Abbott was only the second Republican to serve as Attorney General of Texas since Reconstruction. Prior to assuming the office of attorney general, he was a justice on the Texas Supreme Court, a position to which he was initially appointed in 1995 by then-Governor George W. Bush. He is noted outside of Texas for successfully advocating the right of the state of Texas to display the Ten Commandments in front of the Texas State Capitol in Austin, in a 2005 United States Supreme Court case known as Van Orden v. Perry.
Abbott was born on November 13, 1957, in Wichita Falls, of English descent. His mother, Doris Lechristia Jacks Abbott, was a homemaker, and his father, Calvin Roger Abbott, was a stockbroker and insurance agent. When he was six years old, they moved to Longview and the family lived in the East Texas city for six years.
At the beginning of junior high school, Abbott's family moved to Duncanville. In his sophomore year in high school, his father died of a heart attack, and his mother went to work in a real estate office. He graduated from Duncanville High School. He was on the track team in high school and won every meet he entered his senior year. He was in the National Honor Society and was voted "Most Likely to Succeed".
In 1981, he earned a Bachelor of Business Administration in finance from the University of Texas at Austin, where he was a member of the Delta Tau Delta fraternity and the Young Republicans’ Club. He met his wife, Cecilia Phelan, while attending UT Austin. In 1984, he earned his J.D. degree from the Vanderbilt University Law School in Nashville, Tennessee.
Abbott went into private practice, working for Butler and Binion, LLC between 1984 and 1992. Abbott’s political career began in Houston, where he served as a state trial judge in the 129th District Court for three years.
On July 14, 1984, at age 26, Abbott was paralyzed below waist-level when an oak tree fell on him while he was jogging following a storm. He had two steel rods implanted in his spine, underwent extensive rehabilitation at TIRR Memorial Hermann in Houston, and has used a wheelchair ever since. He sued the homeowner and negotiated an insurance settlement worth more than US$10 million, resulting in payouts of US$14,000 a month.
Then-Governor George W. Bush appointed Abbott to the Texas Supreme Court, and he was then twice elected to the state's highest civil court—in 1996 (two-year term) and 1998 (six-year term). In 1996, Abbott had no Democratic opponent but was challenged by Libertarian John B. Hawley of Dallas. Abbott defeated Hawley 84–16%. In 1998, Abbott defeated Democrat David Van Os 60–40%.
In 2001, after resigning from the Supreme Court, Abbott went back to private practice and worked for Bracewell & Giuliani LLC. He was also an adjunct professor at University of Texas School of Law.
Abbott resigned from the Texas Supreme Court in 2001 to seek the position of Lieutenant Governor of Texas. His campaign for Lieutenant Governor had been running for several months when the previous attorney general, John Cornyn, vacated the post to run for the U.S. Senate. He then switched his campaign to the open attorney general's position in 2002. Abbott defeated the Democratic nominee, former Austin Mayor and current State Senator Kirk Watson, 57–41%. Abbott was sworn in on December 2, 2002, following fellow Republican Cornyn's election to the Senate.
Abbott expanded the Attorney General's office’s law enforcement division from about thirty people to more than one hundred. He also created a new division called the Fugitive Unit to track down convicted sex offenders in violation of their paroles or probations.
Abbott has spoken out against concerns such as voter fraud, the right to bear arms, and President Barack Obama's health care reform. When asked what his job entails, Abbott says: "I go into the office in the morning, I sue Barack Obama, and then I go home." Abbott has filed suit against various U.S. agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Health and Human Services (including challenges to Obamacare), and the Department of Education, among many others.
The Dallas Morning News compared Abbott to Scott Pruitt, noting that both Attorneys General had repeatedly sued the federal government's environmental regulations. The Houston Chronicle noted that Abbott "lead the charge against Obama-era climate regulations."
Abbott has said that the state must not release Tier II Chemical Inventory Reports for security reasons, but that Texans "can ask every facility whether or not they have chemicals or not". Koch Industries has denied that their contributions to Abbott's campaign had anything to do with his ruling against releasing the safety information.
In 2014, Abbott argued against a lawsuit brought by the National Rifle Association to allow more people access to concealed carry of firearms, as Abbott felt this would disrupt public safety.
