As a former State Supreme Court judge who knows the law, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott “ought to be ashamed of himself,” Dr. Steven Hotze said Monday at a Houston-based rally calling on Texans to join his lawsuit against the governor.
The first of its kind to challenge the constitutionality of the executive order in the state of Texas, the lawsuit was filed April 16 by Houston-based attorney Jared R. Woodfill, Jr., CEO of Woodfill Law Firm, on behalf of 19 plaintiffs, including Hotze, small business owners, individuals, church leaders and pastors.
Now, more than 250 plaintiffs have joined, Woodfill told The Center Square. Their goal is to add up to 1,000 more plaintiffs.
In a FaceBook Live rally, Hotze said Texans can join the lawsuit for free, through the Conservative Republicans of Texas website, a group he leads. Hotze and the Woodfill Law Firm also sued Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo last month over several executive orders she issued, alleging they were unconstitutional.
The lawsuit against the governor alleges the March 19 Executive Order GA-08 and the March 31 Executive Order GA-14 violate Article 1 sections 6 and 28 of the Texas Constitution, and Order GA-14 violates the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act. It also alleges the governor did not have a compelling interest to justify issuing the orders and did not meet the legal strict scrutiny test standard, and engaged in ultra vires activity exceeding his authority under the Texas Constitution.
Article 1, Section 28 of the Texas Constitution gives the Legislature the sole authority to suspend laws, Woodhill argues. But the power of the executive order was granted through the Disaster Declaration Act of 1975, Woodhill notes, by a Democratic trifecta state government. That law has never been challenged until now. The governor cited the 1975 law as the basis for his authority when first issuing Order GA-08.
“The 1975 disaster declaration act is unconstitutional, we believe, to the extent that it does allow the governor to suspend laws. The constitution makes very clear that only the legislature can suspend laws,” Woodfill said.
“The Texas Constitution guarantees our God-given unalienable right to worship, to peaceably assemble, and to move about freely without unconstitutional restrictions on one’s ingress and egress,” the petition states. “None of these rights is contingent upon our health status or subject to the limitations Gov. Abbott is attempting to impose on these rights.”
It also states that the governor “does not have the constitutional authority to relegate religious services conducted in churches, congregations and houses of worship to the Internet or ‘through remote services.’ Additionally, GA-14 is unconstitutionally vague in that it does not define ‘remote services,’ and imposes fines and incarceration on those who do not follow the Order.”
The lawsuit is paramount to protecting the constitutional rights of Texans, Hotze argues.
“Any Republican legislator who has not stood up to the governor deserves to be voted out of office,” he said, adding that members of the Republican Party are the ones he expected to uphold the constitution but the state’s coronavirus shutdown has proven otherwise.
Only one member of the state legislature, Republican State Rep. Bill Zedler, a retired medical consultant from Arlington, has joined the lawsuit, Hotze said.
According to the State Health and Human Services Department, there have been 39,869 positive tests reported of which 1,525 lab confirmed COVID-19 patients are in Texas hospitals, and 1,100 people have died. Those who have contracted the virus represent .001 percent of the population; those who have died, .00003 percent of the population.
“When one rationally, with common sense, considers the current situation on COVID-19, the mathematics simply do not add up,” the complaint states.
“If the orders are not declared unconstitutional and void, once this virus passes, the rights we are afforded under the Texas Constitution will be forever damaged,” the plaintiffs allege in their complaint. “Viruses mutate, so there may be a different coronavirus strain next year. Like the flu vaccine, this year’s coronavirus vaccine may not protect against next year’s strain. Will we allow Governor Abbott’s Orders to set precedent for future governmental remedies to virus or diseases? Will it be a little easier to shut down a church or small business next time?”
As long as the governor’s orders continue to suspend laws, plaintiffs argue, the governor and state legislators are violating the Texas Constitution, which they swore to uphold and protect.