Fifth Circuit Bars Texas GOP From Holding In-Person Convention

In this June 28, 2020 file photo, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner speaks in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

HOUSTON (CN) — The Texas Republican Party is holding its convention online this weekend after the Fifth Circuit late Friday stayed a federal judge’s order to let the party gather in a Houston convention center.

U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes, a Ronald Reagan appointee, ruled from the bench Friday afternoon, ordering Houston to allow the Republicans to hold their convention in the city-owned George R. Brown Convention Center downtown on July 18 and 19, and July 25 and 26 if necessary.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, a Democrat, immediately appealed to the Fifth Circuit and the federal appellate court late Friday stayed Hughes’ ruling with a one-page unsigned order.

Turner argues in his appeal Hughes improperly allowed the Texas Republican Party to contest cancellation of the in-person convention in an unrelated lawsuit about business shutdowns Governor Greg Abbott ordered to curb the spread of Covid-19.

The legal battle started July 8 when Turner had Houston First, a government corporation that manages the convention center, cancel the GOP’s contract to rent the building.

Turner said the gathering was not a good idea as the city struggles with a spike in Covid-19 cases, an opinion shared by the Texas Medical Association, which withdrew as a sponsor of the convention in late June.

After the Texas Republican Party’s state court lawsuit challenging the cancellation failed, its executive committee voted to hold the convention online.

But the first day Thursday was reportedly a disaster due to glitches getting the online platform up and running.

State Republican Chair James Dickey decided to join the federal litigation in hopes of obtaining the option of holding the convention in person.

He said in court filings the party has until Saturday to elect delegates to cast the state’s 38 votes in the Electoral College should President Donald Trump win the most votes in Texas in November.

Because Texas, like 48 other states, has a winner-take-all system for the Electoral College, if Democrat Joe Biden carries the state, he will get all the state’s 38 votes.

Despite the GOP’s legal maneuvering, Dickey said late Friday it is moving forward with a virtual convention.

“The RPT is on track to hold its convention online with its approved plan from the State Republican Executive Committee. Our online convention provides the greatest opportunity for as many delegates who want to participate in the convention as possible,” he said in a statement.

Dickey thanked Judge Hughes for agreeing with the party’s claims Mayor Turner had improperly cited a spike in Covid-19 cases in Houston starting Memorial Day weekend as a force majeure, or “act of God,” allowing Houston to cancel the convention.

In its litigation, the Texas Republican Party accused Turner of political viewpoint discrimination because he had its in-person convention called off after giving his approval for a June 2 protest over Houston native George Floyd’s killing in which 60,000 people gathered shoulder to shoulder around city hall.

Dickey used Hughes’ ruling to take another shot at Turner on Friday. 

“I hope this ruling sets a precedent for other state and local Republican parties and organizations who come against a bully Democrat mayor’s malicious shutdown,” he said in a statement.

The number of Covid-19 cases in Texas went over 300,000 this week and Texans killed by the respiratory illness grew to 3,735, with a record high 154 deaths on Thursday, the third straight day of triple digits, the Houston Chronicle reported.

Houston is a hot spot. Its hospitals are converting space into ICU units to deal with the influx of patients. It is the seat of Harris County, which leads the state with nearly 52,000 cases.

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