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Texas Supreme Court rejects GOP effort to force in-person convention

The Texas Supreme Court rejected the state Republican Party’s appeal to force an in-person convention in Houston after city officials canceled the event due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The court said in the 7-1 decision delivered Monday that although the Republican Party has constitutional rights to hold a convention, it does not have those rights under the agreement with the Houston First Corporation, which canceled its contract with the party to hold a convention at the George R. Brown Convention Center. 

“The Party argues it has constitutional rights to hold a convention and engage in electoral activities, and that is unquestionably true. But those rights do not allow it to simply commandeer use of the Center. Houston First’s only duty to allow the Party use of the Center for its Convention is under the terms of the parties’ Agreement, not a constitution,” the court said in the opinion

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Justice Jeffrey Boyd did not participate in the discussion, and Justice John Devine filed a dissenting opinion. 

Boyd was one of four justices the Texas Democratic Party called on to recuse from the case, claiming each justice had a conflict of interest, the Houston Chronicle reported.

The campaigns of Chief Justice Nathan Hecht and Justices Jane Bland, Brett Busby and Boyd had each sponsored the convention, the newspaper reported, citing an archived list of sponsors that has since been removed from the Texas GOP's website.

The other three justices opted not to recuse themselves.

Republican Party of Texas Chairman James Dickey said in a statement after the Supreme Court's decision that the party plans to have its convention in Houston, as scheduled.

Dickey said the party was in Harris County District Court on Monday morning in an effort to compel the city to “honor its contract,” and is awaiting the ruling from that court.

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“Regardless, we will have our Convention on time as scheduled. I am in Houston where the Temporary Committee meetings are starting in person,” Dickey said.

“There will be a call for a meeting of the State Republican Executive Committee to finalize our path forward when we have rulings on both of our cases. In spite of the obvious politically-motivated efforts of the Mayor to disrupt our convention, we will duly elect our national delegates and the Presidential Electors for our President Donald J. Trump on time as planned,” he added.

The Texas GOP sued Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner (D) last week after the mayor canceled the Republicans' in-person convention, which was set to begin on Thursday. 

The party filed an appeal with the state Supreme Court after a Harris County district judge denied the GOP’s request.  

Sylvester last week announced that he had instructed the Houston First Corporation, which operates the George R. Brown Convention Center, to exercise its right to contractually cancel the convention. 

The mayor insisted that the decision was not made out of any political reasons. He said the convention would have posed a “clear and present” danger to the Houston community amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

Texas is facing a large surge in its number of coronavirus cases. 

--This report was updated at 12:38 p.m.