Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Legal matters

Fifth Circuit upholds dismissal of campus carry lawsuit

Not a surprise.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday upheld Texas’ campus carry law, delivering another clear victory to the state in a longshot, long-running lawsuit brought by University of Texas at Austin professors opposed to the law.

In July 2016, three professors claimed that a 2015 state law that allows licensed gun-owners to carry concealed weapons into most public university buildings would have a “chilling effect” on free speech in their classrooms. But a federal district judge threw out their case in July 2017, saying the professors didn’t present any “concrete evidence to substantiate their fears.”

Accepting that logic and advancing it yet further, a three-judge panel on the appeals court this week rebuffed the professors’ free speech claim as well as two other constitutional challenges they had made.

Like the lower court, the 5th Circuit panel found that the professors lacked standing to challenge the law because they had not sufficiently shown how it might harm them.

“[The professors] cannot manufacture standing by self-censoring her speech based on what she alleges to be a reasonable probability that concealed-carry license holders will intimidate professors and students in the classroom,” Judge Leslie Southwick wrote for the unanimous panel.

See here for the background. The plaintiffs’ lawyer is talking about appealing to the Supreme Court, which strikes me as unlikely to succeed, even in the alternate universe of a SCOTUS with Merrick Garland and not-Brent-Kavanaugh. Some problems have to be solved via the ballot box, and this sure seems like one of them.

Woodfill and Hotze take their next shot at same sex employee benefits

Here we go again.

Anti-LGBTQ activists are again asking a Harris County judge to halt benefits for the same-sex spouses of Houston city employees, according to a recently filed motion.

The motion for summary judgment in Pidgeon v. Turner, a five-year-old lawsuit challenging the benefits, states that the city should not subsidize same-sex marriages because gay couples cannot produce offspring, “which are needed to ensure economic growth and the survival of the human race.”

The motion also asks Republican Judge Lisa Millard, of the 310th District Family Court, to order the city to “claw back” taxpayer funds spent on the benefits since November 2013, when former Mayor Annise Parker first extended health and life insurance coverage to same-sex spouses. And the court filing suggests that to comply with both state and federal law, the city should eliminate all spousal benefits, including for opposite-sex couples.

The motion for summary judgment was filed July 2 by Jared Woodfill, an attorney for Jack Pidgeon and Larry Hicks, two Houston taxpayers who initially brought their lawsuit in December 2013. Woodfill, a former chair of the Harris County Republican Party, is president of the Conservative Republicans of Texas, which is listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an anti-LGBTQ hate group.

In his motion for summary judgment, Woodfill asserts that although the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality in Obergefell v. Hodges in June 2015, that decision does not require the city to treat same-sex couples equally.

“Obergefell does not require taxpayer subsidies for same-sex marriages — any more than Roe v. Wade requires taxpayers subsidies for abortions,” Woodfill’s motion states.

Alan Bernstein, a spokesman for the city, said it will respond to the motion “in a timely fashion.”

“The City hopes the Judge will be persuaded by the law,” Bernstein said in an email. “The Legal Department defers to the arguments it will make in response.”

See here for previous coverage, and here for the last update. It’s hard to know what will happen here because the basic goal of the lawsuit is so ridiculous and harmful, and the immediate reaction of any decent person who hears about it will be “but marriage is marriage and why would anyone want to do that?” The sad and scary fact is that some people are like that, and that includes some judges. Did I mention that the judge in this case, Lisa Millard, is up for re-election in August? Sonya Heath is her opponent. There’s never been a better time to elect some better judges. Think Progress has more.

Partial halt to bail lawsuit order

Here comes the Fifth Circuit again.

A majority opinion by Circuit Judge Jerry E. Smith halted part of an order by Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal which compelled certain defendants to be released immediately on no-cost bail in cases where a person with the money, arrested on the same charge, would be immediately released. Defendants must have an individualized bail determination made by a judge within 48 hours, the ruling says. The newest member of the appeals court, a Trump appointee, Judge Kyle Duncan, concurred with his holding.

They said that despite Rosenthal’s “well-intentioned effort to comply,” the instruction allowing immediate release to qualified poor defendants “easily violates the mandate, which explicitly found that individualized hearings would remedy the identified procedural violations.”

In a dissenting opinion, Circuit Judge James E. Graves Jr. wrote that Rosenthal’s order corrects an inequity that is protected by the constitution.

“However thorough and fair it may be, an individualized hearing 48 hours after arrest cannot ‘fix’ the deprivation of liberty and equal protection suffered by an indigent misdemeanor arrestee who is automatically detained prior to that hearing ‘solely because [she is] too poor to pay’ a preset amount of secured money bail,” Graves wrote.

The majority wrote that Rosenthal’s orders were too expansive, straying from their earlier instructions to “narrowly tailor” her 2017 injunction to address certain deficiencies that were placing pressure on judges to move too quickly. Judges that the 14 judges who questioned this portion of Rosenthal’s ruling were likely to win on the merits, the ruling says.

See here for the background. I disagree with the Fifth Circuit’s ruling here, but again this is about the injunction, not the merits of the case. This is about how these courts will operate until a ruling on the merits is made or a settlement is reached. Or, you know, until we elect some better judges in November. Never forget that part. KUHF has more.

Dallas County Republicans still trying to knock all the Dems off the ballot

Here comes the appeal.

Dallas County Republicans will appeal a ruling that blocked efforts to remove scores of Democrats from the November election ballot.

A formal intent to appeal was filed Monday on behalf of Missy Shorey, the chairwoman of the Dallas County Republican Party, with the Fifth Court of Appeals in Dallas.

Shorey argues that Dallas County Democratic Party Chairwoman Carol Donovan did not properly certify candidate petitions and forward them to the Texas Secretary of State’s office. The lawsuit, originally filed in January, showed that Donovan did not sign 127 candidate petitions.

“The case was inappropriately dismissed,” local GOP lawyer Elizabeth Alvarez Bingham said in an email Tuesday night.

But Donovan said nothing had changed with the Dallas County Republican Party’s lawsuit.

“The trial court found the Republican Party’s lawsuit to be frivolous, and their appeal is frivolous as well,” Donovan said in a text message.

[…]

It’s unclear if the appeals court, which is majority Republican, will hear the case before the November general election.

“The case never had any merit,” said Buck Wood, a lawyer for about a dozen Democratic candidates that would be affected if the suit is successful. “It’s way too late to be doing anything. I don’t know why they filed an appeal.”

See here for the previous update. I can understand appealing the dismissal – as noted in the story, the judge did not elaborate on his reason for dismissing the case – but I don’t get waiting four months to file it. The lawsuit has always seemed to be tenuous at best, relying on a very strict reading of election law that nobody seems to adhere to at that level, with the penalty being quite extreme and falling on candidates who themselves did nothing wrong. I would also note that we are fast approaching a deadline for when absentee and overseas ballots have to be printed and mailed, so the court would have to act very quickly if it were going to take action (another reason why the delay in appealing puzzles me). I suspect nothing will come of this, but as always with courts you never can be sure.

The end of the voter ID fight

I guess that’s it.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

After seven long years of litigation, opponents of Texas’ voter ID law say the case is over.

In a court filing on Wednesday, opponents of the law requiring Texas voters to present photo identification to vote told a federal district judge that the case was settled and that they would not pursue any other remedies or changes to the law they first challenged in 2011 as discriminatory against voters of color.

