August 07, 2003
Everybody sues

I suppose it was just a matter of time: Both sides in the redistricting standoff have sued each other.

The 11 Democrats, who are holed up in a New Mexico hotel, filed a lawsuit in Travis County District Court asking that state officials or their deputies be prohibited from arresting them should they return to the state. Their lawsuit also challenges Gov. Rick Perry's authority to call a special legislative session on redistricting.

Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst filed their own court action asking the Texas Supreme Court to order the Democrats to return to the Capitol.

No other details were immediately available about the Supreme Court filing made by Attorney General Greg Abbott on the Republican leadership's behalf.

Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, said in Albuquerque, N.M., on Thursday that the Democrats are challenging Perry's authority to call the special session on redistricting because the Texas Constitution limits the governor's powers to call a special session only when there are extraordinary occasions.

"It's our contention that if you have a legal map in place that's been approved in federal court and defended by the attorney general, then extraordinary occasions do not exist," West said.


Dewhurst said at a news conference that he expected a Supreme Court ruling by early next week.

"Enough is enough. It's time to end the games," Dewhurst said.

The lawsuit filed by the Democrats lists Dewhurst, Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Carleton Turner and Col. Thomas A. Davis Jr., director of the state Department of Public Safety as defendants. West said the lawsuit will be amended to include Perry.

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte in Albuquerque said the part of the lawsuit that seeks to allow the Democrats back into the state without fear of arrest simply seeks clarification.

A state judge has ruled that DPS did not have the authority to arrest members of the state House of Representatives to enforce a quorum in the chamber. The ruling stemmed from the May walkout by more than 50 House Democrats to thwart redistricting efforts.

The DPS troopers had been dispatched to try to find the House Democrats. They could not bring them back from Ardmore, Okla., because they did not have authority to do so since the Democrats were in another state.

Van de Putte said it is unclear what action the Senate sergeant-at-arms can take.

Dewhurst has said that if the Texas Democrats return to the state he will ask that they be compelled to return to the chamber.

According to the Quorum Report, Dewhurst filed a writ of mandamus, which is what former Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Boyd had speculated he'd do. One reporter apparently asked if using the state Supreme Court to sanction legislators for breaking quorum is not a violation of separation of powers. Dewhurst said he didn't think so. I guess we'll see.

The Statesman has a little bit more, while the Express News once again (and once again, surprisingly to me) has the most complete coverage. From the E-N:

Earlier today, Democratic senators today offered to meet with their GOP colleagues a second time in what one negotiator described as a possible first step toward ending their impasse on congressional redistricting.

Senator Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio, who heads the Senate Democratic Caucus, said the Democrats suggested a Monday meeting here and said any Republicans sent by Dewhurst should include Sen. Bill Ratliff of Mount Pleasant.

Ratliff, who preceded Dewhurst as lieutenant governor, was the sole Republican senator to declare his opposition to redrawing the state's 32 congressional districts in the first special session called on that topic by Gov. Rick Perry.


Asked how many senators may come, Van de Putte said, "We can't have a quorum, that's for sure."

Two Republican senators, Todd Staples of Palestine and Robert Duncan of Lubbock, flew to Albuquerque on Wednesday and met with Van de Putte and two other Democrats, Sen. Royce West of Dallas and Sen. Juan Hinojosa of McAllen.

West conveyed the Democrats' offer to Duncan in a phone call today.

"Now they've got to go back and report to the group," Van de Putte said.

Asked why the Democrats wanted Ratliff there, she said, "He was lieutenant governor. He understands what's at stake here. He also understands the traditions of the Texas Senate."

Regarding the possibility that more talks could end the stalemate, West said, "If they come in good faith and recognize the importance of the institution of the Senate, hopefully we can find a resolution."

One way or the other, we may have a resolution in sight.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on August 07, 2003 to Killer D's | TrackBack