A Houston federal judge ruled Friday that the Republican Party of Texas may proceed with its in-person convention, a striking last-minute development as party officials have struggled to get a virtual gathering underway. But soon after the ruling, party Chair James Dickey said the party will continue with its plans for a virtual convention, saying it would provide the best opportunity for delegates to participate.
Jared Woodfill, an attorney for Houston activist Steve Hotze, who helped file the lawsuit, said Judge Lynn Hughes ruled that the party can hold an in-person convention both this weekend and next weekend — and “that the City of Houston may not interfere with it.”
According to Woodfill, Hughes concluded that the state party, which joined the lawsuit Friday before a scheduled 2 p.m. hearing on it, “made a good-faith effort to have a virtual convention” and that Houston put the party “in an untenable position to do it [virtually] in a very short period of time.”
Earlier this week, the party’s State Republican Executive Committee voted to move the convention online after losing separate legal battles to proceed with an in-person gathering, which was set to take place Thursday through Saturday at Houston’s George R. Brown Convention Center before Houston officials canceled it. The event had been expected to draw roughly 6,000 people.
The party’s virtual convention was set to begin Thursday, though technical difficulties prompted hourslong delays and, eventually, the postponement of the event until Saturday.
Dickey said in a statement after Friday’s ruling that, “if for any reason there is an issue tomorrow, we know that we have a single location where, with the necessary SREC authorization,” the party could hold convention business.
Meanwhile, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said the city and the convention center operator, Houston First, would appeal the ruling once they receive the judge’s order, which was not immediately available Friday evening. In a statement, Turner blasted the party for continuing to fight for an in-person gathering.
“The State Republican Executive Committee is being totally irresponsible in continuing to push for an indoor, in-person convention,” Turner said. “This reflects a total disregard for the health and safety of employees and people in our city.”