Because neither party in the case asked for rehearing or attempted to kick it up to U.S. Supreme Court, “the substantive merits and remedy phases of this long-standing case are over,” they wrote.

The filing follows the state’s June request to U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos of Corpus Christi to reconsider previous findings that the state’s voter ID law was enacted to purposefully discriminate against Hispanic and black voters. That request came two days after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Texas lawmakers did not intentionally discriminate when they signed off on congressional and state House maps in 2013 — a decision that Texas argued “cast irremovable doubt” on previous decisions against the voter ID law.

[…]

In Wednesday’s filing, opponents of the law asked the court to dismiss the state’s request because there was nothing left to pursue in the case given the 5th Circuit’s ruling that the changes made to law in SB 5 were “an effective remedy” to the original 2011 law that was deemed legally defective.

They also described Texas’s arguments that “new Supreme Court precedent has somehow changed the standard for discriminatory intent that this Court applied in prior holdings” as “frivolous.” The only remaining issues in the case are fees and costs related to the litigation, according to the plaintiffs.

See here and here for the background. We may still be sparring over legal fees when the 2021 Lege convenes with the task of drawing the next decade’s districts, but that’s not going to affect what anyone has to do to vote. As we’ve seen quite a bit lately, this is going to require a political solution. At the federal level, with a new Congress and a new President, a new Voting Rights Act can be passed. At the state level, the voter ID law can be repealed, though at what point the conditions would apply that would allow for that is unclear, to say the least. But this is where we are and where we’ll need to go.

Rape kit lawsuit dismissal will be appealed

To be expected.

Two women who on Friday lost a lawsuit against the City of Houston and a variety of officials over a rape kit backlog will file an appeal, an attorney for the women announced in a news release on Tuesday.

[…]

[Attorney Randall] Kallinen has argued in court that the backlog was “a violation of the due process, equal protection and unreasonable search and seizure clauses of the Texas and United States Constitutions.”

In a news release last Friday, the City of Houston pushed back against those claims, saying that “the plaintiffs did not allege any violations of rights guaranteed by the Constitution, nor did they raise any other legal grounds to hold Houston and its current and former officials responsible.”

The city also argued that there was no longer a rape kit backlog, rendering the women’s legal claims “six years too late.” Two private laboratories eliminated that backlog in 2013 and 2014, the Chronicle previously reported.

In an interview, Kallinen pushed back against this argument, arguing that the women were not aware their rape kits had any problems until police contacted them and that “the statute of limitations should be delayed” as a result, citing what he called “the discovery rule.”

See here for the background. I have no expertise on the legal questions being raised here. My primary interest is in ensuring that we never have another rape kit backlog like this again. It’s shameful enough that it has happened before (twice, in fact). There’s no excuse for it ever happening again.

The DACA hearing

I don’t know about this.

The state of Texas will continue to incur irreparable financial harm if an Obama-era immigration program isn’t halted immediately, attorneys for the state argued in Houston on Wednesday.

But lawyers representing nearly two dozen recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program countered by saying Texas sat back for six years and did nothing, and its attorneys have yet to prove the harm the state claims it has faced since the program was implemented in 2012.

Those were just two of the arguments presented to U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen on Wednesday after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sued the Trump Administration in May to end the 2012 program, which protects immigrants brought into the U.S. as children from deportation and allows them to obtain a two-year work permit.

[…]

MALDEF and New Jersey said Texas could have filed suit in 2012 or amended its 2014 complaint aimed at DAPA to also include DACA, but instead waited six years to take action. They also argued that while DAPA would have benefitted more than 4 million people, DACA has a much smaller pool of potential applicants. Nina Perales, MALDEF’s vice-president of litigation, said there are only about 702,000 DACA beneficiaries in the country today.

The state of Texas defended its timing by arguing it was waiting for the DAPA outcome to come down and was subsequently encouraged by President Trump’s announcement in September 2017 that DACA was going to be phased out.

Perales also argued against Texas’ assertion that the coalition of states suing to end the program have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to provide DACA recipients with education, health care and law enforcement services. She said the plaintiffs also cite in their evidence the cost of unaccompanied minors who came to the country after 2014, while DACA applies only to people who were in the country from 2007 or before.

She made a similar counter argument to Texas’ claim that it has spent vast sums of money providing healthcare to only DACA recipients.

“What Texas does is it estimates the cost of serving undocumented individuals statewide and applies it to DACA,” she said. “Undocumented immigrants are eligible for a few state funded programs but they are eligible for those regardless of DACA or not.”

She added after the hearing that the evidence actually shows that Texas benefits from DACA recipients working and participating in society.

Throughout Wednesday’s proceedings, Hanen peppered both sides with questions, often interrupting the attorneys and pressing them for more evidence to justify their claims. He also asked the attorneys to submit by Monday a brief on whether DACA violated the federal Administrative Procedures Act if applicants are subject to individual discretion. Hanen ruled in 2015 that DAPA violated the APA, which governs how federal regulations are made

Perales said after the hearing that she was pleased by the judge’s desire for more details.

“The judge was very patient, he allowed each side to get up and make its arguments,” she said. “I was encouraged by the judge’s curiosity and interest in additional questions.”

See here, here, and here for some background. I think we can take it on faith that Paxton’s arguments are more pretext than anything else, but there’s a reason he picked this court and this judge for this lawsuit. We just had a ruling from another federal court that ordered DACA to be restarted, so if Paxton wins here we’re on a direct course to the Supreme Court, and who knows what from there. ThinkProgress, Mother Jones, and Daily Kos have more.

Bail practices lawsuit hearing

We so need to be done with this.

More than a dozen Harris County misdemeanor judges contend that public safety would be imperiled if they followed an “untenable” new pretrial release order by a Houston federal judge who has found the current county bail system unconstitutional.

An appellate lawyer representing 14 county court-at-law judges, all who are Republicans, argued before an appeals court in Houston Tuesday that Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal’s revised instructions overstepped the narrow directions she was given in June by the federal appeals court to fine tune elements of her initial order. The revision afforded liberties that the appeals court did not mandate, allowing people arrested on certain offenses be released as promptly as those who are able to secure money bail, the judges’ lawyer argued.

“Since the Magna Carta money bail has been seen as sufficient surety and wealth is an inevitable factor…when that surety is money bail,” said Charles Cooper, a Washington D.C. lawyer representing the judges.

Many of the judges won’t be on the bench much longer to oversee the new bail policies, since seven are not seeking re-election this fall.

An attorney for the indigent defendants argued that Rosenthal’s order did not stray from the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals instructions, nor does it create “irreparable harm” for the courts and the public. The courts can impose “unaffordable bail” if they can justify it, he said.

“A period of ‘wealth based detention’ is OK, but you have to show that you’re serving some interest,” said Alec Karakatsanis, who represents the indigent defendants in the class action suit.

See here for the most recent update. Just a reminder, this is all about the initial injunction. The case itself has not been heard, just the request for a restraining order, which is what is being appealed. Also as a reminder, we can ensure that there are no future plaintiffs for this lawsuit in November. You know, in case you needed another reason to vote. A three-judge panel will rule on this request, and we’ll see where we go from there.

One federal court orders DACA restored

But hold on, because there’s another ruling to come.

