A federal judge ruled on Tuesday that three Texas laws prohibiting Texans from speaking out about the Texas House Speaker race are unconstitutional, despite pushback from two Texas lawmakers: State Reps. Charlie Geren (R–Fort Worth) and Dustin Burrows (R–Lubbock).

Geren and Burrows attempted to intervene in the lawsuit between the Texas Ethics Commission—which enforces Texas’ laws regulating speech—and State Rep. Byran Slaton (R–Royse City), the Grayson County Conservatives, and Robert Bruce of Bexar County. The trio of plaintiffs sued the TEC to halt the enforcement of three laws that prohibited them from speaking out about the ongoing race for speaker.

Texas Government Code Sec. 302.0191, Sec. 302.021(d), and Section 302.021(e-1) prohibited individuals from making independent expenditures to support or oppose a speaker candidate and prohibited candidates and PACs from making expenditures or contributions.

Current House Speaker Dade Phelan (R–Beaumont), who is supported by Geren and Burrows, is being challenged by State Rep. Tony Rinderholt (R–Arlington), who is supported by Slaton.

The unconstitutional laws denied Slaton the ability to donate to Tinderholt’s speaker campaign, or even to fund his own speech explaining why he supported Tinderholt. The laws impacted Bruce and the Grayson County Conservatives in similar ways.

U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman of the Western District of Texas ordered that all three sections of the Code in question are unconstitutional and can no longer be enforced by the TEC.

Notably, Geren and Burrows were found to lack standing to intervene in the case. “Their opinions are constitutionally irrelevant,” said Tony McDonald, the plaintiffs’ attorney.

“The Geren/Burrows ploy seemed designed (if it had any end in mind at all) to gum up the works. They failed. Just because they like unconstitutional laws that stifle Texans’ free speech doesn’t mean they get to tell state agencies or federal judges what to do,” said McDonald.

The race for Texas House Speaker will end on January 10, 2023, when the legislative session begins and the vote for House speaker is taken. Phelan is projected to maintain his position as House speaker after a secret vote last month gave him a huge Republican majority (78-6).

Sydnie Henry

A born and bred Texan, Sydnie serves as the Capitol Correspondent for Texas Scorecard. A 2021 graduate of Patrick Henry College with a B.A. in Government, Sydnie is utilizing her research and writing skills to spread truth to Texans.

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