The Texas House Democrats held a press conference earlier this month alongside U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, and grassroots organizers at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. Credit: Shuran Huang for The Texas Tribune

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Texas House Democrats who refuse to show up to the state Capitol in their bid to prevent Republican lawmakers from passing a voting restrictions bill can be arrested and brought to the lower chamber, the Texas Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.

The all-Republican court sided with Gov. Greg Abbott and House Speaker Dade Phelan — and ordered a Travis County district judge to revoke his temporary restraining order blocking the civil arrest of Democratic lawmakers whose absences have denied the chamber the number of present members needed to move any legislation.

“The legal question before this Court concerns only whether the Texas Constitution gives the House of Representatives the authority to physically compel the attendance of absent members,” Justice Jimmy Blacklock wrote in the court’s opinion. “We conclude that it does, and we therefore direct the district court to withdraw the TRO.”

The state Supreme Court already has blocked court rulings in Travis and Harris counties to shield the quorum-busting Democrats from arrest — but Tuesday’s ruling signified that it’s legal under the state Constitution for House leaders to compel members to be physically present in the House, even if it means their arrest.

More than 50 House Democrats flew to Washington, D.C., in early July to block the Republican elections bill — a wide-ranging piece of legislation that, among other changes, would place restrictions on mail-in ballots and give partisan poll watchers greater access to polling sites.

Democrats and voting rights groups have slammed the bill as a way for the state’s Republican leaders to disenfranchise marginalized voters. Republicans have cast the bill as necessary to improve “election integrity” and reform the state’s voting system.

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Correction, Aug. 17, 2021: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated when Texas House Democrats flew to Washington, D.C., to break quorum. They left in early July, not early August.

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