A federal judge on Friday upheld his previous order to revive an Obama-era program that shields some 700,000 young immigrants from deportation, saying that the Trump administration had failed to justify eliminating it.

Judge John Bates of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia gave the government 20 days to appeal his decision. But his ruling could conflict with another decision on the program that a federal judge in Texas is expected to issue as early as [this] week.

[…]

Bates ruled in late April that the administration must restore the DACA program and accept new applications. He had stayed his decision for 90 days to give the Department of Homeland Security, which runs the program, the opportunity to lay out its reasons for ending it.

Kirstjen Nielsen, the homeland security secretary, responded last month, arguing that DACA likely would be found unconstitutional in the Texas case and therefore must end. She relied heavily on the memorandum that her predecessor, Elaine Duke, had issued to rescind the program and said the department had the discretion to end the program, just as the department under Obama had exercised discretion to create it.

Bates, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, did not agree. He called the shutdown of the program “arbitrary and capricious” and said Nielsen’s response “fails to elaborate meaningfully on the agency’s primary rationale for its decision.”

That’s the good news. The bad news is that federal judge Andrew Hanen will have a hearing in Houston on Wednesday the 8th on the Paxton lawsuit that seeks to put an end to DACA, and everyone seems to think that Hanen will (as has been his custom) give Paxton what he’s asking for. Which will force the matter to SCOTUS, and Lord only knows what happens next. I have more on the Texas case here and here, and see Mother Jones and ThinkProgress for more on the DC court’s ruling.

Rape kit backlog lawsuit dismissed

Interesting.

A federal judge has dismissed a 2017 lawsuit two rape victims filed against Houston’s current mayor and police chief and five sets of predecessors, among others, for allowing a backlog of rape kits to accumulate over decades without being tested, arguing that failure ensured the plaintiffs’ attackers were on the street when they otherwise could have been behind bars.

Both women were raped by serial offenders whose DNA had long been in police databases, but who went unidentified until Houston paid two private laboratories to erase its backlog of more than 6,000 untested kits in 2013 and 2014.

The plaintiffs sought damages, saying city officials violated their rights to due process and equal protection, and that officials illegally took her property and violated her personal privacy and dignity under the Fourth Amendment.

U.S. District Judge Vanessa Gilmore dismissed the case, saying the suit had not been filed quickly enough and that the plaintiffs’ claims did not cover rights guaranteed by the Constitution.

See here for the background, and here for the Mayor’s press release. Not clear at this time if the plaintiffs intend to appeal the ruling, but that’s always a possibility. The city is working to eliminate another backlog, and I very much hope that includes a more long-range plan to prevent backlogs from occurring in the future. The city – and the county, and the state, and Congress – should not need to be coerced into doing this properly.

Firefighters file suit over handling of pay parity proposal

I figured we’d have to wait till after the eventual vote on the firefighters’ pay parity proposal for there to be litigation over it, but no.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

The union representing Houston firefighters sued Mayor Sylvester Turner and a City Council member on Monday, alleging the officials are improperly using public resources to oppose a “pay parity” ballot initiative.

The Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association accuses Mayor Turner and Council Member Dave Martin, who represents Kingwood, of campaigning against the ballot initiative, which would tie firefighter pay to that of Houston police officers of comparable rank and seniority.

The union argues it is a violation of the Texas Election Code and is asking for an injunction that would prohibit the officials from “continuing to post such political advertising on the City of Houston website.”

The mayor’s declined to comment Monday evening.

See here for the background. On Tuesday, they got a result.

Judge Kyle Carter agreed with the Houston fire union’s argument that the city council’s July 26 budget committee meeting constituted an act of illegal electioneering against the proposal and that public resources, essentially, had been used to present and post a political advertisement. The Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association sued Mayor Sylvester Turner and Councilman Dave Martin, who chairs the budget committee, over the issue on Monday.

“There is a fair way to go about voicing your opposition and creating a campaign against a certain resolution and then there’s an unfair way,” Carter said in delivering his Tuesday morning decision. “Much of the hearing, I thought, was informative and served its purpose. However, there was a good portion of the hearing that … went beyond the pale.”

He did not elaborate on what comments he thought went too far.

Carter ordered attorneys for the city and the fire union to discuss what portions of the tape could be returned to the city website after the offending portions were redacted. The order, as issued, is valid through Aug. 14.

[…]

Buck Wood, an Austin-based public law attorney who helped pass Texas’ first open meetings and open records laws in 1973, said he had never heard of such a ruling in his 50 years of practice.

“Making your position known in a public forum is the essence of what the open meetings law is all about. Not only that, assuming it gets filmed by the city, it’s an open record and you can go get it under the public information act. That’s the whole idea,” Wood said. “The fact that they don’t like what the mayor and the council are saying doesn’t make any difference. That’s content censorship. I never heard of such a thing.”

Joe Larsen, a Houston lawyer with 25 years of experience in open meetings and open records law, agreed. Larsen said he can see such a committee discussion being problematic if its agenda was not posted properly or if the issue being discussed was irrelevant to the committee’s focus, but he said he cannot otherwise envision a way in which such a hearing could constitute electioneering.

“I don’t see how it could be,” he said. “What’s wrong about people taking a public position? How do you restrict your public officials on what they’re going to discuss? That can’t be the right result.”

“That is the equivalent of a 25 percent pay raise for firefighters which the city cannot afford,” Turner said. “The public has a right to listen to the public hearing and we will vigorously challenge the judge’s ruling.”

Not really sure what the practical effect of this ruling is. I mean, how much traffic do those committee hearing videos get? There was an earlier version of this story in which the Mayor referred to the proposal as “the equivalent of a 25 percent pay raise for firefighters which the city cannot afford”, a quote he repeated later on KUHF. The firefighters may have gotten this ruling – which the Mayor says he will appeal – but Turner get the opportunity to keep making his case against the firefighters in the news. Not sure that’s a great tradeoff for the firefighters.

Census lawsuit proceeds

Good.

A federal judge in New York on Thursday allowed a lawsuit challenging the addition of a citizenship question to the Census to move forward. U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman’s decision rejected the Trump administration’s request to dismiss the lawsuit, which was brought by numerous states and localities.

The judge said that the court has jurisdiction to review Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s decision to add the question, rejecting the administration’s arguments that Ross could be insulated from judicial review.

Furman said that while Ross indeed had the authority under the Constitution to add the question, the judge concluded that the exercise of that authority in this particular case may have violated the challengers’ constitutional rights.

At this stage of the proceedings, Furman is required to assume the challengers’ allegations are true, and he must draw any inference from those allegations in the challengers’ favor. In doing so on Thursday, Furman said that the challengers “plausibly allege that Secretary Ross’s decision to reinstate the citizenship question on the 2020 census was motivated by discriminatory animus and that its application will result in a discriminatory effect. ”

See here, here, and here for the background. Nothing really new here, just another chance for me to say that this absolutely was motivated by discrimination and that it would be very nice to have it halted by the time the counting actually begins. Daily Kos and NPR have more.

Business groups file brief opposing Paxton’s anti-DACA lawsuit

This is good.

A federal lawsuit by Texas officials earlier this year seeking to order the end of the federal immigration program called the Deferred Act for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, will have “immediate, irreparable injury” to Texas businesses and cost the state’s economy billions of dollars, according to a coalition of pro-business organizations.

