Ken Paxton

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Ken Paxton
Ken Paxton.jpg
51st Attorney General of Texas
Assumed office
January 5, 2015
GovernorGreg Abbott
Preceded byGreg Abbott
Member of the Texas Senate
from the 8th district
In office
January 8, 2013 – January 4, 2015
Preceded byFlorence Shapiro
Succeeded byVan Taylor
Member of the Texas House of Representatives
from the 70th district
In office
January 14, 2003 – January 8, 2013
Preceded byDavid Counts
Succeeded byScott Sanford
Personal details
Born
Warren Kenneth Paxton Jr.

(1962-12-23) December 23, 1962 (age 58)
Minot, North Dakota, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
Spouse(s)Angela Paxton
EducationBaylor University (BA, MBA)
University of Virginia (JD)

Warren Kenneth Paxton Jr.[1] (born December 23, 1962) is an American lawyer and politician who has served as the Attorney General of Texas since January 2015. Paxton is a Tea Party conservative.[2] Paxton was re-elected to a second term as Attorney General in 2018. He previously served as Texas State Senator for the 8th district and the Texas State Representative for the 70th district.

Paxton has been under indictment since 2015 on securities fraud charges relating to activities prior to taking office; he has pleaded not guilty.[3][4] Additionally, in October 2020, several high-level assistants in Paxton's office accused him of "bribery, abuse of office and other crimes".[5][6][7]

After Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election and Donald Trump refused to concede while making false claims of election fraud, Paxton aided Trump in his efforts to overturn the result. Paxton filed a legal action in the name of the State of Texas in the U.S. Supreme Court against Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. In all four states the certified results showed Joe Biden the victor over President Donald Trump. Paxton alleged a variety of allegedly illegal irregularities in their presidential election process, arguments that had already been rejected by other courts.[8]

In the case formally known as Texas v. Pennsylvania, Paxton petitioned the United States Supreme Court to exercise original jurisdiction to invalidate the sixty-two electoral votes of these four states, thereby setting the stage for Trump to be declared the winner for a second term as president.[9] The Supreme Court promptly rejected Paxton's bid on the ground that Texas lacked legal standing to challenge the elections held by another state.[10] Paxton also spoke at the rally Trump held on January 6, 2021 that preceded the invasion of the Capitol.[11]

Background[edit]

Paxton was born on Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota where his father was stationed while in the United States Air Force. His parents and their three children lived in a trailer, often without air conditioning, parked outside wherever his father was temporarily stationed. At various times, they lived in Florida, New York, North Carolina, California, and Oklahoma. A lifelong football fan, Paxton carried a jersey autographed by Bill Bates, formerly of the Dallas Cowboys. Bates later was named Paxton's campaign treasurer.[12]

At the age of twelve, Paxton nearly lost an eye in a game of hide-and-seek; a misdiagnosis led to long-term problems with his vision. As a result, his good eye is green; his damaged one, brown and droopy. He was again seriously injured while he was a student at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. An elbow to his face in a game of basketball shattered the bones around his already damaged right eye.[12] At Baylor, he majored in psychology and was a member of the Baylor University Chamber of Commerce. In 1985, he was elected president of the Baylor Student Government Association.[13]

Paxton received a psychology degree in 1985 from Baylor University, and a Master of Business Administration at the Hankamer School of Business in 1986. Paxton then worked for two years as a management consultant before returning to school in 1988. In 1991, he received a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Virginia School of Law.[citation needed]

Paxton worked at Strasburger & Price, L.L.P. from 1991 to 1995, and J.C. Penney Company, Inc. from 1995 to 2002.[citation needed]

Texas legislature[edit]

House of Representatives (2003–2013)[edit]

In 2002, Paxton ran in the Republican primary for the Texas House in District 70. He captured 39.45% of the vote and moved into a runoff with Bill Vitz, whom he then defeated with 64% of the vote. He went on to face Fred Lusk (D) and Robert Worthington (L) for the newly redistricted open seat. On November 4, 2002, Paxton won with 28,012 votes to Lusk's 7,074 votes and Worthington's 600 votes.[14]

Paxton won re-election against Democrat Martin Woodward in 2004. Paxton captured 76% of the vote, or 58,520 votes compared to 18,451 votes for Woodward.[15] Paxton won re-election in 2006, defeating Rick Koster (D) and Robert Virasin (L). Paxton received 30,062 votes to Koster's 12,265 votes and Virasin's 1,222 votes.[16] Paxton won re-election by again defeating Robert Virasin (L), 73,450 to 11,751 votes.[17] Paxton ran unopposed for re-election in 2010.

