AUSTIN (Nexstar) — The Texas Senate on Saturday acquitted Attorney General Ken Paxton on all articles of impeachment he faced during a nearly two-week trial, salvaging a political career admired by conservatives nationwide but mired in years of legal concerns.
Senators voted to find Paxton not guilty on every charge, mostly on a 14-16 vote.
Only two Republicans — North Texas’ Kelly Hancock and Jacksonville’s Robert Nichols — voted to convict Paxton on any of the charges. All other Republicans voted to find Paxton not guilty on every charge.
The Texas Senate has 31 members, comprised of 19 Republicans and 12 Democrats. Here’s a look at the partisan breakdown for each article of impeachment. As a reminder, Paxton’s wife, Sen. Angela Paxton, was present but not allowed to vote.
Here’s a look at how each senator voted on each of the 16 articles of impeachment against Ken Paxton.
Senators only weighed 16 of the 20 original articles of impeachment approved by the House in late May. The Senate decided to hold four articles related to Paxton’s ongoing securities fraud in abeyance, meaning they were not considered in this trial. After the aquittal vote, Senators voted 19-11 to dismiss those four articles.
Paxton’s wife, State Sen. Angela Paxton, embraced defense attorney Tony Buzbee after the decision. Ken Paxton was not present in the chamber to hear his acquittal. He will be reinstated as Attorney General following the verdict. He pleaded not guilty to all 16 charges at the beginning of trial.
“The truth prevailed,” Paxton wrote in a statement after the trial. “Now that this shameful process is over, my work to defend our constitutional rights will prevail,” Paxton added. He wrote that he plans to speak on Tucker Carlson’s show next week to “address the nation.”
After the decision, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick gave some of his own thoughts about the trial. He presided as a judge over the case. But he said he believed the process was flawed from the start.
“The Speaker and his team rammed through the first impeachment of a statewide official in over a hundred years while paying no attention to the precedent the House set in every other impeachment. Millions of taxpayer dollars have been wasted on this impeachment,” Patrick said.
Prosecutors raised concerns that political pressure tilted the scales for Paxton.
“We always knew that a two thirds vote of the Senate, as required by the Texas Constitution would be a challenging threshold to meet, especially in light of the millions of dollars that Mr. Paxton apologists have spent to influence and intimidate Texas senators,” State Rep. Andrew Murr, leader of the House Impeachment Managers said in a news conference following the decision.
Paxton’s defense team, led by Buzbee, said while the trial never should have happened in the first place, senators made the right decision in the end.
“The Attorney General is excited and ready to get back to work,” Buzbee said.
The Paxton Trial through a legal lens
The verdict comes after nearly two weeks of arguments that pitted all-star Texas lawyers against each other in a political trial unprecedented in modern times.
We spoke with Mike Golden, a professor with the University of Texas School of Law for perspective on the trial.
JOSH HINKLE: So first off, just a general overview, what stood out in this trial to you?
MIKE GOLDEN: Well, the the house managers had a hefty burden, right, the beyond a reasonable doubt burden is a high burden. And there are 16 impeachment counts that were tried. And that is a large collection of evidence. And so I think the first thing that stood out was the house managers struggled a little bit to try to make a coherent story until close to the end.
JOSH HINKLE: And what about Dan Patrick? He is not a judge, but he presided over the Senate trial. How do you think that he did in that role?
MIKE GOLDEN: It’s clear that the Lieutenant Governor Patrick put in some time to kind of understand the role of a judge in this kind of proceeding. And of course, he got some legal help, as well, I thought, on balance, he did a very good job of maintaining the impartiality of the tribunal, and of making sure that both sides had an actual opportunity to be heard while trying to keep control of the whole proceedings.
JOSH HINKLE: He has gotten some criticism for those final moments after the vote came in his final words on the entire proceeding. Did that surprise you a little bit?
MIKE GOLDEN: Yes. And no. I mean, it’s certainly extremely atypical for a judge to issue those kinds of harsh public comments right at the close of a trial, especially given that they seem to have been prepared. On the flip side, of course, Lieutenant Governor is a professional politician. And so in that respect, it did not surprise me.
JOSH HINKLE: One moment that got a lot of attention was when prosecutor Rusty Hardin accidentally rested his case. Have you ever seen that before?
MIKE GOLDEN: Well, people say things in court all the time that they don’t mean to say clearly, he intended to rest the case after the witness was done. And he just didn’t think about the fact that there was a cross examination. So that’s a goof, but in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t create a lot of real problems for the prosecution, though.
Lawmakers prepare for special session over school choice
Education Savings Accounts. School vouchers. School choice. The conversation around state dollars potentially going to private schools is one of the most divisive issues the Texas legislature is facing this year.
Gov. Greg Abbott and proponents say the program could give parents more control and low-income or high-need students the freedom to go wherever they want. But, Democrats and some Republicans argue the idea is unfair and will ultimately de-fund public schools.