Seven Texas-based chambers of commerce, two pro-business consortiums and four prominent companies – including Southwest Airlines – filed an unprecedented court brief late Saturday asking a federal judge in Houston to reject Attorney General Ken Paxton’s argument that the DACA program be ended and dismantled.

Lawyers for Vinson & Elkins, which represents the business coalition that includes the Texas Association of Business, argue that Paxton’s case – if successful – would significantly damage their operations, deprive them of much needed work expertise and cost the state of Texas tens of thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenues.

[…]

The business organizations point out that DACA was initiated by the Obama Administration in 2012, but the fact that Texas and the six other states suing waited until 2018 to challenge the program is a major legal argument in favor of keeping the status quo.

“The States waited almost six years after the announcement of the DACA guidelines before challenging them in Court, despite challenging similar initiatives implemented after DACA in 2015,” V&E lawyers argue. “Since an injunction is an equitable remedy, it may be denied on the basis of laches if an unreasonable delay by the party seeking injunctive relief works to the disadvantage or prejudice of another party.

“The States’ delay has substantially impacted businesses in Texas, who have, as described above, come to rely upon Dreamers as valued employees, customers, and fellow members of the business community and now stand to incur significant costs if DACA is enjoined,” the brief states. “The States’ delay also undercuts any claim they have to immediate, irreparable injury, since they have been living with the status quo for six years.”

See here, here, and here for the background. I’ll be honest, when I first saw the story headline, I assumed this was another one of those meaningless tut-tut gestures from the Texas Association of Business towards their vassals in the state GOP. They were the masters of the mild statement of disapproval that was never accompanied by any tangible action but always got them some cheap publicity long before Jeff Flake ever complained about Donald Trump on Twitter. This at least has the chance to do something tangible, so kudos to them for that. Having said that, let’s be clear that this is very much a political problem as well as a legal one. If you’re not working towards a Democratic Congress and the election of Justin Nelson as Texas AG, you’re not really trying to solve it. Anyway, there will be a hearing in Houston on August 8, so we’ll see if this has any effect. The Chron has more.

“Fetal remains” trial ends

Now we wait for a ruling.

State and reproductive rights attorneys wrapped up a five-day trial in federal court on Friday that will determine whether a Texas law requiring health providers to cremate or bury fetal remains can go into effect.

U.S. District Judge David Alan Ezra told attorneys on Friday that he has “not made up my mind on how I’m going to rule on this case” and is awaiting written closing arguments due on Aug. 3.

He’s expected to rule around the end of August.

The law at the center of the case is Senate Bill 8, passed in 2017, which requires the burial or cremation of fetal remains. Legislators passed the bill following a ruling that year by U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks that struck down a similar rule implemented by the Texas Department of State Health Services. Sparks said that rule was vague, caused undue burden on women and had high potential for irreparable harm.

Throughout the five-day trial, a wave of patients, health providers, state agency officials, bioethicists, cemetery directors and religious leaders flowed through the witness stand.

Before dismissing attorneys Friday morning, Ezra rattled off a list of questions and concerns he wanted both sides to answer in his closing arguments, including: What authority does Texas have to pass laws around giving dignity to the unborn? What would happen to women’s access to care — for abortions and miscarriages — if health providers did not have a facility to handle fetal remains? And how many facilities — secular or otherwise — have committed to helping with burials and cremation?

Ezra noted that the case is unique because state attorneys waived the argument that SB 8 protects the health or safety of patients and plaintiff’s attorneys waived arguments about costs to patients and providers.

The dynamics involved “makes this case extremely unique in many ways and makes finding precedent all the more difficult because those issues are generally not only present in these kind of abortion-related cases — they’re often paramount in those cases,” Ezra said.

See here for the background. The judge’s questions, which the Observer examined in more detail, are the key to the case. During the trial, there was testimony by Blake Howard Norton, the daughter of State Rep. Donna Howard, about how she felt coerced by the Catholic hospital where she was going through a miscarriage into making a decision about disposing of the fetus, and there was more useless testimony from paid state witnesses who lacked any expertise in the subject matter and the law. I feel like the judge is skeptical of the law, but we’ll see what he has to say about it. The Chron has more.

Another homeless feeding lawsuit dismissed

Not the end of the story, though.

A state district judge this week dismissed a lawsuit a local activist filed last year against Houston’s ordinance regulating the charitable feeding of the city’s homeless, but the case is proceeding on with a new plaintiff.

Phillip Paul Bryant’s original lawsuit had said the 2012 law infringed on his ability to live his Christian faith by limiting how he could care for the poor, but city attorneys argued Bryant lacked the legal standing to challenge the law, as he had not been cited under it.

The ordinance requires advocates to obtain permission from property owners – public or private – before giving away food to more than five people in one setting.

A new plaintiff, Shere Dore, was added to the case last week, and the updated court filings describe a Christmas Eve 2016 incident in which the city allegedly confiscated food Dore was trying to give to the homeless.

I did not blog about this at the time the lawsuit was filed, but here’s a Chron story about it. You may think that finding a plaintiff who had actually been harmed by the law would be a pretty basic thing, but if you read all the way through either of these stories and note who the plaintiff’s attorney was, you can understand why this piece of jurisprudence may have gotten overlooked. I might also argue that if the first relevant violation of the law didn’t occur until over four years after it had been passed, then maybe it’s not really that onerous. But we’ll see about that when the suit gets re-filed.

New frontiers in strip club tax collections

A new-ish development in a decade-long battle.

Glenn Hegar

Dozens of “bikini bars” from Houston to San Antonio are suing the state after the Texas Comptroller accused them of skirting the so-called pole tax on nude entertainment and slapped them with seven-figure fees, according to the lawsuits.

The fight focuses on the state definition of nude, which includes any part of the buttocks or a woman’s breast below the top of the areola.

And in federal court, the clubs are questioning why they are taxed for bikini-clad performers, but not concert halls or sports venues that host cheerleaders and musicians wearing thongs or cleavage-baring tops.

“If they aren’t doing it to them, they shouldn’t be able to do it to a topless club or a bikini bar,” said attorney Casey Wallace, who is representing the Texas Entertainment Association, which brought the federal lawsuit in 2017.

The Comptroller’s office said it follows the law and determines which clubs should be taxed by looking at their social media posts and marketing. The office also sends inspectors inside to see what dancers are wearing.

“The agency is just trying to apply this in a common sense way,” said Ray Langenberg, Special Counsel for Tax Litigation for the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts. “If they are called topless clubs, the claim they are not wears a little thin.”

The fees are being contested in a state appeals process by 34 clubs across Texas, including a dozen in the Houston area. At least 27 more clubs have filed lawsuits, including 14 clubs based in Houston, according to the Comptroller’s Office.

The lawsuits referenced in this story were filed last year; I’m not really sure why this is a story now, though perhaps there’s a court date about to happen. Be that as it may, it was back in 2014 that the State Supreme Court upheld the $5-per-customer fee, for which the original bill was passed in 2007. I’m not qualified to parse the legalities of what constitutes “nudity” in this context, but I do think that trying to apply it retroactively for a decade’s worth of collections is excessive. I mean, when the state reached a deal with Amazon in 2012 to start collecting sales taxes, part of the deal was that the state would quit trying to collect back taxes. Why does Amazon deserve a better deal than bikini bars? Assuming that the Comptroller is properly interpreting the law in the first place, which is not a sure thing, surely there would be room for a compromise.

