Constitutional Law

Texas suit alleges federal spending bill isn't law because of proxy quorum

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Texas

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The state of Texas claims in a lawsuit that the 2023 federal spending bill did not become law because it passed without an in-person quorum of the U.S. House of Representatives as required by the Constitution.

The Feb. 15 suit contends the Constitution requires the physical presence of House members for a quorum, and proxy votes can’t count. Law.com and Fox News are among the publications with coverage.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced the suit in a press release. “Our founders would be turning over in their graves if they could see how former Speaker Nancy Pelosi used proxy voting to upend our constitutional system,” he said.

The House accepted Senate amendments to the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2023 on Dec. 23, 2022, when fewer than half its members were present. The vote on the $1.7 trillion bill was 225-201 when proxy votes were counted.

But the bill never passed the House of Representatives without an in-person quorum. As a result, President Joe Biden’s “signature was a nullity,” the suit says.

The suit cites the Constitution’s quorum clause, which says: “Each House shall be the judge of the elections, returns and qualifications of its own members, and a majority of each shall constitute a quorum to do business; but a smaller number may adjourn from day to day, and may be authorized to compel the attendance of absent members, in such manner, and under such penalties as each House may provide.”

Several parts of the bill affect Texas, according to the lawsuit. They include:

• An amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act that subjects states to lawsuits if they fail to make reasonable accommodation for pregnancy and childbirth. The federal government’s power to abrogate a state’s sovereign immunity is limited to “equal-protection and due-process ills,” the suit says. “A lack of workplace accommodations for pregnant employees is not among them.”

• Spending on a pilot program that connects immigrants who are illegally in the United States with social services. The program causes Texas and its local governments to spend money on the immigrants that they would not otherwise spend, according to the suit.

Law.com reports that Kevin McCarthy, then the minority leader of the House of Representatives, filed a similar suit last year. A federal judge and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected the challenge, and the U.S. Supreme Court denied cert.

The D.C. Circuit found that McCarthy’s suit was barred by the speech or debate clause.

Paxton’s suit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas. The case is Texas v. Garland.

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