After getting re-elected, Paxton ran for Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives against Joe Straus of District 121 in Bexar County and fellow Republican Warren Chisum of District 88 in Pampa, Texas. Paxton said that if elected speaker, he would take "bold action in defense of our conservative values."[18] Sensing certain defeat, Paxton pulled out of the Speaker's race before the vote.[12] Paxton was endorsed by HuckPAC, the official political action committee of Mike Huckabee,[19] and was endorsed by the National Rifle Association.[20][21] Straus was elected to his second term as Speaker and was re-elected in 2013, 2015, and 2017.

Texas State Senate (2013–2015)[edit]

Paxton was in the Texas State Senate from 2013 until January 2015 when his term as Attorney General began.[citation needed]

Attorney General of Texas (2015–present)[edit]

2014 election[edit]

Paxton's 2013 campaign announcement

Paxton became a candidate for Texas attorney general when the incumbent Greg Abbott decided to run for governor to succeed the retiring Rick Perry.[22] Paxton led a three-candidate field in the Republican primary held on March 4, 2014, polling 566,114 votes (44.4%). State Representative Dan Branch of Dallas County received 426,595 votes (33.5 percent). Eliminated in the primary was Texas Railroad Commissioner Barry Smitherman of Austin, who polled the remaining 281,064 (22.1 percent). Paxton faced Dan Branch in the runoff election on May 27, 2014, and won with 465,395 votes (63.63 percent). Branch received 265,963 votes (36.36 percent).[23][24]

In the November 4, 2014, general election, Paxton defeated his Democratic opponent, an attorney from Houston named Sam Houston.[25]

Paxton took office on January 5, 2015.[26] Paxton's campaign raised $945,000 in the first half of 2016, leaving Paxton with just under $3 million in his campaign account for a potential 2018 re-election bid.[27]

Paxton's wife, Angela Paxton, his closest political advisor, often opens up his events with a musical performance. She calls her husband "a very competitive person".[12] Paxton won the attorney general's election without the endorsement of a single Texas newspaper.[12] In 2018, Angela Paxton won the District 8 seat in the Texas Senate.[28]

2018 election[edit]

In 2018, Paxton ran unopposed for re-election in the Republican primary. Having received the endorsement of U.S. President Donald Trump, Paxton won a second term as attorney general in the general election on November 6, 2018, narrowly defeating Democratic nominee Justin Nelson, a lawyer, and Libertarian Party nominee Michael Ray Harris by a margin of 4,173,538 (50.6 percent) to 3,874,096 (47 percent) and Harris receiving 2.4%.[29][30] Justin Nelson's campaign ad for attorney general included a comedic depiction of Paxton taking a Montblanc Pen worth $1,000 from attorney Joe Joplin in 2012. The pen was later returned.[31][32][33]

Tenure[edit]

Immigration[edit]

In 2018, Paxton falsely claimed that undocumented immigrants had committed over 600,000 crimes since 2011 in Texas.[34] PolitiFact said that it had debunked the numbers before, and that the numbers exceed the state's estimates by more than 400%.[34]

Obama executive orders[edit]

Paxton led a coalition of twenty-six states challenging President Barack Obama's Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) executive action, which granted deferred action status to certain undocumented immigrants who had lived in the United States since 2010 and had children who were American citizens or lawful permanent residents.[35] Paxton argued that the president should not be allowed to "unilaterally rewrite congressional laws and circumvent the people's representatives."[35] The Supreme Court heard the case, United States v. Texas, and issued a split 4-4 ruling in the case in June 2016. Because of the split ruling, a 2015 lower-court ruling invalidating Obama's plan was left in place.[36] In July 2017, Paxton led a group of Republican Attorneys General and Idaho Governor Butch Otter in threatening the Trump administration that they would litigate if the president did not terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy that had been put into place by president Barack Obama, although never implemented in Texas because of legal action on behalf of the state.[37] The other Attorneys General who joined in making the threats to Trump included Steve Marshall of Alabama, Leslie Rutledge of Arkansas, Lawrence Wasden of Idaho, Derek Schmidt of Kansas, Jeff Landry of Louisiana, Doug Peterson of Nebraska, Alan Wilson of South Carolina, and Patrick Morrisey of West Virginia.[38]

Trump executive orders[edit]

In 2017, Paxton voiced support for the application of eminent domain to obtain right-of-way along the Rio Grande in Texas for construction of the border wall advocated by President Donald Trump as a means to curtail illegal immigration. Paxton said that private landowners must receive a fair price when property is taken for the pending construction. He said that the wall serves "a public purpose providing safety to people not only along the border, but to the entire nation. ... I want people to be treated fairly, so they shouldn't just have their land taken from them," but there must be just compensation.[39]

In 2017, Paxton joined thirteen other state attorneys general in filing a friend-of-the-court briefs in defense of both Trump's first and second executive orders on travel and immigration primarily from majority-Muslim countries (informally referred to as the "Muslim ban"). In filings in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, and the U.S. Supreme Court, Paxton argued that the order—which places a 90-day ban on the issuance of visas to traveled from six designated majority-Muslim countries, imposes a 120-day halt on the admission of refugees to the U.S., and caps annual refugee admissions to 50,000 people—is constitutionally and legally valid.[40][41]

