For the first time in over 100 years, the Texas Senate is set to hold an impeachment trial for a statewide official.
In the balance hangs the fate of Attorney General Ken Paxton, who could be removed from office and barred from holding it again in the future. The last time the Senate held an impeachment trial for a statewide official was in 1917, for Gov. James “Pa” Ferguson. He was found guilty and removed from office by a vote of 25-3.
Since then, the Senate last held an impeachment trial in 1976, removing District Judge O.P. Carrillo from office.
Paxton’s impeachment trial begins on Tuesday, September 5.
The House Impeachment
The process for Paxton’s impeachment began in March of this year, when the House General Investigating Committee tasked a group of investigators with looking into Paxton.
Their report largely rehashed the ongoing indictment of Paxton on securities fraud charges that have been likened to a “political prosecution” for eight years and have been the focus of multiple campaigns.
The main focus of the investigator’s report was a settlement reached with four former employees of the Office of the Attorney General who say they were fired unfairly.
In October 2020, eight of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s top aides accused him of bribery and abuse of office. After being terminated from employment, four of the employees filed a whistleblower lawsuit against Paxton, where they alleged that Paxton did political favors for Nate Paul, a real estate developer and donor, by having his office intervene in his legal disputes.
Just days after the report was presented, the House met in a Saturday meeting over Memorial Day weekend and voted 121-23 to impeach Paxton on 20 charges of misapplication of public resources, bribery, obstruction of justice, abuse of public trust, and disregard of official duties.
61 Democrats and 60 Republicans supported the impeachment, including House Speaker Dade Phelan.
The impeachment was promptly condemned by the Republican Party of Texas.
The House’s impeachment sent the issue over to the Senate for a trial to determine whether he would be removed from office. It also meant Paxton was immediately suspended temporarily from his position.
The House appointed the following members as their impeachment managers to lead the prosecution of Paxton:
Andrew Murr (R–Junction) CHAIR
Ann Johnson (D–Houston) VICE CHAIR
Charlie Geren (R–Fort Worth)
Joe Moody (D–El Paso)
Jeff Leach (R–Plano)
Terry Canales (D–Edinburg)
Oscar Longoria (D–Mission)
Morgan Meyer (R–Dallas)
Briscoe Cain (R–Deer Park)
Cody Vasut (R–Angleton)
David Spiller (R–Jacksboro)
Erin Gamez (D–Brownsville)
Additionally, the House has hired prominent Houston attorneys Dick DeGuerin and Rusty Hardin, at the cost of $500 an hour to taxpayers, along with a group of other lawyers providing legal assistance.
Paxton, meanwhile, has retained high-profile Houston attorneys Tony Buzbee and Dan Cogdell to lead his defense.
The rules adopted by the Senate allow the body to operate much like a court of law. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick will act as the presiding officer.
Senators must believe Paxton is guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt” to vote to remove him from office. Such a vote will require two-thirds of members to agree, or 21 senators. Senators are treated like jurors and, as such, have been placed under a gag order that prevents them from talking about their thoughts on the impeachment until after the Senate’s deliberations.
State Sen. Angela Paxton (R–McKinney), his spouse, will sit in the proceedings but will be unable to vote.
The process is expected to last around two to three weeks.
Motions to Dismiss
Four of those charges will be held by the Senate “in abeyance,” meaning they likely will be thrown out and will not be part of the trial.
As part of the Senate’s rules, Paxton has been allowed to file motions ahead of the trial’s start. Among other motions, Paxton’s team has moved to dismiss all but one of the articles of impeachment against him. They say that is because the alleged misconduct occurred before the 2022 general election and is therefore void under the so-called prior-term doctrine, which precludes impeachment charges for allegations known to the public before their election.
The Senate could vote on these motions at the start of the trial or delay the votes to dismiss until the end.
Following the Trial
To see the trial in person, the Senate has set up a ticket system due to the limited seating available. Tickets will be distributed at 7:30 a.m. every morning and doors will open to the Senate gallery at 8:00 a.m.
The proceedings will be streamed live on the Texas Senate website as well as the Texas Scorecard TV app on Apple TV and Roku.