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Judge agrees Houston mayor’s action was unconstitutional but denies restraining order based on technicality

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner speaks during a peace march honoring George Floyd Tuesday, June 2, 2020, in Houston. Floyd died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers on Memorial Day.

(The Center Square) – In response to a temporary restraining order filed by Dr. Steven Hotze in response to Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner banning the Republican Party of Texas (RPT) from holding an in-person convention, federal Judge Lynn Hughes said the mayor’s actions were unconstitutional but denied the restraining order request because of a legal technicality.

The RPT Convention was scheduled to hold in-person meetings at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston from July 16-18. One week prior to the convention, Turner announced that he told the leasing agent of the center, Houston First Corporation, to cancel the contract, which it did.

Hughes agreed that Turner’s request violated the First Amendment rights of delegates to the convention.

“Judge Hughes gave us a very fair hearing,” Hotze said. “He understood the constitutional issues very well and stated that Mayor Turner had denied Republican delegates First Amendment rights.”

But because the RPT and Chairman of the RPT, James Dickey, had not joined the lawsuit as plaintiffs, the judge said he was unable to find an equitable solution. And because the RPT had already voted on July 13 to hold an online virtual convention, the TRO was moot.

Dickey was asked to join Hotze’s lawsuit and declined.

“Dickey could have simply intervened in the lawsuit, but he chose not to do so,” Hotze said.

Instead, the RPT filed a separate lawsuit, which was rejected by the district court and Texas Supreme Court.

“The Party argues it has constitutional rights to hold a convention and engage in electoral activities, and that is unquestionably true,” the Supreme Court wrote in its opinion. “But those rights do not allow it to simply commandeer use of the Center.”

In response to the Texas Supreme Court’s ruling, Dickey said, “We had hoped that the Supreme Court of Texas would recognize that the issue before it involved constitutionally protected rights flowing from our contract with the Convention Center and confirm that a contract cannot be breached for political purposes.

“We believe that Mayor Turner used his control of city-owned property to disenfranchise Republicans and attempt to deny them the opportunity to cast their votes for national delegates and electors in-person in Houston,” he added.

The mayor argued that the convention could not have been held safely even after he organized and participated in a crowded protest of roughly 60,000 people, for which the downtown area of Houston was shut down. The convention was expecting roughly one-tenth of the number of people who participated in the protest.

Retired Lt. Colonel Allen West, who is running against Dickey for party chair, attended the hearing in person in support of Hotze’s suit.

At the convention, which begins Thursday, delegates will adopt a party platform, elect party officers and National Delegates and Alternates, and possibly vote on the censures several county GOP groups have already passed expressing condemnation of actions taken by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott.

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