In May 2017, Paxton filed a preemptive lawsuit designed to ascertain the constitutionality of the new Texas law imposing penalties on sanctuary cities, known as SB 4, signed into law by Governor Greg Abbott. The law imposes penalties on local officials who place restrictions on their police forces or other agencies' cooperation with immigration enforcement, and requires county jails to honor requests from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hold detainees suspected of being eligible for deportation.[42] The suit asked the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas to clarify whether the law is at odds with the Fourth and Fourteenth constitutional amendments or is not in conflict with some other federal law. Paxton said that the measure "is constitutional, lawful and a vital step in securing our borders." Among those opposed to the measure are the police chiefs and sheriffs of some of the largest jurisdictions in Texas. Critics call the ban legalization of discrimination against minorities, and suits against the legislation are expected to be filed.[43] Although initially key aspects of the law were enjoined by the court, the US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld nearly all of it on appeal, except for a provision that interfered with the First Amendment right to freedom of expression on the subject by local officials.[42]

Challenge to the Clean Power Plan[edit]

Paxton has mounted a legal challenge to the Clean Power Plan, which is President Obama's "state-by-state effort to fight climate change by shifting away from coal power to cleaner-burning natural gas and renewable resources."[44] Paxton has said that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is trying to "force Texas to change how we regulate energy production" through an "unprecedented expansion of federal authority."[44] The Clean Power Plan would require Texas to cut an annual average of 51 million tons of emissions, down 21 percent from 2012 levels. Paxton says the required reductions would cost the state jobs, push electricity costs too high, and threaten reliability on the electrical grid. Paxton says there is no evidence that the plan will mitigate climate change, directly contradicting studies by the EPA that have shown the regulation will reduce carbon pollution by 870 million tons in 2030.[45] He further asserts that the EPA lacks the statutory authority to write the state's policies.[46]

Challenge to Department of Labor overtime rule[edit]

Paxton sued the Obama administration over a new rule by the United States Department of Labor which would make five million additional workers eligible for overtime pay. The new rule would mean workers earning up to an annual salary of $47,500 would become eligible for overtime pay when working more than 40 hours per week.[47] Paxton has said the new regulations "may lead to disastrous consequences for our economy." Along with Texas, twenty other states have joined the lawsuit.[48]

LGBT rights[edit]

As Attorney General, Paxton appointed several social conservatives and opponents of LGBT rights to positions in his department.[49]

In June 2015, after the issuance of the Obergefell v. Hodges decision, in which the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry, Paxton offered support for clerks who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. His statement said, "I will do everything I can from this office to be a public voice for those standing in defense of their rights."[50]

In 2016, Paxton led a coalition of thirteen states that sought an injunction to block a guidance letter issued by the Department of Education and Department of Justice that interpreted Title IX to require public schools to allow transgender students to use restrooms that accorded with their gender identity.[51][52] Paxton submitted court filings that the Obama administration had "conspired to turn workplaces and educational settings across the country into laboratories for a massive social experiment"[51] and termed the directive a "gun to the head" that threatens the independence of school districts.[53] The states dropped the suit after the directive was revoked by President Donald Trump.[54]

Challenge to Department of Labor's "persuader rule"[edit]

Paxton is involved in a legal challenge to a rule by the Department of Labor which forces employers to report any "actions, conduct or communications" undertaken to "affect an employee's decisions regarding his or her representation or collective bargaining rights".[55] Known as the "persuader rule", the new regulation went into effect in April 2016. Opponents of the rule say it will prevent employers from speaking on labor issues or seeking legal counsel. In June 2016, a federal judge granted a preliminary injunction against the rule. Paxton called the injunction "a victory for the preservation of the sanctity of attorney-client confidentiality".[56]

ExxonMobil litigation[edit]

In 2016, Paxton was one of eleven Republican state attorneys general who sided with ExxonMobil in the company's suit to block a climate change probe by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.[57]

Paxton and the other state AGs filed an amicus curiae brief, contending that Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey used her office to "tip the scales on a public policy debate, undermine the first Amendment and abuse the office's subpoena power."[58] Healey had launched a probe of ExxonMobil's historical marketing and sale of fossil fuel products, requiring the company to produce 40 years worth of documents regarding fossil fuel products and securities. Healey said the documents would prove that ExxonMobil "knew about the risks of climate change decades ago and fraudulently concealed that knowledge from the public."[59] The amicus brief supported Exxon Mobil's motion for a preliminary injunction.[58] Paxton questioned Healey's use of law-enforcement authority regarding the global warming controversy, which he called an "ongoing public policy debate of international importance." Paxton described Healey's attempts to obtain historical company records for a public policy debate as a threat to freedom of speech, stating: "The Constitution was written to protect citizens from government witch-hunts that are nothing more than an attempt to suppress speech on an issue of public importance, just because a government official happens to disagree with that particular viewpoint."[59] The brief portrayed climate change as an issue that was still a matter of scientific debate, although in fact the scientific consensus is that the earth is warming and human activity is primarily responsible.[57]

