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Court refuses to order Houston to host Texas Republican convention

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott greets supporters at the state GOP convention in San Antonio in June 2018.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, center, greets supporters at the state GOP convention in San Antonio in June 2018. Houston will not allow in-person events for the 2020 gathering.
(Eric Gay / Associated Press)

The Texas Supreme Court on Monday upheld Houston’s refusal to allow the state Republican convention to hold in-person events in the city amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The court dismissed an appeal of a state district judge’s denial of a temporary restraining order that the state Republican Party had sought.

Shortly after the ruling, GOP leaders said they would call a meeting of the party’s executive committee to “finalize our path forward.” A separate court hearing was ongoing Monday in Harris County, where Houston is located, in which a different judge was hearing the party’s arguments to allow the convention to go forward.

The state GOP convention had been scheduled to begin Thursday at Houston’s downtown convention center and was expected to draw thousands of participants.

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Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, a Democrat, said last week that he had directed city lawyers to terminate the contract because he believed the event could not be held safely. He cited the potential risk to service workers and first responders if the virus spread through the convention.

The state party sued a day later, alleging the city illegally breached the contract and accusing Turner of shedding “crocodile tears.”

“The Party argues it has constitutional rights to hold a convention and engage in electoral activities, and that is unquestionably true,” the Supreme Court wrote in its opinion. “But those rights do not allow it to simply commandeer use of the Center.”

State District Judge Larry Weiman last week sided with Turner, citing Houston statistics that show major hospitals exceeding their base intensive-care capacity due to an influx of patients with coronavirus infection.

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This Houston hospital tried to prepare for the second wave of COVID-19, but was already 80% full this week as a nurse and doctor fell ill.

Texas has set daily records in recent days for the number of COVID-19 deaths and confirmed cases. Top officials in Houston have called for the city to lock down again as area hospitals strain to accommodate an onslaught of patients.

The Texas Medical Assn. withdrew its sponsorship of the state GOP convention and asked organizers to cancel in-person gatherings. As the virus has surged throughout the state in June and July, Gov. Greg Abbott, the state’s top Republican, has reversed some business reopenings and is broadly requiring the use of face masks.

State GOP chair James Dickey had insisted that organizers could hold the event safely. Prior to Turner’s move to cancel the convention, Dickey said the party had planned to institute daily temperature scans, provide masks, and install hand sanitizer stations.

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Texas became a national coronavirus hot spot this week but didn’t close popular beaches like Galveston until Friday, when crowds still appeared.


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