Texas’ highest criminal court blocks attorney general from unilaterally prosecuting election cases

Texas’ highest criminal court blocks attorney general from unilaterally prosecuting election cases

Isabel Webb Carey
Isabel Webb Carey
|
December 16, 2021

The Texas Supreme Court of Criminal Appeals revoked a law Wednesday allowing the Attorney General to unilaterally prosecute election cases.

The all-Republican State Criminal Appeals Court issued an 8-1 decision that the provisions of the law violate the Separation of Powers clause of the Texas Constitution by extending the powers of the executive branch into the domain of the judiciary. In the opinion, the Criminal Court of Appeals stated that the previous provisions of the election law “give the Secretary of Justice the power to prosecute criminal law in general, regardless of whether the criminal law stipulated by the Election Law is inside or outside the law.” The ruling went on to conclude that the Attorney General may only be involved in the case at the request of a district or county lawyer.

The case sought to address a provision in the election code that had previously said that the attorney general “may prosecute a criminal offense prescribed by the election laws of this state.” Following the election of the state’s first Black female Sheriff Zena Stephens by Jefferson County in November 2016, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton had spearheaded a campaign finance and records tampering indictment. After the county district attorney declined to prosecute Stephens over campaign-finance allegations, Paxton’s office stepped in and obtained an indictment from a grand jury in neighboring Chambers County.

“The attorney general can prosecute with the permission of the local prosecutor but cannot initiate prosecution unilaterally,” Judge Jesse McClure wrote for the majority in a 22-page order Wednesday.

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Paxton blasted the ruling in a tweet referencing billionaire hedge fund manager George Soros, who in recent years has made large campaign contributions to district attorney candidates who support sweeping criminal justice system reforms.

“Now, thanks to the Texas Criminal Court of Appeals, Soros-funded district attorneys will have sole power to decide whether election fraud has occurred in Texas. This ruling could be devastating for future elections in Texas,” the Republican attorney general tweeted.

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Isabel Webb Carey

Isabel Webb Carey

Isabel Webb Carey attends the University of Texas at Austin in the Plan II Honors Program with a certificate in Core Texts and Ideas. Her interests include education, local governance, sustainability, and equity. Isabel enjoys dancing, hiking, and live music. She is also a staff writer for the Texas Orator. Email her at [email protected]
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