U.S. Virgin Islands attorney general Claude Walker had also issued a subpoena for Exxon's records. Paxton issued a request to intervene in the case, stating: "What is Exxon Mobil's transgression? Holding a view about climate change that the Attorney General of the Virgin Islands disagrees with. This is about the criminalization of speech and thought." Walker dropped the subpoena in June 2016.[60]

Volkswagen, Apple, and MoneyGram lawsuits[edit]

In 2012, Paxton was part of a lawsuit against Apple, charging the company with violating antitrust laws by conspiring with publishers to artificially raise the prices of electronic books.[61] Apple was ordered to pay $400 million to U.S. consumers who paid artificially-inflated prices for e-books, and $20 million to the states in reimbursement for legal costs.[62]

In June 2016, it was announced that Volkswagen would pay the state of Texas $50 million in relation to the Volkswagen emissions scandal. Paxton had sued the company in 2015 in connection with the automaker's admitted use of software that allowed its vehicles to circumvent emissions limits.[63]

Paxton is part of a 21-state lawsuit against the state of Delaware. The lawsuit alleges that MoneyGram gave uncashed checks to the state of Delaware instead of the state where the money order or travelers check was bought. The case has gone directly to the U.S. Supreme Court because it is a dispute among states.[64] Paxton said an audit showed that Delaware owed other states $150 million, and that Delaware unlawfully took possession of uncashed checks instead of sending the checks back to the states where the money orders were purchased.[65] The state of Delaware disputes these claims.[65]

Lawsuit over homestead tax exemptions[edit]

In 2015, the Texas State Legislature passed a law implementing property tax reductions by increasing the homestead exemption to $25,000 and prohibiting localities from reducing or repealing any local option homestead exemption already on the books. After this law was passed, 21 school districts reduced or eliminated their local optional homestead exemptions. In 2016, Paxton intervened in a lawsuit challenging the practice of school districts reducing or repealing their local optional homestead exemptions.[66]

Second Amendment lawsuits[edit]

In 2016, three University of Texas at Austin professors sued in an effort to ban concealed handguns from campus, blocking the state's campus carry law. Paxton called the lawsuit "frivolous" and moved to dismiss.[67][68] The federal district court dismissed the suit in 2017, and the dismissal was upheld by a three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2018.[69]

In 2016, Paxton sued the City of Austin to allow license holders to openly carry handguns in Austin City Hall.[70] Paxton prevailed, and the court decided not only that the city of Austin must allow such carry, but also ordered it to pay a fine to the state for each day it prevented investigators from the attorney general's office from carrying their firearms.[71]

Voting rights[edit]

According to a July 11, 2021 The New York Times, even though voter fraud is "very rare in the United States"—most cases are minor errors on the part of a voter,[72] Paxton "made it a mission" as attorney general to lay voter-charge charges;[72] According to a July 9, 2021 article in The Guardian, "[F]ew prosecutors have pursued election-related crimes more than Paxton."[73]

By February 2017—as part of his "crusade" against voter fraud[74] Paxton sought to investigate 2016 Texas voting records—such as access to individual voting history and application materials for voter registrations—to uncover potential voter fraud, for example, voting by non-citizens or in the name of the deceased. In February 2017, officials in Bexar County said there have been no major cases of voter fraud in San Antonio.[75] However, the Associated Press reported that the top election official in Bexar County estimates that nearly six hundred affidavits submitted by voters declined to present identification and should have been declined. Instead, the official said such voters should have been required to cast provisional ballots. AP projected that the overall number who cast improper affidavits as 13,500 in the largest Texas counties.[76]

In March 2017, Paxton told The Washington Times that he was convinced that voter fraud exists in Texas, and claimed that local election officials in Texas were not on the lookout for detecting fraud.[77]

Paxton's office spent more than 22,000 hours looking for voter fraud after the 2020 election, finding only 16 cases of false addresses on registration forms out of nearly 17 million registered voters.[78] By May 2017, the Office of the AG's "efforts to enact and enforce the strictest voter ID law in the nation were so plagued by delays, revisions, court interventions and inadequate education that the casting of ballots in the 2016 election was inevitably troubled."[79]

Fort Bend County's top elections official said that these cases are not voter fraud, noting that only those who were registered to vote qualified for an affidavit, and that "poll workers were trained to 'err on the side of letting people use the affidavit instead of denying them the chance to vote.'"[76] According to a May 2, 2017 ProPublica article', there was no evidence of widespread voter fraud in Texas. In 2017, the Texas Tribune reported that, experts had said there was no reliable evidence of widespread voter fraud in the United States,[77] and a Texas study of elections over a decade determined that there were about three cases of fraud for every one million votes in the state.[80]

