88th LegislatureFederal Judge Prohibits Enforcement of State Restriction on Spending in Texas House Speaker Race

The ruling comes as the plaintiffs and TEC were engaged in settlement discussions.
January 3, 2023
Two laws restricting advocacy and campaign spending in a race for Speaker of the Texas House were permanently enjoined Tuesday by a federal judge.

U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman ordered to halt the enforcement of sections of Texas code that restricts speaker candidates from accepting contributions and prohibits third-parties from spending on behalf of a speaker candidate. The statute is enforced by the Texas Ethics Commission (TEC), which can issue fines for violations.

The case originated from Robert Bruce, a Bexar County resident; the Grayson County Conservatives; and state Rep. Bryan Slaton (R-Royse City) — each of whom wished to make expenditures on behalf of state Rep. Tony Tinderholt (R-Arlington), who is challenging current Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont).

The trio argued that the restrictions violate the First Amendment, specifically its protections for freedom of speech and association.

While the Texas Legislature repealed the provisions of the code at issue in [a previous case from 2008], it did not repeal the remaining provisions that used the same language,” Pitman wrote concerning the provisions in question. “Here, however, the laws at stake are the remnants of a provision which has already been ruled unconstitutional.”

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That previous case, Free Mkt. Found v. Reisman, found unconstitutional similar restrictions on political engagement in a speaker’s race.

House Chairmen Dustin Burrows (R-Lubbock) and Charlie Geren (R-Fort Worth) filed a motion to intervene in the case and defend the law’s validity where TEC would not, about a month after the suit was first filed.

Tossing that motion, Pitman ruled that Burrows and Geren’s motion was tardy, as they had “filed their motion after the existing parties had already notified the Court of pending settlement discussions” — referring to the ongoing negotiations between the plaintiffs and the TEC.

Pitman further added, “[E]ven if Movants had timely filed their motion, they would lack a protected interest in the proceedings…mere concern that spending will increase in the Speaker’s election does not constitute a legally cognizable interest sufficient to sustain a motion to intervene.”

In one week, the Texas House will decide on its next speaker on the first day of the 88th regular legislative session. Phelan is expected to win a second term.


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Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.