WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Monday Aug. 14, a Texas judge temporarily blocked Senate Bill 1750, a law that abolishes the appointed election administrator position in Texas counties with a population of 3.5 million or more. Indeed, Harris County — the state’s most populous and diverse county — is the only county in Texas to which the law applies. As a result, the law specifically deprives Harris County residents of the ability to choose how to run their elections, a right given to every other county in the state.
The law, which was enacted in June, transfers election administration responsibilities back to the county clerk and county tax assessor, both of whom are elected officials. The recent ruling that temporarily suspends the enforcement of S.B. 1750 comes after Harris County filed a lawsuit challenging the newly enacted statute in early July.
In its lawsuit, the county contends that S.B. 1750 specifically targets Harris County and violates provisions of the Texas Constitution, which explicitly prohibit the Legislature from passing certain “special or local laws” that regulate county affairs, including elections. “The Texas Constitution’s plain text prohibits this sort of legislative meddling in a single county’s local affairs,” the county alleges.
In the Aug. 14 order — which has since been appealed and was automatically paused — the judge granted motions seeking to temporarily block the law that were filed by Harris County and Clifford Tatum, the current Harris County Elections Administrator who intervened in the litigation. “[T]here is a substantial likelihood that Plaintiff will prevail after a trial on the merits because Senate Bill 1750…is an unconstitutional local law under…the Texas Constitution,” the order reads.
In temporarily blocking the law, the judge noted that if S.B. 1750 were to go into effect, the county would suffer “imminent and irreparable injury.” The order points to the fact that in addition to being “forced to implement an unconstitutional statute,” the county would have to “effect massive transfers of employees and resources from the Harris County Elections Administrator’s Office…to the Harris County Clerk and the Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector.” These disruptive logistical changes, which would need to be implemented prior to the November 2023 election, would “lead to inefficiencies, disorganization, confusion, office instability, and increased costs to Harris County,” the order states.
The judge concluded that the “harm to Harris County, its residents, and the public outweighs any potential harm caused to the State Office Defendants by entering this injunctive relief.” Per the order, the law is barred from going into effect on Sept. 1 and the status quo “should remain in effect while this Court, and potentially the Court of Appeals, and the Supreme Court of Texas, examine the parties’ merits and jurisdictional arguments.”
According to a press release from Harris County Attorney Christian D. Menefee, the “state has already appealed today’s ruling, which voids the order. The county will now seek emergency action from the Texas Supreme Court.”