“Fetal remains” lawsuit trial underway

Here we go.

State and reproductive rights attorneys are going head to head again in federal court on Monday to argue whether Texas should require health providers to cremate or bury fetal remains.

“It’s a tough case for everybody,” U.S. District Judge David Alan Ezra said Friday during a pretrial hearing. In January, he had granted an injunction blocking a state fetal remains burial rule, but he said last week that the previous decision is no indication of how he would rule in the trial.

“It’s a very emotional case, and so I would ask counsel to do the best job they can to try and tamp down some of the more zealous individuals in your respective camps so that we don’t get a lot of extraneous stuff going on,” Ezra said to attorneys for the state and the Center for Reproductive Rights, who are representing the plaintiffs.

Arguments in the trial are expected to run all week.

[…]

Ezra listened as both sets of attorneys spent nearly two hours going over logistics of the trial and other issues including whether certain witnesses would be allowed to testify about the emotional trauma of abortions and fetal remain burials and keeping information about vendors confidential for safety reasons.

Throughout Friday’s pretrial hearing, Ezra laid out for attorneys what was on the court’s mind about the case, including: if women may face an undue burden if there aren’t enough providers or facilities statewide; the logistics of how doctors and clinics would deal with the law if it went into effect; and if Texas has enough facilities available statewide to help dispose of the fetal remains.

“I have to deal with this as a law in Texas that will affect every woman in the state of Texas,” Ezra said.

Another point of contention during the hearing was what to do about a 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision on whether the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops would have to turn over confidential internal documents to the Center for Reproductive Rights and Whole Woman’s Health for the fetal remains trial. Ezra had previously ruled it would, but in the middle of the pretrial hearing the 5th Circuit informed him it had reversed his decision.

See here for the previous update. I have no idea how this one may go, but I’ll be keeping an eye on it. There’s certainly a chance that none of this will matter given the likely future composition of SCOTUS, but we have to go through the process anyway. The Chron has more.

Campus carry at the Fifth Circuit

We’ll see if this gets a better reception than it got at the lower court.

Two years ago, three University of Texas at Austin professors — Jennifer Lynn Glass, Lisa Moore and Mia Carter — filed a lawsuit against state Attorney General Ken Paxton and several leaders of the UT System over a 2015 law that allows concealed handguns on college campuses. The professors argued the law infringed their First Amendment right to academic freedom, saying a “chilling effect” pervades their classes when students can bring guns into the room. The law went into effect in August 2016 and was immediately met with stiff backlash on campuses, particularly at UT-Austin.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court, sought to block the law and allow the professors to prohibit firearms in their classrooms. A federal judge turned down the request and dismissed the case last year, saying the professors failed to provide evidence that guns infringe on the professors’ free speech or that they have the authority to nullify state law in their classrooms.

Shortly after the decision, Paxton wrote that the “fact that a small group of professors dislike a law and speculate about a ‘chilling effect’ is hardly a valid basis to set the law aside.”

The suit then went to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, which [heard] arguments at Wednesday’s session.

[…]

Moore, who teaches English literature, said she’s optimistic about Wednesday’s appeal. Recent news of gun violence in the country, such as the shooting at Santa Fe High School south of Houston in May, shows the need for more sensible gun reform, she said. She and the other two professors, who all teach in the College of Liberal Arts at UT-Austin, want their students “to see us standing up for them,” Moore said.

“I hope we don’t have to have more deaths and school shootings to convince people that guns don’t belong in the classroom,” Moore said.

See here, here, and here for the background. I’ve never been optimistic about this lawsuit – I support the goal, but the arguments have not struck me as persuasive. For what it’s worth, if there was ever a time to make a First Amendment argument, this is clearly it. But this is one of those times where I think the only way forward is going to be at the ballot box. We want better gun laws, we’re going to have to win some elections, because I don’t expect the courts to be on our side. We’ll see if I’m wrong in this particular case. The DMN has more.

Still waiting on families to be reunited

Horrible story remains horrible.

The clock is ticking on a court-ordered Tuesday deadline for the federal government to reunite migrant parents with kids under 5 who were taken from them at the border. With a mere four days left, government attorneys have asked for more time — and some migrant parents say they have been given no information about how these court-ordered reunifications will take place.

At a status conference in San Diego Friday, government attorneys asked U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw to grant them reprieve from what they characterized as an over-ambitious deadline to bring together about 100 toddlers with parents who may be scattered across the country or the world — either held in immigration detention centers, released into the interior United States or, in some cases, already deported to their home countries.

Sarah Fabian, a lawyer for the Department of Justice, told the judge that the government has been able to match up 83 of those toddlers to parents, but has not yet found parental ties for 19 of them. Of the parents the government has identified so far, 46 remain in immigration detention centers. Those reunifications should be completed before the Tuesday deadline, Fabian said.

But the process is likely to take longer for the dozens of parents who are not in government custody. Nineteen parents of the youngest group of children have already been deported, 19 have been released from immigration custody into the United States, and two have been found to be unfit based on past criminal history. Fabian cautioned that those numbers were approximate and could be “in flux” over the coming days.

The judge — who had in a previous order criticized the government because “migrant children [were] not accounted for with the same efficiency and accuracy as property” — did not immediately lay out a longer time frame for reunifications in those more logistically challenging cases. Sabraw instead directed the government to provide more information over the weekend and set a Monday morning hearing to reconsider the deadlines.

“It may well be that once the plaintiffs know what the reason is and what groups [of parents] it applies to, they’ll agree that a more relaxed date can apply to a certain group,” Sabraw said at the conclusion of a lengthy conference. “But no one can make any informed decision, including the court, without additional information.”

While the judge did not revise the Tuesday deadline, it remains unlikely that all “tender age” children will be reunited with their parents by that original date. The odds are particularly steep in cases where those parents have already been deported, as the government argued Thursday. Lee Gelernt, the American Civil Liberties Union lawyer arguing the case on behalf of separated parents, said countless private lawyers and other organizations have offered up their services to help speed the reunification process.

You would think that reuniting children with their parents would be the top priority. That would require people who are not evil being in charge of that.

The Trump administration is making some remarkable arguments in the on-going child/family separation cases, making it seem like they actually want to slow roll their way into making the separations permanent. As Alice Ollstein explains, the government says it needs more time to determine whether the “putative parents” (i.e., people saying they want their kids back) are in fact real parents (people with a true custodial relationship to the children in question) and further whether are fit parents. In other words, having used the criminal law to meet the very high standard required to separate children from their parents, the government is now arguing that it needs to apply a very high standard to give them back. The government is further arguing that it should not be compelled to reunify families in which parents have already been deported because of the difficulty of doing so.

This is the singular moral issue of our time. We cannot lose focus on it. And we must vote out everyone responsible for putting us here, at the very least.

Pension bond lawsuit dismissed

This hit my inbox late in the day on July 3.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

The City of Houston is pleased that a court challenge to the 2017 election on the City’s pension bonds has been decided in its favor.

Today, State District Judge Mark Morefield dismissed the case styled James Noteware, Contestant vs. Sylvester Turner, Mayor of the City of Houston, Texas, and City of Houston, Texas, Contestees, Cause no 2017-83,251.

In December 2017, a voter sued the City to set aside the results of the Nov. 7, 2017 election after Houstonians overwhelmingly approved the pension bonds.