On November 21, 2005, Abbott sued Sony BMG. Texas was the first state in the nation to bring legal action against Sony BMG for illegal spyware. The suit is also the first filed under the state’s spyware law of 2005. It alleges the company surreptitiously installed the spyware on millions of compact music discs (CDs) that consumers inserted into their computers when they play the CDs, which can compromise the systems. On December 21, 2005, Abbott added new allegations to his lawsuit against Sony-BMG. Abbott says the MediaMax copy protection technology violates the state's spyware and deceptive trade practices laws. He says Sony-BMG offered consumers a licensing agreement when they bought CDs and played them on their computers. But, Abbott alleges in the lawsuit that even if consumers reject that agreement, spyware is secretly installed on their computers, posing security risks for music buyers. Abbott said "We keep discovering additional methods Sony used to deceive Texas consumers who thought they were simply buying music", and "Thousands of Texans are now potential victims of this deceptive game Sony played with consumers for its own purposes." In addition to violations of the Consumer Protection Against Computer Spyware Act of 2005, which allows for civil penalties of 100,000 for each violation of the law, the alleged violations added in the updated lawsuit, on December 21, 2005, carry maximum penalties of 20,000 per violation.
On March 2, 2005, Abbott appeared before the United States Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., where he defended a Ten Commandments monument on the Texas State Capitol. Dozens of similar monuments were donated to cities and towns across the nation throughout the 1960s by the Fraternal Order of Eagles, who were inspired by the 1956 epic The Ten Commandments; in doing so, they gained the support of the film's director Cecil B. DeMille. The Supreme Court held in a 5–4 decision that the Texas display did not violate the First Amendment's Establishment Clause and was constitutional.
After Abbott's oral arguments in Van Orden v. Perry, Justice John Paul Stevens commented upon Abbott's performance while in a wheelchair, "I want to thank you … for demonstrating that it’s not necessary to stand at the lectern in order to do a fine job".
In the November 7 general election, Abbott was challenged by civil rights attorney David Van Os, who had been his Democratic opponent in the 1998 election for state Supreme Court. He won re-election to a second term 60–37%.
Abbott ran for a third term, and campaigned for other Republican candidates in 2010 including Jim Landtroop, the Plainview insurance agent. While on his Plainview stop, Abbott cited his and Landtroop's mutual opposition to the health care plan signed into law in March 2010 by President Barack Obama. He defeated the Democratic attorney Barbara Ann Radnofsky of Houston and the Libertarian Jon Roland once again. Radnofsky was also the unsuccessful Democratic candidate opposing U. S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison in the 2006 general election. Abbott defeated Radnofsky 64–34%. He was the longest-serving Texas attorney general in Texas history.
In July 2013, the Houston Chronicle alleged improper ties and oversight between many of Abbott's largest donors and the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, of which he was a director.
On July 8, 2013, Governor Rick Perry announced that he would not seek a fourth full term.
On July 14, 2013, speaking near the Alamo on the 29th anniversary of the accident that left him a paraplegic, Abbott formally announced his intention to run for Governor of Texas in the 2014 Texas gubernatorial election. In the first six months of 2011, he raised more funds for his campaign than any other Texas politician, reaching $1.6 million. The next highest fundraiser among state officeholders was Texas Comptroller Susan Combs with $611,700.
In February 2014, while speaking on the dangers of corruption in law enforcement, Abbott compared the South Texas area to a Third World country that "erodes the social fabric of our communities and destroys Texans' trust and confidence in government." Abbott further said that he does not consider corruption "limited to one region of Texas […] My plan is to add more resources to eliminate corruption so people can have confidence in their government."
Abbott criticized Ted Nugent's infamous "subhuman mongrel" comment directed at President Barack Obama by saying "This is not the kind of language I would use or endorse in any way. It's time to move beyond this, and I will continue to focus on the issues that matter to Texans."
Abbott won the Republican primary on March 4, 2014, with 1,219,903, or 91.5 percent of the ballots cast. The remaining approximately 103,000 votes were divided among three minor candidates. He faced state Senator Wendy Davis of Fort Worth, who polled 432,065 votes (79.1 percent) in her Democratic primary contest against a lone opponent.
