A high court in Texas smacked down the state attorney general’s argument that he can prosecute election offenses all by himself. The ruling means that Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican Trump supporter, loses a potentially powerful tool in his party’s voter suppression campaign.
The Court of Criminal Appeals, Texas’ highest authority on criminal cases, ruled on Wednesday that Paxton can’t barge in on local criminal cases involving elections, such as possible instances of voter fraud or campaign finance violations, according to the Texas Tribune. Instead Paxton has to get the OK from a local prosecutor before he sticks his nose in.
In its opinion, the Court of Criminal Appeals overturned a lower-court ruling that said the election code provision “clearly and unambiguously gives the Attorney General power to prosecute criminal laws prescribed by election laws generally whether those laws are inside or outside the Code.”
Rather, the Court of Criminal Appeals said, “the Attorney General can prosecute with the permission of the local prosecutor but cannot initiate prosecution unilaterally.”
In his tweet, Paxton said the ruling means “Soros-funded district attorneys will have sole power to decide whether election fraud has occurred in Texas.” That is a reference to George Soros, the Democratic megadonor who has become a force in local prosecutor elections.
In short, Paxton thought he could overrule local district attorneys when he didn’t like their decisions on who to haul into court, or who not to, over elections. By an eight-to-one margin, a panel of Republican judges told him no.
It’s an important ruling because in Texas and many other states, some GOP officials have passed shady new laws designed to shrink voting rights in the wake of Donald Trump’s failed attempt to hold onto the presidency. Those laws were cooked up based on the Big Lie of rampant voter fraud in the 2020 election. Handing Paxton the green light on who to charge with election crimes presented the opportunity use the office to his or his party’s political advantage.
Texas is already being sued over new voting restrictions its Republican governor and legislature put in place, as well as a gerrymandered voting map.