Attorney General Ken Paxton was impeached. Here’s how that process works in Texas.
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Attorney General Ken Paxton, who has been at the center of several scandals was impeached on 20 articles of impeachment by the Texas House Saturday. He is now suspended from his office pending a Texas Senate trial in which senators act as jurors.
Paxton, the state’s top lawyer and one of its most powerful and controversial Republicans, has faced criminal investigations, legal battles and accusations of wrongdoing for years. But after he requested $3.3 million in taxpayer funds to end a lawsuit by former staffers who accused him of on-the-job retaliation, the Texas House General Investigating Committee began looking into accusations of wrongdoing.
The Texas House of Representatives holds the power to impeach, but the Senate must conduct impeachment trials for the attorney general, as well as most of the state’s elected executives and judges, according to state law.
Here’s how the impeachment process works in Texas.
What are grounds for impeachment?
The Texas Constitution does not directly outline impeachable offenses, but it mentions impeachment in connection to criminal matters. This leaves specifics up to the Texas House but signals that the impeachment procedure is intended to address very serious conduct. But Texas government code does say an official can’t be removed from office for an act committed before their election to office.
What is the impeachment process?
During a legislative session, the House can conduct impeachment proceedings at “its pleasure without further call or action.” Impeachment proceedings include carrying out investigations related to possible impeachments, presenting an article of impeachment and acting on an article of impeachment. During these proceedings, the House can call on people to testify or provide documents and can punish people for failing to do so.
Impeaching an official requires a simple majority vote of the House. If that happens, the Texas Senate can carry out a trial, in which senators take an oath to be impartial. Two-thirds of the senators present must vote to convict an impeached state leader, per state law. If that happens, the official is then permanently removed from office.
The Texas Constitution seems to imply that such an impeachment judgment could ban an official from holding “any office of honor, trust or profit” in the state. Vacancies for statewide elected offices are filled in a general election, according to state law. If the vacancy occurs too close to a general election, an appointment made by the governor can fill the role until someone is elected to the office during the next general election.
While in session, state law says, the Senate “shall set a day and time” for a trial and can continue the trial beyond when the session ends or choose to pause and come back at a later time.
During impeachment trial proceedings, the Senate has similar powers as the House to call for documents, people and testimony, but it can also meet privately for deliberations and can “exercise any other power necessary to carry out” its trial duties as outlined in state law.
How does impeachment work if the Legislature is not in session?
If the legislative session ends while the House is conducting impeachment proceedings, the House can continue the proceedings or adjourn and reconvene for impeachment proceedings at a later date. This year’s legislative session ends May 29.
If lawmakers are not in session, the House can conduct impeachment proceedings if a proclamation to do so is issued by the governor, a majority of state representatives or 50 House members and the speaker.
For the Senate to convene for an impeachment trial while lawmakers aren’t in session, the governor, lieutenant governor or president pro tempore (the next-highest member of the Senate) can call a trial within a specified amount of time. A majority of the Senate, or 16 senators, could also issue a proclamation to reconvene for an impeachment trial.
How is the trial impacted by the attorney general being married to a senator?
Paxton’s wife, Angela Paxton, is a member of the Senate. It is not yet clear how this could affect a trial by the Senate. State law says “each member of the senate shall be in attendance” during an impeachment trial and that the chamber shall adopt rules for the proceedings when it meets.
How is a state impeachment different from a federal one?
A state leader is immediately suspended, or banned from exercising the duties of their office, after they are impeached by the Texas House and while the Texas Senate conducts its trial. The governor can appoint someone to temporarily fill that role. In Congress, an impeached official remains in office unless they are convicted of charges by the U.S. Senate.
How common is impeachment in Texas?
Impeachments in Texas are rare. Texas Gov. James “Pa” Ferguson was impeached in 1917 for misapplication of public funds and other charges, though he resigned the day before the judgment was announced.
In 1975, the Legislature impeached state District Judge O.P. Carrillo of Duval County for misuse of public funds, presiding over cases that involved financial partners and a number of other infractions.
What are other possible ways to reprimand officials?
Lawmakers can also move to censure or expel a state official. For example, in 2014, a House committee voted to censure Wallace Hall, a member of the Board of Regents of the University of Texas System, for “misconduct, incompetency in the performance of official duties, or behavior unbefitting a nominee for and holder of a state office” after a yearlong investigation. Through this move, the committee cast disapproval on Hall but allowed him to remain in office.
More recently, state representatives voted earlier this month to expel former state Rep. Bryan Slaton, R-Royse City, after a House committee investigation determined he had engaged in inappropriate sexual conduct with an aide. It was a unanimous vote.
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