Prioritizing voter-fraud prosecutions[edit]

Of the voter fraud cases that his office chose to pursue, 72% were people of color.[81] By July 2021, the State Bar of Texas was investigating Paxton for alleged professional misconduct for his "frivolous lawsuit" challenging the US Presidential election results,[72] Paxton had also filed charges against Hervis Rogers, a Black man who was working two jobs. Rogers had received media coverage as a "national hero" for waiting six hours in a line at Houston's Texas Southern University in Harris County, Texas in order to vote in the March 2020 Democratic presidential primary election.[82] A July 9, 2021 article in The Guardian said that Rogers was a symbol for Black Americans of "tenacity" in making his voice heard. Rogers had been convicted in 1995 for "burglary and intent to commit theft" and served nine years in prison. His 2004 parole expired in June 2020.[73] In Texas it is illegal for a person to vote if they have been convicted of a felony until the completion of the sentence, probation and/or parole. Bail for Rogers was set at $100,000—an "extremely high bail amount"—which he could not afford.[83] Hervis was not charged in Harris County, Texas, county. a majority-minority community. Instead he was charged in the adjacent Montgomery County, Texas, where only 4% of the population is Black, and was jailed until The Bail Project, a non-profit, posted his bail."[72] If convicted he could be sentenced to 40 years in prison for the non-violent offense. Paxton admitted to KXAN-TV that few people served time for voter fraud. The station found just 24 of 138 people convicted of voter fraud between 2004 and September 2020 spent time in jail.[84] Paxton explained, "But I think the good thing about finding it, and doing a thorough job of investigation and prosecution, is at least you send the message to people that if you're going to do this, there is some risk that you’re going to end up in prison for committing voter fraud."[84] Paxon's office spent almost double the time working on voter fraud cases in 2021 as it did in 2018. It recorded spending over 22,000 staff hours on the task, but resolved only 16 prosecutions, half as many as two years prior. All of the cases were in Harris County, lodged against voters who had provided inaccurate addresses on their voter registration forms. None of those defendants were sentenced to jail time.[84] The costs of the 230 ongoing investigations and 360 prosecutions were formidable: The chief of election fraud is paid about $140,000, a second attorney received $97,000. Two other attorneys were each being paid about $85,000.[84]

Texas voter identification law[edit]

In 2017, the San Antonio Express-News criticized the state's voter identification law, which Paxton seeks to have reinstated after it was struck down by United States District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos of Corpus Christi, who found the measure to be a violation of the Voting Rights Act, and found that it was passed with the intent to discriminate against black and Hispanic voters. Paxton's office appealed the decision.[85] Appeals continue in the case.[86]

Paxton asked for injunction to halt absentee voters expansion (2020)[edit]

In May 2020, Paxton opposed an expansion of absentee voting to voters who lack immunity to COVID-19.[87] A district judge found that such voters should be granted absentee ballots under a statutory provision that accommodates disabled individuals.[87] After the ruling, Paxton publicly contradicted the district judge, leading votings rights advocates to file a lawsuit against Paxton for misleading voters about their eligibility to cast mail-in ballots.[87][88]

In September 2020, a state appeals court rejected Paxton's request for an injunction seeking to halt sending absentee ballot applications to some 2.4 million registered voters in Harris County, a heavily Democratic county encompassing Houston.[89][90] In an expedited appeal by Paxton, the Texas Supreme Court promptly reversed the lower courts.[91]

During the 2020 election season, which played out amid the coronavirus pandemic, Paxton filed a lawsuit against Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins to stop him from sending applications for absentee ballots accompanied by instructions regarding eligibility to all of registered voters in the county.[92] Paxton lost in the trial court and in the intermediate court of appeals, but the Texas Supreme Court reversed and directed the trial court to enter an injunction.[93] The mail-vote promotion was part and parcel of Hollins' package of innovative measures to reduce the COVID-19 infection risk of in-person voting while maximizing opportunities for all voters to participate under pandemic conditions.[94][95] The Republican Party of Texas opposed the expansion of voting by mail and other accommodations, and filed its own legal actions seeking to stop Hollins through the court system.[96]

Religion in schools[edit]

Paxton "has often criticized what he calls anti-Christian discrimination in Texas schools."[97] In 2015, Paxton opposed an atheist group's legal action seeking a halt to the reading of religious prayers before school board meetings.[97] In December 2016, Paxton gained attention after intervening in a dispute in Killeen, Texas, in which a middle school principal told a nurse's aide to take down a six-foot poster in the school containing a quote from Christian scripture. Paxton sided with the aide, who won in court.[97]

