The Republican Party of Texas (RPT) has filed suit against the City of Houston, Mayor Sylvester Turner, and the Houston First Corporation (HFC) for the alleged illegitimate voiding its contract to hold the quadrennial state convention.
The plaintiffs requested an immediate court order that the defendants fulfill their contractual obligation and a temporary restraining order against city officials from further disrupting the proceedings.
RPT’s convention was to be held July 15-18 and the party delegates would be voting not only on the Republican Party’s chairman and platform, but on state committee members sent to the Republican National Committee.
The convention was already postponed to July from mid-May due to the coronavirus.
Last Sunday, the State Republican Executive Committee (SREC) voted 40-20 to move forward with an in-person event rather than moving it online like the Texas Democratic Party did earlier this year.
The new lawsuit, however, alleges the city unlawfully canceled the convention as it was set to occur.
RPT Chairman James Dickey stated, “The Republican Party of Texas is seeking an injunction requiring the George R. Brown Convention Center to comply with the binding contract and is requesting a temporary restraining order (TRO) preventing the city from restricting the convention’s events or using the virus as a pretext to cancel the convention.”
Turner cited the force majeure clause, a sort of escape hatch used in contracts in the event one of the parties is rendered unable to fulfill its agreement due to unforeseen circumstances, as the justification for cancelation.
Dickey chided this, saying, it’s “just a pretext to his intent to treat the Republican Party of Texas differently than other groups, such as those we have seen from recent protests in the city of Houston.”
“It should go without saying that a political viewpoint cannot be the basis for unequal treatment. Mayor Turner publicly stated his intention to interrupt the convention process and disenfranchise Republicans around the state, and yesterday he put his scheme into action,” he continued.
Turner returned fire after the announcement, saying, “It’s ironic that they’re going to the courthouse…to ask them to agree to allow 6,000 people to meet in-person when even the judicial community…is hearing cases virtually.”
On the force majeure clause implementation, the lawsuit argues that HFC is still physically capable of hosting the convention — unlike if a tornado destroyed parts of the building — and thus, the use of the clause is illegitimate.
The Texas GOP also argues that the clause requires it to be triggered within seven days of the event, and since the city cited an increase in cases as of Memorial Day, it traces back further than that seven day period.
This concern was brought up during the SREC meeting on Thursday and the party’s general counsel, Wade Emmert, weighed in on the question, stating, “[I] don’t think we are at a situation that would trigger the force majeure. I think [Turner’s] acknowledged that he can’t cancel it, and so short of a governor’s order or other type of executive order I don’t think that can affect our convention going forward in-person.”
Other arguments include unequal treatment, specifically compared with the thousands of individuals allowed to assemble and protest the death of George Floyd last month; Turner’s conflict with Abbott’s statewide face mask mandate (GA-29), which allows some exemptions, due to his statement that “everyone must wear a mask” for the convention to occur; and the suspension in GA-14 of local ingress and egress control and the stated continuation of such a provision within GA-28.
The case filing underscores the first of those arguments, saying, “No greater liberty is more fundamental to a Texan’s liberty than to freely assemble, and such is doubly true when that assembly is for a political purpose.”
Turner and the city are making the argument that holding such a convention — the largest of its kind in the country — would pose a major public health risk.
Overall, the plaintiffs argue that Turner sought out a reason for cancelation rather than having one thrust upon him.
Dickey concluded, stating, “Our objective is that the courts will hear and rule in our favor in time to open up the George R. Brown Convention Center Monday morning so that we may safely begin our vital work in the electoral process.”
Should the in-person convention happen, the party has already listed its extensive precautions that would be utilized during the event, including complimentary masks to adhere to the governor’s order.
Update: The Harris County District Court judge denied the RPT’s request for immediate relief. Chairman Dickey said it will be immediately appealed to the Texas Supreme Court and further added that the SREC will meet on Saturday to finalize measures based on how the case turns out.
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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 watching and quoting Monty Python productions.