Education reporters Kelly Wiley and Nabil Remadna gathered a panel of parents, educators, and lawmakers to get different perspectives on the issue. Three State Representatives joined the panel – Republicans Brian Harrison and Gary VanDeaver along with Democrat Gina Hinojosa. Each shared ideas giving insight into how the debate could play out at the Capitol.
“I firmly believe that school choice and education freedom is the civil rights issue of our time,” Harrison said. The Waxahachie Republican supports the plan for Education Savings Accounts.
“We have school choice in Texas, if you’re rich, you can send your kid wherever you want to send them. If you’re poor, you cannot,” Harrison said. “There is nothing more immoral, unethical or unfair than to say to a poor student in a poor family, who just wants to have a chance at equality life of the most important thing to have that is that get a quality education.”
Harrison said his four children attend public schools. Hinojosa said her children also attend public schools. The Austin Democrat had a different take on allowing public funds to pay for private school.
“What’s important to remember in this conversation is the choice doesn’t belong to the parent. The choice belongs to the private school. The private school gets to decide under a voucher scheme under an ESA scheme, whether or not your child fits the bill,” Hinojosa said.
Hinojosa said the proposed plans won’t help students most in need. “Parents assume when you talk about parental choice and getting a voucher that they’re going to be able to choose whatever school they want to and have money to pay for the tuition, when we know lots of the most popular private schools charge a tuition that is well out of reach of what the state has contemplated offering in a voucher.”
State Rep. Gary VanDeaver said he’s open to an ESA program, but also raised equity concerns.
“I think it should be a requirement that if a private school is going to take a voucher child, they can’t charge additional tuition,” VanDeaver said. “Do they get to choose which voucher children they take? No, they should take all vouchers if they take any,” he added.
“I’m looking for a level playing field. I’m open to the conversation. But we need to make sure we’re not tilting the table in favor of one or the other,” VanDeaver said.
Judge declares DACA policy illegal
While a federal judge on Wednesday declared illegal a revised version of a federal policy that prevents the deportation of hundreds of thousands of immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, he declined to order an immediate end to the program and the protections it offers to recipients.
U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen agreed with Texas and eight other states suing to stop the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program. The judge’s ruling was ultimately expected to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, sending the program’s fate before the high court for a third time.
“While sympathetic to the predicament of DACA recipients and their families, this Court has expressed its concerns about the legality of the program for some time,” Hanen wrote in his 40-page ruling. “The solution for these deficiencies lies with the legislature, not the executive or judicial branches. Congress, for any number of reasons, has decided not to pass DACA-like legislation…The Executive Branch cannot usurp the power bestowed on Congress by the Constitution — even to fill a void.”
Hanen’s order extended the current injunction that had been in place against DACA, which barred the government from approving any new applications, but left the program intact for existing recipients during the ongoing legal review.
Hanen also declined a request by the states to order the program’s end within two years. Hanen said his order does not require the federal government to take any actions against DACA recipients, who are known as “Dreamers.”
Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, or MALDEF, which is representing DACA recipients in the lawsuit, said it will ultimately be up to higher courts, including the Supreme Court, to rule on DACA’s legality and whether Texas proved it had been harmed by the program.
“Judge Hanen has consistently erred in resolving both of these issues, and today’s ruling is more of the same flawed analysis. We look forward to continuing to defend the lawful and much-needed DACA program on review in higher courts,” Saenz said.
The Texas Attorney General’s Office, which represented the states in the lawsuit, and the U.S. Department of Justice, which represented the federal government, didn’t immediately return emails or calls seeking comment.
The states have argued the Obama administration didn’t have the authority to first create the program in 2012 because it circumvented Congress.
In 2021, Hanen had declared the program illegal, ruling it had not been subject to public notice and comment periods required under the Federal Administrative Procedures Act.
The Biden administration tried to satisfy Hanen’s concerns with a new version of DACA that took effect in October 2022 and was subject to public comments as part of a formal rule-making process.
But Hanen, who was appointed by then-President George W. Bush in 2002, ruled the updated version of DACA was still illegal as the Biden administration’s new version was essentially the same as the old version, started under the Obama administration. Hanen had previously said DACA was unconstitutional.
Hanen also had previously ruled the states had standing to file their lawsuit because they had been harmed by the program.
The states have claimed they incur hundreds of millions of dollars in health care, education and other costs when immigrants are allowed to remain in the country illegally. The states that sued are Texas, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, South Carolina, West Virginia, Kansas and Mississippi.
Those defending the program — the federal government, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the state of New Jersey — had argued the states failed to present evidence that any of the costs they allege they have incurred have been tied to DACA recipients. They also argued Congress has given the Department of Homeland Security the legal authority to set immigration enforcement policies.
There were 578,680 people enrolled in DACA at the end of March, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.