Remember the Texas Democrats? Last month, 51 Democratic state lawmakers boarded private planes in Austin, headed for Washington, D.C. Their purpose was to stop a Republican elections bill they characterized as “Jim Crow 2.0” by fleeing the state and thus denying the legislature a quorum.
Now it’s been a month. It’s tough to be away from home. The Democrats would like to be able to go back to Texas, yet still continue their campaign to paralyze the legislature. But the speaker of the Texas House, Republican Dade Phelan, has demanded their return, and the governor of Texas, Republican Greg Abbott, has vowed that they will be arrested if they come back.
But Abbott did not mean go-to-jail arrested. He meant the lawmakers, if they returned to Texas, would be apprehended and taken to the capitol building, where they would have to proceed with business. “As soon as they come back to the state of Texas, they will be arrested,” Abbott said shortly after the group fled. “They will be cabined inside the Texas Capitol until they get their job done.”
Now the Democrats have struck back — in a way that would be comical had not a Democratic judge in Texas taken it seriously. On Sunday, about 20 of the Democratic lawmakers filed suit against Abbott and Phelan — blaming them for their plight.
The lawmakers alleged they have “suffered much anxiety and distress over the separation from their families.” They further said they have “lost much time from their homes and the companionship and care of their families.” Well, of course they have! They fled their state. The ridiculous part of the suit is that they hold Abbott and Phelan responsible for what they themselves have done.
It’s a kill-your-parents-and-plead-for-mercy-because-you’re-an-orphan lawsuit.
The Democrats also claimed that Abbott and Phelan have violated their constitutional rights on the basis of race, “in that certain plaintiffs are either black or white.” Then they claimed that Abbott and Phelan have violated their constitutional rights on the basis of color, “in that certain plaintiffs are distinguishable based upon the melanin in their skin.”
They also claimed that Abbott and Phelan have violated their constitutional rights on the basis of creed, “in that certain plaintiffs have expressed a faith or belief that every eligible citizen has a right to vote.” And finally, they claimed that Abbott and Phelan have violated their constitutional rights on the basis of “natural origin.” They apparently meant to say “national origin,” because they added that “certain plaintiffs are descendants of persons born in other countries.”
In any event, the Democrats offered no evidence to support any of their claims. At the end, they asked that a judge issue a temporary restraining order to prevent Abbott or Phelan from having them arrested and returned to work.
The entire lawsuit is a non sequitur. Some of the Democrats were so embarrassed by it that they later claimed they had not authorized their names to be used. But the Democratic lawmakers found a Democratic county judge who was willing to help out. And on Monday, that judge, Brad Urrutia of Travis County, signed an order barring Abbott and Phelan from having any of the Democrats arrested and returned to work for the next two weeks.
That gives the Democrats some breathing room. They can come back to Texas, spend time with their families, and still keep blocking the legislature. They will lose in the end, in part because Abbott and Phelan will ultimately prevail in court, and also because the governor can continue to call special sessions of the legislature until the bill is passed.
But the lawsuit is an example of how shamelessness can sometimes succeed, at least temporarily, in politics. Many people would be too embarrassed to do what the Texas Democrats did. They would worry about their reputations. And yet, so far, the Democratic lawmakers have achieved their objective. And in most big media outlets, they have not been subjected to the ridicule their tactics deserve. That is unlikely to ever change, even when the Republicans finally win.