In March, a district judge, Amy Clark Meachum in Travis County, ordered all such investigations to stop, pending a trial. She found that the governor’s order had been improperly adopted and violated the State Constitution. An appeals court allowed the district judge’s temporary injunction to remain in force.
Mr. Abbott and Mr. Paxton took the case to the Texas Supreme Court, arguing that the investigations, on their own, were not an “injury” and that the district court had overstepped its authority in preventing them. All nine members of the state’s highest court are Republican; five were appointed by Mr. Abbott.
The court found that Mr. Abbott and Mr. Paxton could not in fact require certain kinds of investigations by the Department of Family and Protective Services, and that the agency had discretion over how it conducted its abuse inquiries. “Neither the governor nor the attorney general has statutory authority to directly control” the department’s investigatory decisions, wrote Justice Jimmy Blacklock, who was appointed by Mr. Abbott in 2018.
“Just as the governor lacks authority to issue a binding ‘directive’ to D.F.P.S., the court of appeals lacks authority to afford statewide relief to nonparties,” Justice Blacklock wrote.
Mr. Abbott’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs were encouraged by aspects of the ruling. “The court rejected the state’s arguments to get rid of the case entirely,” said Karen Loewy, senior counsel at Lambda Legal, which represented the plaintiffs along with the American Civil Liberties Union.
The court made clear, she said, that while statewide investigations by the protective services agency could resume, “any similar investigation” to the one into her clients “would cause the same irreparable harm” and that “the appropriate thing to do would be to exercise the discretion that they had before the governor got involved.”
The appeals court will now consider arguments from state officials and the plaintiffs over Judge Meachum’s decision. A trial, originally scheduled for July, is now on hold pending those arguments.