Tuesday’s ruling is important to the City’s pension reform plan.

“These pension bonds are a critical part of our pension reform statute and plan, and I am very pleased with the judge’s ruling,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said.

See here for the background. So far the only news coverage I’ve seen is this Chron story, which is not on the main houstonchronicle.com site and which mostly recapitulates the press release. It does indicate that the plaintiff plans to appeal, because of course he does. I’m hoping there will be more information once the Chron has had the chance to do some reporting on this, but for now this is what we have. Given that the bonds have been sold I’m honestly not sure what there is to adjudicate, but then I Am Not A Lawyer, so there you have it.

Census lawsuit may proceed

Good.

A federal judge said Tuesday that there was a “strong showing of bad faith” by the Trump administration in adding a controversial question about US citizenship to the 2020 census. The judge hinted that he would allow the case to move forward over objections from the administration, and senior administration officials will be subjected to questioning under oath about why the question was added.

Judge Jesse Furman of the Southern District of New York, who was appointed by President Barack Obama, said the administration “deviated from standard operating procedure” by adding the question with no testing. Furman ruled that the plaintiffs challenging the question—including the state of New York and the American Civil Liberties Union—can depose senior officials from the Commerce Department and Justice Department as the case moves forward.

The census has not asked respondents about their citizenship status since 1950. Civil rights groups say the citizenship question will depress response rates from immigrants, imperil the accuracy of the census, and shift political power to areas with fewer immigrants. The census determines how $675 billion in federal funding is allocated, how much representation states receive, and how political districts are drawn.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who oversees the Census Bureau, approved the citizenship question in March, saying it was needed for “more effective enforcement” of the Voting Rights Act. Ross said at the time and in subsequent testimony before Congress that he approved the question after the Justice Department requested in December 2017 that it be added.

However, Ross stated in a memo he filed to the court on June 21 that he first considered adding a citizenship question to the census after he was confirmed as commerce secretary in February 2017, months before the Justice Department requested the question. He wrote that he had approached the Justice Department about the question, not the other way around, after consulting with “other senior Administration officials” who had “previously raised” the citizenship question.

Furman cited Ross’s memo to question his truthfulness and the administration’s motives in adding the question. “It now appears these statements were potentially untrue,” Furman said of Ross’ claims that the question was added at the Justice Department’s request. “It now appears that the idea of adding a citizenship question originated with Secretary Ross and not the Department of Justice.”

See here and here for some background. The judge did subsequently allow the lawsuit to go forward, while also granting the motion for discovery. I for one can’t wait to see what bits of treasure that digs up. Time is of the essence here, so I hope there’s a speedy schedule to get us towards a resolution.

Same maps, different day

The coda to the SCOTUS redistricting ruling.

The 2018 elections will move forward without any tweaks to Texas’ political maps.

Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling to uphold all but one of the state’s political districts, a three-judge federal panel in San Antonio on Tuesday ordered that the state’s maps should stay in place for this year’s elections despite outstanding issues with House District 90.

The Tarrant County-based district was the sole exception the Supreme Court made in OK’ing the state’s maps last week. That district, which is held by Democratic state Rep. Ramon Romero, was deemed an impermissible racial gerrymander because lawmakers illegally used race as the predominant factor in deciding its boundaries.

It’s likely that opponents of the maps will push for the district to be redrawn, which could affect neighboring Republican-held districts. But as things stand now, the district will only be corrected in time for one election before it likely needs to be redrawn again after the 2020 census.

See here for the background. I don’t even have it in me to make a snarky comment. For seven years of litigation showing clear-cut bad acts to come down to tweaking one safely Democratic district for the 2020 election, it’s a cruel joke. And if the injustice of it all doesn’t motivate you for November, you’re part of the problem. The DMN has more.

No indefinite detention of asylum seekers

That title is one of those things I can’t believe I have to write.

A federal district judge has ruled President Donald Trump’s administration’s practice of indefinitely detaining some asylum seekers can’t proceed, dealing a major blow to what immigration attorneys have said is one of the administration’s tools to deter people from seeking safe haven in this country.

The lawsuit was filed in March by the American Civil Liberties Union and named as a defendant the El Paso Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) field office. Other field offices named in the lawsuit include Detroit, Los Angeles, Newark and Philadelphia. The El Paso office covers West Texas and New Mexico.

The ACLU alleged in the lawsuit that the plaintiffs passed their initial “credible fear” exams – the first step in the asylum process to determine if an applicant has a legitimate case. But despite having sponsors willing to provide housing in the United States, the federal government has continued to hold them instead of granting them parole.

[…]

In his Monday ruling, U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg granted a preliminary injunction preventing the federal government from denying parole to any provisional class members that are a party to the lawsuit. The lawsuit defines them as “asylum seekers who traveled to the United States, were found to have a credible fear of persecution, and were referred for immigration proceedings to decide their asylum claims.” The exception applies to people who pose a flight risk or a danger to the community.

A statement from the ACLU is here, and the preliminary injunction orders are here and here. Just as a reminder, these are people who came to official ports of entry to seek asylum, which they have the legal right to do. And while you ponder that, keep in mind that the Trump administration has no clue and no plan for reuniting the children they stole from their parents. Happy Independence Day!

Revised final bail order

We go from here.

The federal judge in a landmark bail lawsuit against Harris County set new ground rules for law enforcement and judges about pretrial release for thousands of low-income people arrested on low-level offenses in a revised injunction issued Friday.

The order prohibits the county from detaining a poor person in instances in which a person with money would be allowed to pay and get out of jail. Specifically, qualified poor people charged with certain offenses, such as drunken driving or writing bad checks, will be permitted to leave jail immediately and return for future appearances. However, the finding also gives judges two days to make a bail determination for people arrested on more serious offenses or who face holds or detainers that would prevent them from being released.

[…]

The county will have another chance to argue the full case when the 2016 lawsuit goes to trial on the merits on Dec. 3, however, county officials could opt to settle the case, something both sides have indicated they would like to do. In two years litigating the case, the county has hired dozens of lawyers at a cost of $6.7 million.

Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis, a long-time criminal justice reformer who has backed the lawsuit, said Friday’s decision affirmed the courts’ finding that there are “no legal or moral grounds” for the “unconscionable and futile defense of a two-tiered system of injustice that favors the wealthy and punishes the poor.”

“The county’s indefensible money bond system routinely violates the constitutional rights of poor defendants and forces people to languish behind bars simply because they cannot afford bail — there is no disputing this basic fact,” Ellis said. “Countless families have been torn apart and lives have been ruined by an unfair bail system that denies pretrial liberty and basic constitutional protections to poor defendants.”

The lawyers defending the county called Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal’s order “an excellent beginning for a settlement.”

“The county remains committed to a settlement that maximizes the number of misdemeanor detainees who are eligible for prompt release from jail without secured bail, that provides due regard for the rights of victims and protection of the community and preserves the independence of the judiciary,” said Robert Soard, first assistant to Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan.

