87th LegislatureState HouseTexas Democrats Sue GOP Leaders Over ‘Anxiety and Distress’ Incurred During Quorum Break

Immediately after its filing, various Democrats stated they did not authorize the lawsuit that named them as plaintiffs.
August 9, 2021
A lawsuit filed against state GOP leaders by 22 House Democrats alleges Republicans violated their constitutional rights throughout the quorum break fiasco.

It has since sowed confusion throughout the state and created dissension within the Democratic caucus.

Filed Friday evening, the lawsuit names Governor Greg Abbott, Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont), and Rep. James White (R-Hillister) as defendants — accusing them of violating the Democratic members’ First Amendment rights.

Abbott and Phelan were named because of their positions of power and White was named because he filed an opinion request with the Office of the Attorney General to consider the constitutionality of breaking quorum.

Upwards of 50 Democrats have been residing in Washington, D.C. since the early days of the first special session called for last month. Those members have spent the bulk of their time in D.C. pushing for the passage of a federal election law that would supersede state laws.

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“Plaintiffs have-been deprived,” the suit alleges, “of liberty for substantial periods of-time, suffered much anxiety and distress over the separation from their families, and much discomfort and embarrassment and their reputations impaired, and have lost much time from their homes and the companionship and care of their families and have been required to spend substantial sums of money and of time traveling to and from the State of Texas to persuade Congress to pass laws to ameliorate the harm done and redress their grievances.”

The plaintiffs then claim a total of $15 in damages and request that the court prohibit state leadership from ordering their civil arrests to secure a quorum in the House chamber. So far, only one arrest warrant has been issued, and that was for Rep. Philip Cortez (D-San Antonio) who returned to Austin only to fly back to D.C. days later.

That warrant, issued after Cortez headed back to the nation’s capital, is now inactive after the first special session’s expiration.

In all, the 22 House Democrats named as plaintiffs are:

  • Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston)
  • Trey Martinez Fischer (D-San Antonio)
  • Gene Wu (D-Houston)
  • Vikki Goodwin (D-Austin)
  • Ron Reynolds (D-Missouri City)
  • Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin)
  • Jon Rosenthal (D-Houston)
  • Jasmine Crockett (D-Dallas)
  • Mary Ann Perez (D-Houston)
  • Alma Allen (D-Houston)
  • Christina Morales (D-Houston)
  • Nicole Collier (D-Fort Worth)
  • Celia Israel (D-Austin)
  • Ana-Maria Ramos (D-Richardson)
  • Barbara Gervin-Hawkins (D-San Antonio)
  • Terry Meza (D-Irving)
  • Donna Howard (D-Austin)
  • Jarvis Johnson (D-Houston)
  • Ray Lopez (D-San Antonio)
  • Shawn Thierry (D-Houston)
  • Elizabeth Campos (D-San Antonio)
  • Gina Hinojosa (D-Austin)

Notably, that group lacks the House Democratic Caucus Chair Rep. Chris Turner (D-Grand Prairie) and the Mexican American Legislative Caucus Chair Rep. Rafael Anchía (D-Dallas).

Shortly after the lawsuit was announced, multiple of those members said they did not authorize its filing. Collier, Howard, Thierry, and Thompson each distanced themselves from the lawsuit.

The filing attorney, Craig Washington, is a former U.S. Congressman whose state bar license is probationary until 2024 due to charges of “professional misconduct.”

The case has been filed in the U.S. District Court in the Western District of Texas and will be heard by Judge Robert Pitman. Plaintiffs have requested a jury trial.

Their time in D.C. has been riddled with missteps and unforced errors. Shortly after arriving, five Democrats tested positive for coronavirus. Shortly before, much of the delegation met with White House officials and may have caused a minor outbreak among White House staff. 

Last week, the White House press secretary indicated the Oval Office’s support for the Texas Democrats returning to Austin.

Additionally, various members reportedly went on vacation out of the country while their colleagues remained in D.C.

Of those that have been in D.C., 26 have committed to remaining in the nation’s capital to try and prevent quorum in the second special session that began on Saturday.


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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.