This article has been updated with the federal court decision.
The Texas Supreme Court is siding with Democrat Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and ruled Monday morning that the Texas GOP cannot go forward with plans to host their convention in person at the Bayou City’s George R. Brown Convention Center next week.
Originally slated to begin this Thursday, Mayor Turner canceled Republicans’ convention last week, citing concerns over the Chinese coronavirus. In response, the party filed suit in federal and state court, seeking to prevent Turner from blocking them from going forward with hosting the convention.
“On Friday, July 10, the Party petitioned this Court for mandamus directing the City and Houston First ‘to perform their obligations in connection with the Convention, including performance of their contractual obligations, and performance of all legal obligations to ensure the free exercise of association and assembly.’ Pet. at 33. We requested the City and Houston First to respond by the close of business Saturday. We also called for the views of the Solicitor General.
“The Party invokes Section 273.061 of the Election Code, which gives the Court jurisdiction to ‘issue a writ of mandamus to compel the performance of any duty imposed by law in connection with the holding of an election or a political party convention, regardless of whether the person responsible for performing the duty is a public officer.’ TEX. ELEC. CODE § 273.061 (emphasis added). The Solicitor General, on behalf of the State of Texas, argues that this grant of jurisdiction does not apply because under our caselaw, the duty the Party seeks to compel Houston First to perform is imposed by contract, not imposed by law. We agree with the Solicitor General that the statute is inapplicable, but for a different reason.
“Section 1.005(10) defines ‘law’ in the Election Code to mean ‘a constitution, statute, city charter, or city ordinance.’ Id. § 1.005(10). Thus, ‘duty imposed by law’ in Section 273.061 is limited to a duty imposed by a constitution, statute, city charter, or city ordinance. The Party does not assert that Houston First owes it any such duty. The Party argues it has constitutional rights to hold a convention and engage in electoral activities, and that is unquestionably true. But those rights do not allow it to simply commandeer use of the Center. Houston First’s only duty to allow the Party use of the Center for its Convention is under the terms of the parties’ Agreement, not a constitution.
“We agree with the State that ‘despite [the Party’s] troubling factual allegations,’ its petition does not ‘properly invoke this Court’s mandamus authority [and] should be denied on that narrow basis.’ Letter Br. at 3. Accordingly, we dismiss the petition for want of jurisdiction.”
Justice Jeff Boyd did not participate in the decision, and Justice John Devine filed a dissent.
In a statement after the ruling, Republican Party of Texas Chairman James Dickey said that, regardless of the outcome, the convention would take place on time as scheduled.
“There will be a call for a meeting of the State Republican Executive Committee to finalize our path forward when we have rulings on both of our cases,” said Dickey. “In spite of the obvious politically-motivated efforts of the Mayor to disrupt our convention, we will duly elect our national delegates and the Presidential Electors for our President Donald J. Trump on time as planned.”
A district court in Harris County also struck down the case on Monday afternoon.