Abbott promised to "tie outcomes to funding" for pre-K programs if elected governor, but he said he would not require government standardized testing for 4-year olds, as Davis has accused him of advancing. When defending his education plan, Abbott cited Charles Murray: "Family background has the most decisive effect on student achievement, contributing to a large performance gap between children from economically disadvantaged families and those from middle class homes." A spokesman for Abbott's campaign pointed out that the biggest difference in spending is that Davis has proposed universal pre-K education while Abbott wants to limit state funding to only programs that meet certain standards. Davis' plan could reach 750 million in costs and Abbott has said that Davis' plan is a "budget buster" whereas Abbott's education plan would cost no more than 118 million.
Overall, Abbott said the reforms that he envisions would "level the playing field for all students [and] target schools which don't have access to the best resources." He has called for increased accessibility to technology in the classroom and mathematics instruction for kindergarten pupils.
Abbott received 1.4 million in campaign contributions from recipients of the Texas Enterprise Fund, some of whose members submitted the proper paperwork for grants. Elliot Nagin of the Union of Concerned Scientists observed that Abbott was the recipient of large support from the fossil fuels industries, such as NuStar Energy, Koch Industries, Valero Energy, ExxonMobil, Chevron, and ConocoPhillips.
Abbott received the endorsement of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Dallas Morning News, the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal and the Tyler Morning Telegraph.
In January 2017, Abbott was reportedly raising funds for a 2018 re-election bid as governor; as of December 2016, he had $34.4 million on hand for his campaign, of which he raised $9 million during the second half of 2016. Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick had been mentioned as a potential challenger for governor but confirmed he would run for a second term as lieutenant governor. During the weekend of January 21, 2017, Abbott stated he was intending on running for re-election. He confirmed this on March 28, 2017.
Abbott formally announced his re-election campaign on July 14, 2017. He chose the Amtrak depot at historic Sunset Station in San Antonio for his formal announcement of candidacy: "I've proven that I'm willing to take on the liberals, I'm willing to take on Washington, D.C., and I'm counting on you to have my back." Several protesters were led out of the hall before Abbott began speaking. The formal announcement came four days before the beginning of a special legislative session that could split the Republican Party into factions favoring Abbott and Lieutenant Governor Patrick, on one hand, and House Speaker Joe Straus, a Moderate Republican who opposes much of the Abbott-Patrick conservative agenda.
Abbott was sworn in as the governor of Texas on January 20, 2015.
Abbott declared February 2, 2015, as "Chris Kyle Day" in honor of the United States Navy SEAL who was the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history portrayed in the successful film American Sniper. This came exactly two years after Kyle was shot and killed. Abbott held his first meeting as governor with a foreign prime minister when he met with the Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny on March 15, 2015 to discuss trade and economic relations.
Abbott on April 28, 2015 asked the State Guard to monitor the training exercise, Jade Helm 15, amid Internet-fueled suspicions that the war simulation is really a hostile military takeover.
During the 2015 legislative session, initiated by officials at the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, the Texas Legislature placed a rider in the Texas budget to cut $150 million from its budget by ending payments and coverage for various developmental therapies for children on Medicaid. A lawsuit has been filed against the state on behalf of affected families and therapy providers, claiming it can cause irreparable damage to the affected children's development. The litigation obtained a temporary injunction order on September 25, 2015, barring THHSC from implementing therapy rate cuts.
Unlike his two immediate predecessors Bush and Perry, Abbott has said he has no intention of running for U.S. President.
His 2016 book, Broken But Unbowed is a reflection on his personal story and views on politics.
On June 6, 2017, Abbott called for a special legislative session in order to pass several legislative priorities for Abbott, something supported by Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick. Abbott vetoed 50 bills in the regular 2017 session, the most vetoed in a session since 2007.
In late November 2016, the State of Texas, at Abbott's request, approved new rules that require facilities that perform abortions either to bury or cremate the aborted, rather than dispose of the remains in a sanitary landfill. The rules were intended to go into effect on December 19, but on December 15 a federal judge blocked the rules from going into effect for at least one month after the Center for Reproductive Rights and other advocacy groups filed a lawsuit. On January 27, 2017, a federal judge ruled against the law, but the State of Texas vowed to appeal the ruling.
On June 6, 2017, Abbott signed a bill into law banning dismemberment and partial-birth abortions and requiring either the cremation or burial of the aborted.