See here and here for the background. It’s hard to remember because this has gone on for so long, but the entire fight so far has been about the preliminary injunction, which is what is being finalized here. This is the order to define what the county can and can’t do while the lawsuit proceeds. Litigating the case on the merits could take years more, and cost many more millions. So if the county really does see this order as a good foundation for a settlement, we should all be glad to hear it. Of course, that is mostly up to the misdemeanor court judges, who are the defendants and who have refused to budge throughout. Perhaps Commissioners Court can put some pressure on them, though outside of Commissioner Ellis they’ve been part of the problem, too. If you truly want to see this come to a just and cost-effective end, the answer is to vote those judges out in November. Ultimately, we get to decide. Grits has more.

The Lawrence decision, 15 years later

Time flies, but society moves slowly.

Theirs was an unlikely case.

John Lawrence and Tyron Garner weren’t in love, they weren’t a committed couple and it’s not clear that they were even having sex one September 1998 evening in Lawrence’s Houston apartment when a police officer burst in and arrested them for violating a Texas law that prohibited “deviate sexual intercourse with another individual of the same sex.” That law was rarely enforced, especially in homes — how often, after all, do police appear in private bedrooms? In the Lawrence case, officers entered in response to a false report of a weapons disturbance.

The factual details of that night are often called into question; Lawrence told one interviewer that he and Garner were seated some 15 feet apart when police arrived. But the two pleaded “no contest” to the sodomy charge, allowing them — and their team of advocate lawyers — to challenge the law itself.

Ultimately, they won, and it was their unlikely case that sparked a sweeping ruling from the nation’s highest court, one that overturned not just Texas’ ban on sodomy but 13 similar laws across the country.

That Supreme Court decision was June 26, 2003 — 15 years ago Tuesday. One law professor at the time said it “removed the reflexive assumption of gay people’s inferiority,” laying the legal groundwork for same-sex marriage. Without the immediate, presumptive criminal charge against LGBT people, new doors were opened — new jobs, new opportunities, new freedom in their skin.

The ruling “gave lesbian, bisexual and gay people back their dignity,” said Camilla Taylor, a Lambda Legal attorney who started with the legal advocacy group in 2003, just in time to watch her colleague, Paul Smith — a gay man himself — argue Lawrence before the Supreme Court.

“Everyone knew this case had the power to change the world. The court gave us everything we asked for and more — and went big, just as we demanded,” Taylor said.

Ten years later, June 26 became an even more important milestone for gay rights when the high court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act. And then, in 2015, the date again gained new significance with the ruling known as Obergefell that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.

But this year, as the date rolls around, LGBT Texans are still reckoning with the legal and political landscape in a state where they have few protections against discrimination and their rights as couples are again being questioned in court.

Fifteen years later, some wonder, how much progress have same-sex couples in Texas really made?

You want to know how long I’ve been doing this blog thing? Long enough to have blogged about the Lawrence decision. As this story notes, the next big test of where we stand as a society with regard to the rights and dignity of same-sex couples comes in January, right here in Houston, when the anti-same sex employee benefits lawsuit gets heard in a Harris County district court. It’s a bullshit case from top to bottom, but as we’ve seen lately from both the state and federal Supreme Courts, being bullshit is not a hindrance when there’s an agenda at play. Just remember you’ll have at least one and probably two opportunities to have your own influence on our Supreme Court, with the first one being this November. Please do make the most of it.

The fruit of the poisoned tree

If the discriminatory intent of the Texas redistricting was no biggie, then surely the discriminatory intent of the voter ID law is no biggie too. Right?

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

In a motion filed Wednesday, the Texas attorney general’s office asked U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos of Corpus Christi to reconsider her findings that the state’s voter ID law was enacted to purposefully discriminate against voters of color. An appellate court has already upheld the law, but — in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling — the state is now trying to convince the judge to reverse her findings of discrimination in the voter ID case in order to eliminate the possibility of a return to federal oversight of its election laws.

In the filing, the state argued that the 2011 voter ID law that opponents first challenged as discriminatory has now “changed significantly” and pointed to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeal’s findings that the Legislature “succeeded in its goal” of addressing discriminatory flaws in the voter ID law in 2017.

It cited the Supreme Court’s verdict on the congressional and state House maps as findings that “cast irremovable doubt” on previous decisions that the voter ID law was also crafted with a discriminatory intent.

The state contends that, like in the redistricting case, lawmakers should be extended the “presumption of legislative good faith” for working to replace a law that Ramos ruled disproportionately — and intentionally — burdened voters of color who are less likely to have one of the seven forms of identification that the state required them to show at the polls.

See here for some background. Ken Paxton is a third-class legal mind, but given the turd that SCOTUS laid on us in the redistricting case, he’s got a compelling argument. Unless someone can find a recording of Troy Fraser rubbing his hands together and cackling “This bill is SUPER RACIST, y’all” while the floor debate was going on, I’m not sure there’s any defense. The only solution is going to be a political one. There’s no other choice.

Texans cheerleader lawsuit update

Couple points of interest here.

A former Texans cheerleader who says cheer director Alto Gary derided her as “skinny fat” and applied duct tape to her stomach before a 2017 game added her name Friday to one of two lawsuits filed against the team over payment and workplace issues.

Angelina Rosa, a two-year member of the cheerleading squad who said she also was a dancer for the Chicago Bulls and a member of the Astros’ Shooting Stars group, is the 10th cheerleader to join one of two suits filed against the team in Houston federal court.

Rosa is the sixth former cheerleader to sign on as a plaintiff in a lawsuit filed by women’s rights attorney Gloria Allred and Houston attorney Kimberly Spurlock. Four have joined a suit filed by Houston attorney Bruse Loyd seeking class action status.

While descriptions of the duct-taping incident were included in both lawsuits, Friday was the first time that Rosa was identified as the affected cheerleader.

[…]

Both lawsuits accuse the Texans of failing to pay minimum wage and overtime for hours spent on the job, and both allege other workplace violations.

The Texans have denied the allegations and have filed motions seeking their dismissal. If the cases are not dismissed, the Texans want them delayed while allegations are submitted to arbitration before NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

Since the lawsuits were filed, several former cheerleaders have told local news outlets, including the Chronicle, that they were not subjected to the abuses described by their fellow former cheerleaders.

I had noted before that the Texans had filed for dismissal of one of the lawsuits, and I had wondered about the other one. Now I know. As far as the denial by some other cheerleaders about the allegations made in these lawsuits, that’s of interest and would surely be a key pillar of the defense if this ever makes it to a courtroom, but the presence of some cheerleaders – even many cheerleaders – who say they were not abused or harassed does not have any bearing on the testimony of those who say they were. One can be both credibly accused of bad behavior, and also credibly defended by others who say “that never happened to me”. The defense against harassment by some other members of the Texans’ cheerleading squad also doesn’t address the claims of wage theft. We are still a very long way from a resolution here.

SCOTUS upholds Texas redistricting

Screw this.

Extinguishing the possibility that Texas could be placed back under federal electoral supervision, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday pushed aside claims that lawmakers intentionally discriminated against voters of color when they enacted the state’s congressional and state House maps.

In a 5-4 vote, the high court threw out a lower court ruling that had found that lawmakers intentionally undercut the voting power of Hispanic and black voters, oftentimes to keep white incumbents in office. The Supreme Court found that the evidence was “plainly insufficient” to prove that the 2013 Legislature acted in “bad faith.”

The Supreme Court also ruled that all but one of the 11 congressional and state House districts that had been flagged as problematic could remain intact. The one exception was Fort Worth-based House District 90, which is occupied by Democratic state Rep. Ramon Romero and was deemed an impermissible racial gerrymander because lawmakers illegally used race as the predominant factor in deciding its boundaries.

