Abbott and Paxton Fight Against Release of Public Records by Seeking Dismissal of American Oversight Lawsuit

American Oversight was back in court this week fighting to defend the public’s right to hold government officials in Texas accountable. In our ongoing lawsuit seeking the release of public records from top state officials, Texas is advancing arguments that would significantly limit the public’s access to Texas government documents.

On Tuesday, the Travis County District Court held a hearing in our ongoing public records lawsuit against Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton seeking the release of several sets of records, including email communications with gun industry lobbyists and supporters following the Uvalde shooting, as well as any emails sent by Paxton around the Jan. 6 insurrection, when Paxton spoke at the “Stop the Steal” rally near the White House. 

In an attempt to dismiss the suit, Paxton’s and Abbott’s offices argued that by responding to American Oversight’s requests, they have fulfilled their obligations under the state’s public records law and are thus shielded from being sued under the doctrine of sovereign immunity.

But as American Oversight argues, the offices’ responses — including implausible claims that certain records don’t exist or are entirely protected by exceptions to the state’s public records law — raise significant questions about whether those responses are in fact complete, as required by law. Such a potential violation of the state’s Public Information Act waives the protection of sovereign immunity. “Defendants continue to violate the Public Information Act by refusing to supply public information … either by failing to conduct an adequate search, relying on overbroad applications of the Act, or through other means,” wrote American Oversight in its brief to the court

In 2022, we requested both Abbott’s and Paxton’s communications with the National Rifle Association and other gun groups in the days after the school shooting in Uvalde, when Abbott canceled a scheduled appearance at an NRA convention in Houston and sent a video message. His office told American Oversight that no such records of communication exist. 

American Oversight also filed requests for texts and emails sent to or from Paxton from any non-governmental email address, as well as for his communications from around Jan. 6, 2021. Paxton has withheld nearly all records responsive to these requests as attorney-client privileged.

American Oversight will continue to fight for government transparency in Texas. More information on American Oversight’s other investigations in Texas is available here.