Federal Judge Lynn Hughes of the U.S. Southern District Court granted immediate relief to the Republican Party of Texas (RPT) Friday afternoon, requiring the City of Houston to make available the George R. Brown Convention Center both this weekend and next weekend, if necessary, for the party’s convention.
This morning, the RPT joined the lawsuit after a rough first go at its virtual convention.
Earlier this week, the Texas Supreme Court denied the RPT’s separate request for relief to hold its convention in person after the City of Houston canceled the George R. Brown convention center’s contract.
The case that RPT signed onto this morning, overseen by Steven Hotze, had been denied previously. But after the party joined, Hughes deemed there was new standing for the lawsuit.
Specifically, in his decision today, Hughes highlighted a few things in particular. First, that the new party, RPT, had operated in good faith trying to make the online convention work, but were unable to.
Second, Hughes cited the exceptions made within Governor Abbott’s mask order for electoral activities. While the order does not mention a nominating convention, Hughes deemed the exception applies to the convention wherein elected leaders are chosen.
And third, with an estimate of 2,000 to 5,000 attendees, Hughes ruled that projected capacity was well under 50 percent of the facility — the metric under which other facilities and businesses are operating.
One additional position taken by the judge was that the force majeure clause in the convention contract did not apply to this situation as the coronavirus was already a known entity when the contract was renegotiated in March. In other words, it was not, at that point, an entirely unforeseen circumstance.
The ruling will likely be appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals by the city. But as it stands, the RPT has available an in-person option.
Currently, the convention is scheduled, after a delay, to take up party business on Saturday and Sunday this weekend.
RPT Chairman James Dickey said in a public statement, “We applaud Judge Hughes for affirming the position the RPT took in our original lawsuit, making clear that Mayor Turner cannot use pretext to infringe our right to in-person Convention. I hope this ruling sets a precedent for other state and local Republican parties and organizations who come against a bully Democrat mayor’s malicious shutdown.”
Despite the new allowance, Dickey added, “The RPT is on track to hold its convention online with its approved plan from the State Republican Executive Committee,” but “if for any reason there is an issue tomorrow, we know that we have a single location where, with the necessary SREC authorizations, we could hold Congressional District Caucuses to elect our National Delegates and Alternates and Presidential Electors for President Donald J. Trump.”
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner responded, saying, “We are in the midst of a pandemic, a public health crisis. More people are being admitted to our hospitals and ICUs, and more people are dying. The State Republican Executive Committee is being totally irresponsible in continuing to push for an indoor, in-person convention. This reflects a total disregard for the health and safety of employees and people in our city. After denying the Republican Party’s request for a temporary restraining order, the federal judge late Friday evening apparently has changed his mind. Upon receiving a written order from the federal judge, the City of Houston and Houston First will appeal.”
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to include a statement from RPT Chairman James Dickey and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner.
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Brad Johnson is 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.