Democrats are rejoicing and Republicans regrouping after the State Supreme Court refused to issue a writ of mandamus that would have compelled the boycotting Senators to return to Austin. Chron coverage is here, Statesman is here, and Express-News is here.
Items of interest: While the Supremes rejected the GOP's lawsuit, they did not address the Constitutional arguments about whether or not any court could get involved.
Lawyers for the Democrats argued that the court does not have the power to issue a mandamus writ against state senators because it would violate the separation of powers between the Legislature and judiciary.
The court did not answer that question, instead issuing a one-sentence order saying that the request was denied.
By the end of the day, however, three of the court's nine justices amended the order. Justices Nathan Hecht, Priscilla Owen and Stephen Smith added: "The Court denies the petition for writ of mandamus without regard to the merits of the constitutional arguments."
The possibility of a mandamus writ could surface again in another setting. The Democrats have filed a lawsuit in state District Court in Travis County challenging the governor's authority to call a special session on congressional redistricting.
In response, Republican attorneys have asked the District Court for a writ of mandamus similar to the one rejected by the Supreme Court.
Most likely, a trial judge will follow the Supreme Court's lead, said Alexandra Albright, a University of Texas law professor who specializes in civil process.
"The issue is whether the trial court has jurisdiction," Albright said, and state law is not clear on that point.
The lawsuit challenges Dewhurst's and Perry's plans to drop the Senate tradition that all legislation must receive a two-thirds vote in the 31-member Senate before being considered for debate.
The lawsuit alleges that the proposed change in procedure violates minority voting rights under the federal Voting Rights Act. The suit notes that nine of the boycotting senators are black or Hispanic while the two Anglo senators represent heavily minority districts.
The lawsuit claims any change in procedure under the Voting Rights Act must first be pre-cleared by the U.S. Justice Department or a three-judge federal panel in the District of Columbia.
Democratic lawyer Renea Hicks said he did not see the lawsuit as drawing a federal court into a state issue because it involves protected minority voting rights.
"It is a change in pattern and practice with respect to redistricting in Texas in a way that's never happened before," Hicks said. "There is a direct link between the change the lieutenant governor is proposing and minority voters in Texas."
Lt. Gov. Dewhurst is mulling penalties for the missing members:
A Senate leadership source said the "authorized measures" would be fines against the missing senators. No fine had been set, but one scenario considered would assess a $1,000 fine the first day and double the fines each subsequent day.
Senate rules make no mention of fines, but the Texas Constitution says lawmakers can "compel the attendance of absent members, in such manner and under such penalties as each House may provide."
Finally, I think the Star Telegram sums everything up best:
One veteran Capitol observer, University of Texas at Austin professor Bruce Buchanan, said the unfolding drama is doing little to enhance the reputation of Texas politics.
"I've said from the beginning that this will end when the public starts paying attention," Buchanan said. "And my sense is what the public is experiencing now is mild irritation with the whole process."
The DMN scolds the Democrats for their letter to President Bush, calling it "a perfect example of the kind of trouble politicians in either party can manufacture when they have too much time on their hands".
The Chron applauds the Supreme Court ruling, while Linda Curtis of IndependentTexans.org has an op-ed that pushes for "a statewide proposition to be placed on the November ballot to establish a permanent citizens' redistricting commission consisting of equal numbers of Democrats, Republicans and independents".Posted by Charles Kuffner on August 12, 2003 to Killer D's | TrackBack