Texas Supreme Court Green-Lights Takeover of Harris County Elections

WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Tuesday, Aug. 22, the Republican-controlled Texas Supreme Court effectively allowed Senate Bill 1750 — a law that eliminates the appointed election administrator position in Texas counties with a population of 3.5 million or more — to go into effect on Sept. 1 ahead of the November 2023 election. 

Harris County, which is the state’s most populous and diverse county, is the only county in Texas to which the law applies. Enacted in June, S.B. 1750 transfers election administration responsibilities from the bipartisan election administrator back to the county clerk and county tax assessor, both of whom are elected officials. 

Today’s decision from the Texas Supreme Court was issued on the heels of a lower court ruling issued last week that temporarily blocked the takeover of Harris County’s election administration. The ruling came as part of a lawsuit brought by Harris County alleging that the law violates the Texas Constitution, which prohibits the Legislature from passing certain “special or local laws” that regulate county affairs, including elections. In last week’s lower court order, the judge sided with the county, holding that S.B. 1750 law likely violates the Texas Constitution. 

The lower court judge noted 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 stated. 

Following last week’s ruling, Republican state officials appealed to the Texas Supreme Court, resulting in an automatic pause of the lower court’s order. Consequently, both Harris County and its current elections administrator who intervened in the litigation — Clifford Tatum — asked the state Supreme Court to keep the lower court’s order in place as the appeal proceeded. 

As a result of today’s order denying these requests, S.B. 1750 will be in place for the county’s upcoming November 2023 elections and Harris County residents will be deprived of the ability to choose how to run their elections, a right given to every other county in the state. 

“I am disappointed that the Texas Supreme Court is quietly allowing the legislature to illegally target Harris County, instead of considering the arguments and timely deciding whether Senate Bill 1750 violates the constitution,” stated Harris County Attorney Christian D. Menefee in a press release. 

Menefee continued: “By setting the law to go into effect September 1, and not passing a single law to assist in the transition or provide additional funding, Republican legislators are making the job of running this November’s election much more difficult. It was on the Texas Supreme Court to rein in these bad-faith lawmakers. The court failed Harris County residents.”

Per today’s order, litigation over S.B. 1750 will continue in the Texas Supreme Court, which will hold oral argument regarding the appeal on Nov. 28, 2023. Accordingly, any potential judicial relief for Harris County is off the table prior to Election Day on Nov. 8, 2023.

Read the order here. 

Learn more about the case here.