In early 2017 Paxton objected to a Texas school's use of an empty classroom to allow its Muslim students to pray, issuing a press release that claimed that "the high school's prayer room is ... apparently excluding students of other faiths." School officials said that Paxton had never asked them about this assertion, and that the room was a spare room used by faculty and non-Muslim students as well as for multiple activities, from grading papers to Buddhist meditation. The Frisco Independent School District superintendent, in a letter sent in response to Paxton, called his press release "a publicity stunt by the [Office of Attorney General] to politicize a nonissue."[97][98][99]

Gerrymandering[edit]

Paxton defended Texas in a federal lawsuit involving allegations that Texas's congressional districts were gerrymandered. In 2017, a three-judge panel of a U.S. federal court based in San Antonio ruled that the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature drew congressional-district to discriminate against minority voters, and ordered the redrawing of Texas's 35th and 27th congressional districts. Paxton appealed the ruling, contending that the previous maps were lawful, and vowed to "aggressively defend the maps on all fronts"; U.S. Representative Lloyd Doggett criticized the appeal as a "desperate, highly questionable Paxton-Abbott maneuver" coming "after yet another ruling against the state of Texas for intentional discrimination".[100][101]

Affordable Care Act[edit]

Paxton initiated a lawsuit seeking to have the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) ruled unconstitutional in its entirety.[102]

Challenge to 2020 presidential election results[edit]

On December 8, 2020, Paxton sued the states of Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, where certified results showed Joe Biden the victor over President Donald Trump, alleging a variety of unconstitutional actions in their presidential balloting, arguments that had already been rejected in other courts.[8] In Texas v. Pennsylvania, Paxton asked the United States Supreme Court to invalidate the states' sixty-two electoral votes, allowing Trump to be declared the winner of a second presidential term.[9] Because the suit was cast as a dispute between states, the Supreme Court had original jurisdiction, although it often declines to hear such suits.[103] There is no evidence of widespread illegal voting in the election.[104] Paxton's lawsuit included claims that had been tried unsuccessfully in other courts and shown to be false.[105] Officials from the four states described Paxton's lawsuit as recycling false and disproven claims of irregularity.[106] Trump and seventeen Republican state attorneys general filed motions to support the case, the merits of which were sharply criticized by legal experts and politicians.[107][108] Election law expert Rick Hasen described the lawsuit as "the dumbest case I've ever seen filed on an emergency basis at the Supreme Court."[109] Republican Senator Ben Sasse opined that the situation of Paxton initiating the lawsuit "looks like a fella begging for a pardon filed a PR stunt", in reference to Paxton's own legal issues (securities fraud charges and abuse of office allegations).[110][111] Paxton has called the pardon speculation "an absurdly laughable conspiracy theory" and said the lawsuit is about election integrity.[110] The case was quickly dismissed on December 11.[112][113]

After the failure of his lawsuit, Paxton traveled to Washington to speak at a political rally for President Trump on January 6, 2021. In his speech, Paxton told the crowd "we will not quit fighting".[114] Immediately following, the crowd of Trump supporters left the rally and stormed the United States Capitol building in a riot that led to the death of five people, including a police officer.[115][116] In reaction to the violence and loss of life, Paxton falsely claimed that the rioters were liberal activists posing as Trump supporters.[117] He was the only state attorney general to not condemn the insurrection.[118]

In response to a complaint that his actions were frivolous and unethical, a state disciplinary body ruled that a complaint against Paxton for professional misconduct could go forward. The complaint to the State Bar of Texas was initially dismissed by the Bar's chief disciplinary counsel, but was later revived by the Board of Disciplinary Appeals.[119] If the disciplinary process goes against him, he could lose his Texas law license.[120]

COVID-19 pandemic[edit]

In 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Paxton threatened to file lawsuits against local governments unless they rescinded stay-at-home orders and rescinded rules regarding the use of face masks to combat the spread of coronavirus.[121] The city of Austin encouraged restaurants to keep logs of contact information, so as to as to ensure contact tracing in the event of an outbreak; Paxton described this as "Orwellian."[122] Paxton sued the city of Austin again in December 2020 when the city implemented restrictions preventing indoor dining and drinking on New Years weekend amid surging COVID-19 cases.[123] In March 2021, Paxton filed a lawsuit against Austin as well as Travis County, this time for the city and county continuing their local mask wearing requirements after Governor Abbott had signed an order ending the statewide mask wearing mandate.[124]

Whistleblower allegations against Paxton[edit]

In October 2020, seven of Paxton's top aides published a letter to the office's director of human resources, accusing Paxton of improper influence, abuse of office, bribery and other crimes, and said they had provided information to law enforcement and asked them to investigate.[125][126] The letter was signed by First Assistant Attorney General Jeff Mateer.[126][125] and the deputy and deputy attorneys general overseeing the Office's divisions for criminal investigations, civil litigation, administration, and policy.[125] Paxton denied misconduct and said he would not resign.[126][127] By the end of the month, all seven whistleblowers had left the office: three resigned, two were fired, and two were put on leave.[128]

