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Politics

Court Refuses to Order Houston to Host Texas GOP Gathering

HOUSTON — The Texas Supreme Court on Monday upheld Houston's refusal to allow the state Republican convention to hold in-person events in the city due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

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

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 denied that the convention was cancelled due to political differences and 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 COVID-19 patients. 

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 back down as area hospitals strain to accommodate an onslaught of patients.

The Texas Medical Association 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 broadly required the use of face masks. 

State GOP chair James Dickey had insisted that organizers can 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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