Skip to comments.Both parties ignored Texas Constitution
Posted on 06/29/2003 3:03:17 PM PDT by Houmatt
The Texas Legislature is about to open a special session called by Gov. Rick Perry to deal with congressional redistricting.
Why? Because in May, a very unusual political event occurred here, so unusual that media across the country covered the story. Comedy Central even poked fun at Texas, Denny's restaurants and the Holiday Inn in Ardmore, Okla. Fifty-one Democratic legislators had left Texas for Ardmore to prevent a quorum in the Texas House of Representatives and thus kill a bill on redistricting.
Republican leaders called these Democrats "childish" and "cowardly." They argued that true Texans stand and fight for their cause, even if they lose. The Democrats' supporters called them courageous and smart. They argued they simply used the political system and its rules to their advantage. Who was right?
Now that the dust has cleared, let's look. The biggest omission in all the media coverage and political stories has been the Texas Constitution.
Our state constitution provides for this exact situation, and it is amazing that the people of Texas have not been better informed of this key fact.
The founders of Texas gathered together during a hot Texas summer in 1845 to craft the first constitution of the state of Texas. They crafted a very thoughtful system, which included the requirement of a quorum of two-thirds. A quorum is the number of legislators required to be present before the House can begin. While only a majority is needed to pass a bill, there must be at least two-thirds of the House present to open business. This ensures the majority may not gather in secret without the opportunity for the minority to join the debate. It also ensures that a catastrophe, such as losing a large number of legislators in an accident or war, does not afford a political opportunity to the majority who could meet quickly before replacement representatives were appointed.
Yet these writers of the Texas Constitution also realized that legislators making up the minority could easily subvert this process and misuse the quorum requirement by simply refusing to show up (for example, fleeing to Oklahoma). This would allow the requirement of a quorum to be used as a bargaining chip rather than its real purpose of ensuring open participation and debate.
So these wise men added a provision to the quorum requirement (then Article III, Section 12) which is still in place today. Article III, Section 10 of the current Texas Constitution states that a smaller number of legislators than the quorum may "compel the attendance of absent members, in such manner and under such penalties as each house may provide."
Very simply, the Texas founders highly disapproved of intentionally being absent to avoid a quorum. They disapproved so much that they gave those legislators in attendance, though less than a quorum, great and expansive powers. The House members who are there may act "in such manner" and assess "such penalties" as they decide. Such expansive powers are rarely given -- to anyone.
The Texas founders clearly thought this was important. To do nothing to compel attendance of absent legislators is tantamount to allowing our constitutional legislative process to be intentionally hijacked for the political gain of a small group. The remaining House members have a constitutional duty to have criminal arrest warrants issued to compel the return of the missing legislators and fine them severely if they don't.
Neither Democrats nor Republicans are heroes in the May debacle. It is not courage but dereliction of duty to refuse to show up for your constitutional obligations in the Legislature. Quorum is intended to ensure the full participation of all voices, not the tyranny of the minority.
It is also wrong, as the Republicans did, to stand idly by and do nothing to enforce our constitution or the democratic-republican forum of government it sets in place. All that is necessary for the destruction of our state constitution system is for good men and women to do nothing.
I hope such a debacle never happens again, but if it does, criminal arrest warrants should be issued and penalties assessed, and they should be severe. Our constitution and state deserve nothing less.
I don't understand this statement, the state Constitution provides for "compelling" the absent memembers' attendence. Isn't that what the Speaker tried to do? And what so many are objecting to?
Exactly. For the first two days or so the republicans did their duty and tried to compel their attendence. Then they saw they were getting smeared in the media (which was gonna happen anyway no matter what they did) and backed down. They had several options left to get the 'rats back. In addition to the constitution, the state open meetings law allows legislators to seek a court injunction to (a) disperse a quorum meeting in secret or (b) disperse less than a quorum conspiring to meet in secret. The Ardmore 'rats were doing both - quorums of several committees were present in Oklahoma and the whole group was definately less than a quorum conspiring in secret. A court injunction would have effectively smoked out the 'rats from Oklahoma, meaning they would either have to disperse or they'd be in contempt and face the penalties that brings with it...and the bad PR. That last part could entice some of the 'rats from swing districts to depart, and they only needed 5 to do so.
Apparently in the Texas constitution there is.
From the article:
The remaining House members have a constitutional duty to have criminal arrest warrants issued to compel the return of the missing legislators and fine them severely if they don't.
Quorum breaking is not a criminal offense, but violating the Texas Open Meetings Statute is. I believe its a misdemeanor count with a 6 month jail term. Violations of the Open Meetings Statute are in two forms:
1. When a quorum meets outside of open business and without public notice (there were quorums of several committees and subcommittees present in Ardmore)
2. When less than a quorum conspires to meet outside of open business and without public notice (which is by definition what the Ardmore plot was)
In the case that either occurs, the law prescribes a manner of recourse. It is NOT simply going to the DA to order an investigation, which is how the idiots at the state GOP tried to enforce these statutes (they took it to liberal Democrat DA Ronnie Earle in Travis County, who essentially ignored them). Rather, the law specifically requires that they take it to state district court and seek an injunction ordering the dispersal of the violators of either part of the statute. Further, the statute of limitations has not run out yet on the Ardmore incident and each of them could still be prosecuted under this law...but the idiots at the state GOP are afraid/too incompetant to do so.
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