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Texas judge blocks arrest order for AWOL House Democrats

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A state district judge in Texas issued a temporary restraining order Sunday that blocks law enforcement from arresting the House Democrats who fled the state to block a GOP-supported election security bill.

Travis County State District Judge Brad Urrutia's order will prevent Gov. Greg Abbott (R) and House Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) from "detaining, confining or otherwise restricting" the Democrats, who had abandoned the state for Washington, D.C., in July to deny a special session of the legislature a quorum and prevent Republicans from passing a bill that would strengthen voter ID requirements and ban sending unsolicited mail ballot applications to voters.

After the Democrats fled, Abbott had called for state law enforcement agencies to arrest the Democrats the moment they returned to Texas and transport them to the Capitol, where they would be forced to open the legislature for business.

On Friday, 19 House Democrats filed a lawsuit to block their arrest or detention, arguing Republicans did not have the power to "arrest their political opponents," as one of the attorneys for the Democrats put it.

According to the Texas Tribune, Urrutia, a Democrat, said that Abbott and Phelan wrongly interpreted Texas law and the rules of the state House to allow the arrest of lawmakers in response to a call for quorum. He prohibited the Republicans from detaining or restraining the Democrats in any way and also from ordering law enforcement to arrest them.

Urrutia's order will permit the Democrats to return to Texas without fear of being detained. The order will last for 14 days unless it is extended.

"Angry Republican threats to dispatch troopers to arrest, cuff, shackle, drag in, and cabin duly-elected lawmakers isn't just meant to chill our speech and impair our ability to represent our districts; it has left our families, friends, and neighbors anxious for our well-being and safety," said state Rep. Gina Hinojosa (D-Austin) said in a statement Monday.

"The men and women of the Texas House, many of whom are Black and Brown Democrats, are not animals or property to be corralled by law enforcement and cabined against our will. It is morally wrong to believe otherwise," Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer (D-San Antonio) said.

The court will hear arguments on the arrest order on Aug. 20.

Last week, Abbott called for a second special session of the legislature to convene and pass the election security bill and other pieces of legislation. At least 26 of the more than 50 House Democrats who fled to Washington, D.C., have said they will remain there.

The state House was unable to reach a quorum on Saturday at the start of the special session and will try again Monday.

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