Houston conservative activist Steve Hotze filed a lawsuit Friday challenging the gag order issued by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick in Attorney General Ken Paxton’s impeachment trial, arguing the policy violates free speech protections under the Texas Constitution.
In a petition filed in Travis County District Court, Hotze also is seeking to block a rule that bars Paxton’s wife, state Sen. Angela Paxton, from participating in private deliberations or voting in the trial. Both provisions are among a package of rules adopted by the Senate ahead of the trial, which is set to begin Sept. 5. The rules were approved on a 25-3 vote.
Hotze, an ultraconservative GOP donor who has long supported Patrick and Ken Paxton, argued the gag order “unreasonably restricts speech by prohibiting communication with an elected official.” The order prevents both sides from making public statements that carry the “substantial likelihood of materially prejudicing the trial.” Violators face $500 fines and jail time.
“For all practical purposes, the Senate is saying we don’t want to hear from you Texans, even though we were elected to represent you,” said Jared Woodfill, Hotze’s attorney.
In the rule requiring Angela Paxton to recuse herself, Senate lawmakers cited a part of the Texas Constitution that bars members from voting on matters in which they have “a personal or private interest.” In his petition, Hotze argued the rule singles out Angela Paxton while ignoring conflicts of other senators. He noted that state Sens. Charles Schwertner and Mayes Middleton were allowed to fully participate in the trial, despite supporting Ken Paxton’s primary opponents in last year’s GOP primary.
“Every senator presiding over General Paxton’s impeachment trial has a bias or partiality for or against General Paxton,” the lawsuit reads. “Party affiliation alone raises partiality concerns. The Democrats in the Senate have worked to defeat General Paxton for years and most of the Republican senators have supported General Paxton.”
The lawsuit, which marks the first legal challenge to any part of the impeachment proceedings, names Patrick and the Texas Senate as defendants, along with the Senate sergeant-at-arms. Patrick oversees the Senate and will serve as the presiding officer, a role similar to that of a judge, during Ken Paxton’s trial.
A spokesperson for Patrick did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Joining Hotze on the lawsuit is Allesan Paige Streeter, a Collin County resident who lives in Angela Paxton’s district and voted for her last year, according to the petition.
“By excluding Senator Paxton from the impeachment process, Ms. Paige is left without representation in a matter of state wide importance,” the petition reads.
Former state Rep. Molly White, a Republican who represented Central Texas, and talk radio host Sam Malone are also listed as plaintiffs.
I’m sitting here with my mouth hanging open, trying to formulate words. It’s harder than you might think.
Okay, first, how do any of these geniuses have standing to sue? This is a political process, and the decision to exclude Angela Paxton – which, as I have pointed out, doesn’t change the math for convicting Ken Paxton, because she will still count as being present, so the two thirds needed to convict him accounts for her as well – was handled according to Senate rules. Courts as a general matter do not get involved in that sort of thing. Maybe if you squint real hard you can see how the constituent might have some grounds for complaint, but by that logic then anyone in the state could file a similar lawsuit over the fact that the Attorney General they voted for has been suspended from office. But what the hell do the other two have to do with anything? If you look at what the lawsuit claims, it’s basically “no one will talk to them about the impeachment trial” and they’re both supporters of Ken Paxton. This is some quality Jared Woodfill lawyering right here.
Second, the invocation that this process is rife with political conflicts of interest, which is the same argument for barring three Dem Senators from serving as “jurors”, has a certain appeal. But once you open that can of worms, then the logical endpoint is that the impeachment process is itself impossible. Literally everyone is conflicted. The simple argument for why Angela Paxton is more conflicted than everyone else is that she’s literally his wife. I can see the case for not singling her out like that, once you accept the “everyone is conflicted” premise. But the Senate made its choice in the rulemaking process and then ratified it by vote. If the courts can step in and second guess that kind of thing, then again, I don’t see how any impeachment could ever happen.
Third…no, that’s enough. All of us are getting dumber by the minute as we contemplate this. It’s time to touch some grass. I’ll keep an eye on this, you go enjoy your weekend. You’re welcome.