO Skye Perryman.“Because of it, the livelihoods of Texas civil staffers hang in the balance. It is remarkable that the State asserted in its response that the more than two thousand state employees who will be without a job in less than two months are not harmed. The governor’s abuse of power is unlawful, harms working people, and should be halted.”
Without staff, legislators cannot do their jobs, and the Legislative Branch cannot function. Texans will go without access to constituent services, and critical work—like redistricting and responding to the energy crisis in the state—will not get done. 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.
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. Lawyers for the state responded on July 5. A bipartisan coalition of current and former Texas elected officials, leading legal scholars, and the League of Women Voters filed three amicus briefs in support of the petition on July 5. The petitioners submitted their reply to the state’s arguments on July 8.
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.
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.