The Associated Press reported that the allegations involved Paxton illegally using his office to benefit real estate developer Nate Paul, who had donated $25,000 to Paxton's 2018 campaign.[129] The Associated Press also reported that the allegations include the claim that Paxton had an extramarital affair with a woman, and that he had later advocated for that woman to be hired by Paul's company, World Class. Paul has acknowledged employing the woman, but denied that he had done so on Paxton's behalf.[130]

In 2020, four of the former members of the Texas AG's Office filed suit against Paxton, arguing that Paxton fired them for reporting misconduct to law enforcement, a form of illegal retaliation against whistleblowers. In 2021, the Texas state courts denied Paxton's motion to dismiss the suit.[131][132] Paxton is seeking to have the case dismissed, claiming sovereign immunity as an elected official who must have the power to control his top lieutenants. An appeal is pending in the Austin Court of Appeals.[133]

Securities fraud indictment[edit]

State securities fraud felony indictment[edit]

On July 28, 2015, a state grand jury indicted Paxton on three criminal charges:[134] two counts of securities fraud (a first-degree felony) and one count of failing to register with state securities regulators (a third-degree felony).[135][136] Paxton's indictment marked the first such criminal indictment of a Texas Attorney General in thirty-two years since Texas Attorney General Jim Mattox was indicted for bribery in 1983.[137] The complainants in the case are Joel Hochberg, a Florida businessman and Byron Cook, a former Republican member of the Texas House of Representatives.[138][139] Paxton and Cook were former friends and roommates while serving together in the Texas House.[139] Three special prosecutors were trying the state's case.[140]

The state prosecution against Paxton grows out of Paxton selling shares of Servergy Inc., a technology company, to investors in 2011. Prosecutors allege that Paxton sold shares of Servergy to investors (raising $840,000) while failing to disclose that he was receiving compensation from the company in the form of 100,000 shares of stock in return. Paxton says the 100,000 shares of stock he received from Servergy's founder and CEO were a gift, and not a sales commission, and they were provided to Paxton long before the sales transactions occurred.[141]

On August 3, 2015, following the unsealing of the grand jury indictment,[134] Paxton was arrested and booked.[142] He pleaded not guilty, and has portrayed "the case against him as a political witch-hunt."[143] Paxton and his supporters claim that the prosecution has its origin in a dispute among Texas Republicans, with conservatives like Paxton on one side and moderates like Cook on the other, and suggest that Cook's complaint, several years after the Servergy deal, was political payback.[139]

Paxton unsuccessfully sought to quash the indictments.[144] This challenge was rejected by the trial judge, the Fifth Court of Appeals, and the Court of Criminal Appeals, Texas' criminal court of last resort.[140]

Paxton's trial has been delayed multiple times[145][146] over side issues, such as the venue where the trial will take place and the amount of the special prosecutors' fees.[147][148] In March 2017, District Judge George Gallagher, a Republican from Fort Worth, granted the prosecution's motion for a change of venue, moving the trial to Houston in Harris County. Gallagher also denied Paxton's motion to dismiss one of the charges against him because of issues which arose about the grand jury.[149] In May 2017, the Fifth Court of Appeals of Texas agreed with Paxton that the transfer of Paxton's trial to Houston required assignment of the case to a new judge to replace Judge Gallagher and all orders issued by Judge Gallagher after the change of venue were voided.[150] The current judge in the case is Robert Johnson of the 177th District Court in Harris County. Johnson was chosen at random to preside.[151]

In November 2018, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals invalidated the trial court's order approving of payments of attorneys' fees to the special prosecutors in the case, and directed the lower court to issue payments "in accordance with an approved fee schedule," siding with county commissioners in Paxton's home county of Collin County, who had rejected the prosecutors's invoice.[152] The special prosecutors in the case have suggested that if they are not paid, they could withdraw from prosecution of Paxton.[152] The special prosecutors filed a motion for reconsideration in the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in December 2018.[153] In June 2019, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals declined to reconsider the motion, thus upholding the November 2018 ruling.[154] Shortly thereafter, one of three prosecutors pursuing criminal charges against Paxton asked to step down from the case.[155]

Paxton filed a motion to move the case from Harris County to his native Collin County, in 2019.[156] The trial court granted the motion, but in 2020, the 1st Court of Appeals in Houston blocked the case from being moved to Collin County pending further consideration of the matter.[148] In May of 2021, a panel of three justices ruled that the trial for Paxton’s felony fraud charges should be moved to Collin County where Paxton lives instead of Harris County.[157] The decision by the panel of three judges to move Paxton's trial back to Collin County was appealed by the prosecution in June.[158][159]

Securities and Exchange Commission civil action[edit]

