18

The Texas Democrats in the Legislature chose to unite and leave the capitol. The decision was announced an hour before posting.

Could Texas Democrats be held legally liable when they return?

9
  • 14
    What would they be held liable for?
    – Joe W
    Jul 12 at 17:46
  • 2
    Obstruction or something like it? Jul 12 at 18:07
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    – JJJ
    Jul 13 at 21:45
  • Could answers include jurisdiction of citations showing penalties or punishments? EG: does Texas' Constitution apply in other states (perhaps via mutual extradition agreements) Does Sargeant-At-Arms (Giter answer) or Dept of Public Safety (RWW answer) have any authority outside of Texas?
    – mcalex
    Jul 14 at 8:24
  • @JoeW something like "not doing their job"
    – qwr
    Jul 14 at 17:42
31

According to the Constitution of Texas, the Senate and House of the Texas legislature can decide how to compel their members to attend and determine what penalties there are for not attending. For both chambers, the current rules allow the present members to send the Sergeant-at-Arms or some other person to arrest absent members who refuse to appear, and set the conditions for their release. So yes, they can be punished, but it would be a political punishment by their fellow legislators, rather a legal punishment by the judicial system.

The full text of Texas' constitution can be found here, and the relevant part is Article 3, which establishes the Texas legislature, in Section 10:

Quorum; Adjournments from Day to Day; Compelling Attendance

Two-thirds of each House shall constitute a quorum to do business, but a smaller number may adjourn from day to day, and compel the attendance of absent members, in such manner and under such penalties as each House may provide.

Section 11 also states that each House determines its own procedural rules:

Rules of Procedure; Expulsion of Member

Each House may determine the rules of its own proceedings, punish members for disorderly conduct, and, with the consent of two-thirds, expel a member, but not a second time for the same offense.

However, since they need a two-thirds quorum in order to 'do business' and decide the punishment, they first need enough of the members who walked out to appear in order reach the quorum. The most recent House rules of procedure, found here, explain how that could be done in Rule 5, Section 8:

Sec. 8. Securing a Quorum. When a call of the house is moved for one of the above purposes and seconded by 15 members (of whom the speaker may be one) and ordered by a majority vote, the main entrance to the hall and all other doors leading out of the hall shall be locked and no member permitted to leave the house without the written permission of the speaker. The names of members present shall be recorded. All absentees for whom no sufficient excuse is made may, by order of a majority of those present, be sent for and arrested, wherever they may be found, by the sergeant-at-arms or an officer appointed by the sergeant-at-arms for that purpose, and their attendance shall be secured and retained.

...

Until a quorum appears, should the roll call fail to show one present, no business shall be transacted, except to compel the attendance of absent members or to adjourn.

The rules for the Senate, found here, are similar, as seen in Article V, rule 5.02:

Rule 5.02. Two-thirds of all the Senators elected shall constitute a quorum, but a smaller number may adjourn or recess from day to day and compel the attendance of absent members (Constitution, Article III, Section 10). In case a less number shall convene, the members present may send the Sergeant-at-Arms or any other person or persons for any or all absent members.

...

The Senate shall determine upon what conditions they shall be discharged. Members who voluntarily appear shall, unless the Senate otherwise directs, be immediately admitted to the floor of the Senate, and they shall report their names to the Secretary to be entered upon the journal as present. Until a quorum appears, should the roll call fail to show one present, no business shall be done except to compel the attendance of absent members or to adjourn.

In short, if there is no two-thirds quorum in either chamber of the Texas legislature, the current rules provide an option for the present members (any number in the Senate, a majority in the House) to have the Sergeant-at-Arms or someone else retrieve the absent members. If the absent members voluntarily appear after being summoned they can proceed as normal, and if not they shall be detained and only discharged according to conditions set by the other legislators.

5
  • 3
    Can they establish a punishment without a quorum? Jul 12 at 20:01
  • 5
    @Acccumulation : I couldn't find anything in the constitution clarifying that, however the procedural rules for each chamber define what they can do to compel and punish members without a quorum (basically, they can send someone to arrest the absent members). I just added the procedural rules to my answer.
    – Giter
    Jul 12 at 21:31
  • 1
    @Acccumulation I'd guess the decision to arrest and force to attend would be up to the speaker or whatever they call it there, rather than requiring them to all be there and vote on it. In the second case the entire clause would be rather pointless.
    – jwenting
    Jul 13 at 6:48
  • @Acccumulation yes. Here's what they can do without a quorum: "a smaller number may adjourn from day to day, and compel the attendance of absent members, in such manner and under such penalties as each House may provide."
    – fectin
    Jul 14 at 12:50
  • Do the fleeing legislators have any protection if they're not in Texas? What gives the Sergeant-at-Arms the power to do any of this in other states?
    – Alexander
    Jul 18 at 22:16
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Yes. According to this article

The lawmakers risk arrest in taking flight. Under the Texas Constitution, the Legislature requires a quorum of two-thirds of lawmakers be present to conduct state business in either chamber. Absent lawmakers can be legally compelled to return to the Capitol, and the source said Democrats expect state Republicans to ask the Department of Public Safety to track them down.

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  • 9
    Does it mention any penalties or punishment, or just that they’d be compelled to return to the Capitol?
    – divibisan
    Jul 12 at 18:27
  • 9
    I don't see anything in there about penalties or even how they would force them to return if they are not in the state.
    – Joe W
    Jul 12 at 18:29
  • 1
    Didn't the governor threaten to veto the budget for legislators as a punishment? Is that possible?
    – r13
    Jul 12 at 19:03
  • 4
    @joew I’d assume they’re out of luck if they leave the state. Republicans in Oregon fled to Idaho last summer and without Idaho’s cooperation there really want anything they could do
    – divibisan
    Jul 12 at 19:03
  • 3
    @RWW Back in 2003, a large group of legislators did something similar and camped out in Oklahoma to stall legislation and avoid arrest. The governor instructed the treasury to stop paying legislators electronically and use physical checks which had to be signed for in person (this was the official backup process for when the electronic payroll system was down). He couldn't refuse to pay the missing legislators, but he could effectively delay paying them while they were playing hooky.
    – bta
    Jul 13 at 22:31

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