On January 8, 2016, Abbott called for a national constitutional convention to address what he sees as abuses by justices of the United States Supreme Court in "abandoning the Constitution." Abbott proposed passing nine new amendments to the Constitution, intended to limit the power of the federal government and expand states rights. Speaking to the Texas Public Policy Foundation, Abbott said, "We the people have to take the lead to restore the rule of law in the United States."
In 2016 Abbott spoke to the Texas Public Policy Foundation, calling for a Convention of States to amend the U.S. Constitution. In his speech, he released a plan which includes 9 proposed amendments to "unravel the federal government's decades-long power grab “to impose fiscal restraints on the federal government and limit the federal government’s power and jurisdiction.” Abbott elaborated on his proposal in a public seminar at the Hoover Institute on May 17, 2016.
On June 13, 2015, Abbott signed the campus carry (SB 11) and the open carry (HB 910) bills into law. The campus carry law went into effect on August 1, 2015 and allows the licensed carrying of a concealed handgun on public college campuses, with private colleges being able to opt out. The open carry bill went into effect on January 1, 2016 and allows the licensed carrying of handguns openly in all locations that allow concealed carry. Texas is the 45th state to have open carry.
On May 26, 2017, Abbott signed a bill into law lowering handgun carry license fees.
On June 11, 2015, Abbott signed the "Pastor Protection Act" which allows pastors to refuse to marry couples if they feel doing so violates their beliefs.
On May 21, 2017, Abbott signed Senate Bill 24 into law, preventing state or local governments from subpoenaing pastors' sermons. This bill was inspired by an anti-discrimination ordinance in Houston, where five sermons were subpoenaed.
On June 15, 2017, Abbott signed House Bill 3859 which allows faith-based groups working with the Texas child welfare system to deny services "under circumstances that conflict with the provider's sincerely held religious beliefs." Democrats and civil rights advocates said the adoption bill could allow such groups to discriminate against those who practice a different religion or who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, and LGBT rights groups said they would challenge the bill in court. In response, California added Texas to a list of states in which it banned official government travel.
On February 1, 2017, Abbott blocked funding to Travis County, Texas due to its recently implemented sanctuary city policy. On May 7, 2017, Abbott signed a bill into law targeting sanctuary cities by charging county or city officials who refuse to work with federal officials and by allowing police officers to check the immigration status of those they detain if they choose.
Abbott believes that Earth's climate is changing, but he thinks that further study is necessary to determine human role in such changes.
In a letter dated May 27, 2017, the CEOs of 14 large companies, including Facebook, Apple, Microsoft and Amazon, urged Abbott not to pass discriminatory legislation. At issue was the so-called "bathroom bill", which would require transgender people to use the bathroom of the sex listed on their birth certificate, not the one of their choice. The bill was revived by Abbott and supported by Republican lieutenant governor Dan Patrick.
On June 6, 2017, Abbott signed a bill into law enacting a statewide ban on texting while driving.
On November 4, 2014, Abbott defeated Wendy Davis by 21 points. According to exit polls he received 44 percent of the Hispanic vote and 50 percent of Hispanic men, a majority (54 percent) of women voters, and 62 percent of the votes of married women (75% of women in Texas are married).
A week after his election, Abbott announced that Carlos Cascos, of Brownsville, the county judge since 2007 of Cameron County in far South Texas, will become the Secretary of State of Texas. In the same election in which Abbott defeated Wendy Davis, Cascos, a Republican, won a third term as county judge but resigned in January 2015 upon confirmation by the Texas Senate, to become secretary of state.
Abbott, a Roman Catholic, is married to Mexican-American Cecilia Phalen Abbott, the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants. His election as governor of Texas makes her the first Latina to be the First Lady of Texas since Texas joined the union. They have one adopted daughter, Audrey. They were married in San Antonio in 1981. Cecilia is a former school teacher and principal. He is the first elected governor of a U.S. state to use a wheelchair since George Wallace of Alabama, 1983–87.
Abbott knows some Spanish but is not fluent in the language, although he is currently learning.
Abbott suffered second and third degree burns on his legs after coming in contact with scalding water while on vacation in Wyoming in July 2016, which caused him to miss the Republican National Convention.