On April 11, 2016, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filed a civil enforcement action against Paxton in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas. The SEC's complaint specifically charged Paxton with violating various provisions of the Securities Act of 1933 and various provisions (including Rule 10b-5) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 by defrauding the Servergy investors.[160] Paxton denied the allegations.[141][161][162][163] One of the defendants and Servergy itself reached a separate settlement with the SEC, agreeing to pay $260,000 in penalties.[164]

On October 7, 2016, U.S. District Judge Amos L. Mazzant III conditionally dismissed the SEC's civil fraud charges, finding the SEC had not alleged Paxton had any legal obligation to inform investors that he was receiving a commission and giving the SEC two weeks to refile with any new allegations.[165] Mazzant said that the SEC was trying to fit a "square peg into a round hole."[166]

On October 22, 2016, the SEC refiled its securities fraud claims against Paxton.[167] The SEC made the additional allegations that Paxton and Cook's investment club required all of its members to accept the same risks on all investments and that it specifically forbade members from making money off investments of other members.[167] The SEC further alleged that Paxton did not properly disclose his Severgy ownership stake on his taxes and that he attempted to conceal the stake by at different times claiming it was his fee for legal services, that it was a gift, and that he had only received it after investing money.[164] Cook later backtracked on these claims, undermining the SEC case against Paxton. Then Cook's attorney conceded there was never a "formal investment group" involving Cook and Paxton but rather an "ad hoc arrangement where, from time to time, good friends might invest in the same transaction" with the particular participants varying from transaction to transaction.[168]

On March 2, 2017, Mazzant dismissed the civil securities fraud case against Paxton for a second time on grounds that he, the attorney general had "no plausible legal duty" to inform investors that he would earn a commission if they purchased stock in a technical company that Paxton represented.[169] With the second dismissal of the case with prejudice, the SEC could not bring new action on the same claim against Paxton.[170] The dismissal of the SEC case did not have a direct impact on the state criminal case, which remained pending. However, the burden of proof in criminal court is higher than in civil court.[171][165]

Electoral history[edit]

Attorney General elections

Texas Attorney General Election, 2018[172]
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Ken Paxton 4,172,599 50.60
Democratic Justin Nelson 3,873,186 47.00
Libertarian Michael Ray Harris 200,407 2.40
Texas Attorney General Election, 2014[173]
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Ken Paxton 2,743,473 58.82
Democratic Sam Houston 1,773,250 38.02
Libertarian Jamie Balagia 118,197 2.53
Green Jamar Osborne 29,591 0.63
Texas Attorney General Republican Primary Runoff Election, 2014[173]
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Ken Paxton 466,407 63.41
Republican Dan Branch 269,098 36.59
Texas Attorney General Republican Primary Election, 2014[173]
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Ken Paxton 569,034 44.45
Republican Dan Branch 428,325 33.46
Republican Barry Smitherman 282,701 22.08

Texas Senate 8th district election

Texas Senate 8th District Election, 2012[173]
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Ken Paxton 178,238 62.29
Democratic Jack Ternan, Jr. 99,010 34.60
Libertarian Ed Kless 8,899 3.11

Texas House 70th district elections

Texas House of Representatives 70th District Election, 2010[173]
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Ken Paxton (inc.) 43,006 100.00
Texas House of Representatives 70th District Election, 2008[173]
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Ken Paxton (inc.) 73,450 86.21
Libertarian Robert Virasin 11,751 13.79
Texas House of Representatives 70th District Election, 2006
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Ken Paxton (inc.) 30,062 69.03
Democratic Rick Koster 12,265 28.16
Libertarian Robert Virasin 1,222 2.81
Texas House of Representatives 70th District Election, 2004
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Ken Paxton (inc.) 58,250 76.03
Democratic Martin Woodward 18,451 23.97
Texas House of Representatives 70th District Election, 2002
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Ken Paxton 28,012 78.50
Democratic Fred Lusk 7,074 19.82
Libertarian Robert Worthington 600 1.68
Texas House of Representatives 70th District Republican Primary Runoff Election, 2002
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Ken Paxton 2,775 63.33
Republican Bill Vitz 1,607 36.67
Texas House of Representatives 70th District Republican Primary Election, 2002[173]
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Ken Paxton 2,168 39.45
Republican Bill Vitz 1,171 21.31
Republican Matt Matthews 1,100 20.02
Republican Robert Rankins 954 17.36
Republican Harry Pierce 102 1.86

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External links[edit]

Texas House of Representatives
Preceded by
David Counts
Member of the Texas House of Representatives
from the 70th district

2003–2013
Succeeded by
Scott Sanford
Texas Senate
Preceded by
Florence Shapiro
Member of the Texas Senate
from the 8th district

2013–2015
Succeeded by
Van Taylor
Legal offices
Preceded by
Greg Abbott
Attorney General of Texas
2015–present
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