Abbott’s executive order halting inmate release goes forward, after Texas Supreme Court blocks earlier restraining order

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Gov. Greg Abbott’s order halting the release of certain inmates on personal bond can move forward, after the Texas Supreme Court blocked a lower court’s temporary restraining order that prevented the governor’s order from taking effect.

The Texas Supreme Court released its opinion Thursday regarding Gov. Abbott’s petition against the temporary restraining order filed by Texas trial courts blocking his executive order halting the release of inmates on personal bond.

In March, Abbott issued an executive order to “stop the release of dangerous felons from prisons and jails in Texas.”

“Releasing dangerous criminals from jails into the streets is not the right solution. Doing so is now prohibited by law,” Abbott said.

In response, a lawsuit opposing the order was filed by 16 Harris County judges, the NAACP Texas, Austin Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, Capital Area Private Defender Service and the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association. The judges argued the order “deprives them of the judicial discretion to consider pretrial release granted by the Texas Constitution.”

On top of that, Judge Lora Livingston of the 261st Civil District Court granted a temporary restraining order in the case and said there should be a hearing April 24 to determine if it should be changed to a temporary injunction until the trial begins.

Abbott filed a petition for writ of mandamus against the TRO, questioning the court’s power to issue injunctions against the state executive branch.

In its opinion released Thursday, the Texas Supreme Court said the judges lacked legal standing because they “have not alleged the personal, legally cognizable injury required for standing.” This means the Supreme Court believes Judge Livingston lacked the jurisdiction to issue a TRO.

It also stated that because the other plaintiffs are not inmates, they do not qualify as an injured party.

“Our standing jurisprudence ensures that the executive and judicial branches
resolve matters of public importance through the adversary system of justice in particular cases involving parties who are genuinely, personally affected. Petitions from one set of judges to
another do not fit this mold,” the Supreme Court’s opinion stated. “That does not mean the issues raised in this lawsuit are unimportant or cannot be litigated. If a defendant in a bail hearing contends the executive order is unconstitutional and the suspended statutes should continue to provide the rule of decision, the judge has a duty to rule on that issue, and the losing side can challenge that ruling.”

Andre Segura, legal director for the ACLU released a statement responding to the Supreme Court’s decision.

“It’s eminently clear that the Governor overstepped his authority by trying to take over the role of independent judges. Importantly, the court found that neither the Governor nor the Attorney General has any teeth by which to enforce this Executive Order, and that prosecuting judges for following the Constitution would raise serious problems. The Governor should heed the advice from both sides of the aisle and rescind this misguided Executive Order.”

Additionally, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton praised the ruling stating, “The Texas Supreme Court’s decision rightfully protects the health and safety of Texans from the unlawful release of potentially thousands of dangerous individuals into our communities. The court’s ruling rightly upholds the rule of law and maintains the integrity of our criminal justice system. Texans must continue to work together to protect our communities during this unprecedented health crisis.”  

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