WASHINGTON (AP) -- The NAACP, one of the nation's leading civil rights groups, is urging the Justice Department to investigate whether a federal crime was being committed when Texas Republicans threatened to have their Democratic colleagues arrested for refusing to attend a legislative session in an effort to try and block a sweeping elections overhaul bill that makes it harder to vote in the state.
NAACP President Derrick Johnson sent the letter late Wednesday to Kristen Clarke, who runs the Justice Department's civil rights division. In the letter, Johnson said he had conferred with at least three of the Democrats who had been threatened with arrest and agreed that federal authorities should step in to investigate.
"At this time when political minorities are threatened with being rounded up and imprisoned in Texas, the eyes of the country and the world are upon DOJ and how it deals with Texas's actions," Johnson wrote.
Earlier Wednesday, officers of the Texas House of Representatives delivered civil arrest warrants for more than 50 absent Democrats as frustrated Republicans ratcheted up efforts to end the standoff. Refusing to attend legislative sessions is a violation of House rules -- a civil offense, not a criminal one, leaving the power the warrants carry to get Democrats back to the chamber unclear, even for the Republicans who invoked it. But Democrats would not be jailed.
Republican Travis Clardy, who helped negotiate an early version of the voting bill that Democrats first stopped with a walkout in May, told ABC News he believed "they can be physically brought back to the Capitol."
Johnson urged the Justice Department to determine whether their actions violate federal civil rights laws, including an offense that prohibits conspiring or threatening to deprive someone of their constitutional rights. The letter says the Justice Department "could determine that the Texas governor and Republican members of the Texas House have openly conspired" to violate civil rights law.
"Without DOJ's protection, it is more than likely that those intent upon subverting democracy in Texas will be successful in their efforts," the letter says. "Furthermore, reminiscent of authoritarian regimes, Texas's government will be able to jail and detain those who stand up to those in power."
Texas is among several states where Republicans have rushed to enact new voting restrictions in response to former President Donald Trump's false claims that the 2020 election was stolen. The current bill is similar to the ones Democrats blocked last month by going to Washington. It would ban 24-hour polling locations, drive-thru voting and give partisan poll watchers more access, among other things.
In June, the Justice Department sued Georgia over that state's new election law, alleging Republican state lawmakers rushed through a sweeping overhaul with an intent to deny Black voters equal access to the ballot.
A Justice Department spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Johnson's letter.