Proceedings start this week for the Republican, an aggressive litigator dogged by allegations of impropriety
For nearly a decade, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has been at the center of many of the nation’s most politically charged cases. The Republican also has been under a constant cloud of scandal, which will grow darker when impeachment proceedings against him begin this week.
Paxton is set to go on trial Tuesday in the Texas Senate on articles of impeachment approved by the state’s Republican-controlled House, which alleged he engaged in years of misconduct, including accepting bribes and using his office to help a political donor. Paxton, who is suspended while facing trial, has said the House allegations are without evidence and called the proceedings an illegal effort to overturn the will of Texas voters.
The proceedings are expected to provide a rare window into intraparty tensions in the nation’s largest Republican-led state. Many of the allegations against Paxton originated from former aides who said they saw him engage in an array of improprieties.
A two-thirds vote of the Senate would be required to remove Paxton from office. Republicans hold a 19-12 majority in the chamber, but one of their members is the attorney general’s wife, Angela Paxton, who is recused in the proceedings, which are expected to last two to three weeks.
Paxton, 60 years old, has built a national reputation during an era in which like-minded state attorneys general have frequently joined forces to file lawsuits challenging policies adopted by presidents of the opposing political party. Among his early successes, he led a coalition that blocked President Obama’s immigration plan to defer deportations and allow work authorizations for millions of unauthorized immigrants. His office has led more multistate litigation against the Biden administration than any other state, according to a database maintained by a Marquette University political scientist.
Closer to home, Paxton, a Tea Party favorite who has enjoyed support from former President Donald Trump, has taken aggressive conservative stances on hot-button social issues. Last year he issued an opinion that said certain healthcare for transgender children, including the prescription of puberty blockers, could legally be considered abusive. He also has been a leading advocate of Texas’ efforts to heavily restrict abortion, pushed for school choice and filed an ill-fated lawsuit echoing Trump’s unsupported claims about election fraud.
Even though people have their suspicions about his integrity and even his legal expertise, the Republican primary voters see him as a fighter,” said Cal Jillson, political science professor at Southern Methodist University, in Dallas. “This guy is going to go to the knives when the time demands it.”
As Texas senators decide whether to remove Paxton from office, they will take into account their own political self interests as well as whether Paxton has become a liability, said Jim Henson, director of the University of Texas at Austin’s Texas Politics Project.
“I think it’s an open question how they’ll balance that,” Henson said.
A Baylor University graduate, Paxton, worked at a private law firm and as an in-house lawyer at J.C. Penney before his political career took off in 2002 when he was elected to the state House, where he served until being elected a state senator in 2012. He and his wife live in McKinney, a suburb near Dallas, and are active members of a Baptist megachurch. He ran successfully for attorney general in 2014 and was re-elected in 2018 and 2022, despite his mounting legal troubles.
Paxton was indicted on state securities fraud charges in 2015, with prosecutors alleging he solicited investments in Servergy Inc. without disclosing he was receiving compensation from the company. He has pleaded not guilty and alleged the charges were politically motivated. The case, mired in years of procedural delays, still hasn’t gone to trial. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission brought similar civil charges in 2016 but a federal judge dismissed that case a year later, saying Paxton didn’t have a duty to disclose his compensation arrangement with investors.
Paxton has been under a separate federal investigation since 2020 on many of the same allegations that are the subject of the Texas impeachment proceedings.
Much of the Texas House’s impeachment allegations, which came in a May vote, center on Paxton’s relationship with political donor and friend Nate Paul, an Austin real-estate investor who is facing federal charges of lying on bank-loan applications. Lawmakers allege that Paxton instructed state workers to take various actions to benefit Paul, including attempting to interfere with an FBI investigation.
The impeachment articles allege that Paul in turn paid for renovations to a house Paxton owns in Austin and gave a job to a woman with whom Paxton was allegedly having an affair.
Ahead of the trial, House impeachment managers have submitted thousands of pages of exhibits to support their allegations that Paxton has abused his office, including emails, text messages and accounts from former staffers, county and state officials.
Paxton’s lawyer Tony Buzbee said none of the documents prove the House’s allegations.
“What you don’t see and will never see in the House’s document dump is any evidence whatsoever of a quid pro quo or even a suggestion of a quid pro quo,” Buzbee said.
Even as Paxton fights to salvage his career, some of the cases he filed as attorney general continue to reverberate.Paxton’s office brought lawsuits against Covid-19 vaccine requirements, helping to knock down the Biden administration’s vaccine-or-testing rules for large private employers. Paxton also has taken aim at Silicon Valley, filing an antitrust lawsuit against Google’s ad-buying system and bringing a privacy lawsuit against Facebook’s discontinued facial-recognition practices.
Among his still-pending cases, Paxton’s office led a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency’s new auto-emission rules. Months before his suspension, Texas sued the Department of Health and Human Services over its guidelines warning pharmacies that they could face legal action for refusing to dispense abortion-inducing drugs. A federal judge in Texas recently declined to dismiss the suit.
Paxton, during a September 2020 panel discussion with other Republican attorneys general, described his job as a “constant struggle to keep both federal and local governments in line with their constitutional role.”