The Supreme Court’s ruling, which keeps all but one of the state’s districts in place through the end of the decade, is a major blow to the maps’ challengers — civil rights groups, voters of color and Democratic lawmakers — who since 2011 have been fighting the Republican-controlled Legislature’s post-2010 Census adjustment of district boundaries.

[…]

Joined by the court’s three other liberal justices, Justice Sonia Sotomayor denounced the majority’s opinion as a “disregard of both precedent and fact” in light of the “undeniable proof of intentional discrimination” against voters of color.

“Those voters must return to the polls in 2018 and 2020 with the knowledge that their ability to exercise meaningfully their right to vote has been burdened by the manipulation of district lines specifically designed to target their communities and minimize their political will,” Sotomayor wrote. “The fundamental right to vote is too precious to be disregarded in this manner.”

In siding with the state, the Supreme Court tossed out claims of intentional vote dilution in state House districts in Nueces County and Bell County as well as claims that Hispanic voters were “packed” into Dallas County districts to minimize their influence in surrounding districts. The high court also rejected challenges to Congressional District 27 — where the lower court said lawmakers diluted the votes of Hispanics in Nueces County — and Congressional District 35, which the lower court flagged as an impermissible racial gerrymander.

But perhaps most significant on the voting rights front was the Supreme Court’s ruling that the state could be not be held liable for intentional discrimination of Hispanic and black voters.

See here and here for the background. The opinion is here if you have the stomach for it. You sure can accomplish a lot if you close your eyes and wave away evidence. I don’t know what else there is for me to say, so I’ll just refer you to Pema Levy, Ian Millhiser, Martin Longman, and Mark Joseph Stern. What Rick Hasen wrote five years ago sure looks prescient now.

Supreme Court affirms trashing Laredo’s plastic bag ban

Not really a surprise.

The Texas Supreme Court handed a loss to local government on Friday, striking down a Laredo ban on plastic bags. The decision imperils about a dozen other cities’ bans across the state.

In a decision viewed as one of the court’s most highly politicized of the term, justices ruled unanimously that a state law on solid waste disposal pre-empted the local ordinance. That decision drew immediate responses from both sides of the aisle, with high praise from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican who had weighed in against the bans, and condemnation from environmental groups, which had argued the ban kept at bay the harsh environmental damage brought by plastics.

The court’s ruling resolves a long-standing question over whether local governments may impose such bans, as cities including Austin, Fort Stockton and Port Aransas have in recent years. Friday’s unanimous holding makes those bans unenforceable as well, and likely tosses the issue over to the Texas Legislature for debate.

The court said in a unanimous holding that its intent was not to wade into the “roving, roiling debate over local control of public affairs” but simply to resolve the legal question at hand.

“Both sides of the debate … assert public-policy arguments raising economic, environmental, and uniformity concerns,” Chief Justice Nathan Hecht wrote for the court. “We must take statutes as they are written, and the one before us is written quite clearly. Its limitation on local control encompasses the ordinance.”

[…]

While arguments have seemed to center on semantics, the court’s decision is likely to have major implications for local control issues across the state. It’s a loss for local governments, said Bennett Sandlin, executive director of the Texas Municipal League.

“Plastic bags are the perfect case for why different geographies need different sets of rules,” Sandlin said. “This is a sad day.”

A long list of lawmakers have weighed in on the case, including by filing friend of the court briefs. Twenty Republican state lawmakers filed a brief against the ban in an earlier appeal of the case. And state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, a Laredo Democrat, told the Texas Supreme Court she supports the city’s ban.

In 2017, state Sen. Bob Hall filed a bill that would have prevented Texas cities from enforcing bag bans.

Now that the court has ruled, the issue is likely to become one for legislators to take up. Justice Eva Guzman urged lawmakers to do just that in a concurring opinion Friday.

“The legislative branch, not the judiciary, bears the unenviable task of making complicated policy decisions that balance the benefits of uniform regulation and the myriad burdens (financial or otherwise) that may be imposed on taxpayers, businesses, and the environment,” Guzman wrote.

She added, “I urge the Legislature to take direct ameliorative action. … Standing idle in the face of an ongoing assault on our delicate ecosystem will not forestall a day of environmental reckoning—it will invite one.”

See here and here for the background. Yes, the Legislature could remediate this – the case hinged on the definition of a “container”, which I think we can all agree is not something that was handed down by God to the Founding Fathers. But we all know that’s not what this Legislature is going to do. Quite the reverse, in fact. So while I appreciate Justice Guzman’s concern about the “ongoing assault on our delicate ecosystem”, I would encourage her to venture out of the ivory tower once in awhile to observe what is actually happening around her. In the meantime, we can all do our part to reduce, reuse, and recycle plastic bags. The Observer and the Current have more.

SCOTUS and sales taxes

This ruling will be good for Texas.

Texas stands to gain hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue after the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that states may force online retailers to collect sales tax even when they have no physical presence in the state.

Every year, Texas loses $1.1 billion in uncollected sales tax, according to the Texas comptroller’s office — well over the $800 million the state will spend securing its southern border this year and next. That’s the result of the high court’s 1992 decision, now reversed, that retailers are responsible for collecting sales tax only in states where they had “nexus.” That decision — which predated the astronomical rise of the internet and the subsequent boom in online shopping — was outdated, argued lawyers for the state of South Dakota, who won the case this week.

That lost tax revenue is particularly meaningful in Texas, one of just a handful of states without a personal income tax. This May, for example, the state’s sales tax revenue totaled $2.76 billion.

[…]

Customers themselves owe sales tax on their purchases, but it’s sellers who are required to collect that money and send it to the government. States have little mechanism — and little incentive — to chase down sales tax on small-ticket purchases from average consumers when the retailers don’t do it themselves. Some of Texas’ largest online retailers — Amazon, for example — already remit sales tax to the state. Amazon has almost a dozen distribution centers in the state.

Texas is highly unlikely to gain back all of the $1.1 billion it’s currently losing, experts said, and any money the state gets back won’t come overnight. While the Texas comptroller has a great deal of taxing authority, some changes to the state’s tax structure might have to be carried out by the Legislature when it reconvenes in 2019, said Dale Craymer, the president of the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association. The Comptroller’s office is looking into that, a spokesman said.

“We welcome the court’s ruling in this case and are currently assessing any potential revenue impacts,” said Kevin Lyons, a spokesman for the agency.

I have long believed that the sales tax exemption for online purchases outlived its purpose years ago. This is not just for states like Texas but also for local governments that rely on sales tax revenue, and for traditional retailers who are no longer at an automatic disadvantage. Sales tax rates vary by locality, and not all items are subject to sales taxes, so this will be a challenge to set up, but that’s not our problem. Online retailers will figure it out, and life will go on. This was the right decision.

Dem primary loser in CD06 files “vote fraud” lawsuit

That sound you hear is me banging my head on my desk.

Ruby Woolridge

Democrat Ruby Woolridge has filed a lawsuit challenging her 717-vote primary runoff loss for the 6th Congressional District to Jana Lynne Sanchez.

In the lawsuit, Woolridge claims that Sanchez “knowingly filed petitions with fraudulent signatures” in order to secure a spot on the March primary ballot.

Sanchez called the lawsuit “frivolous.”

“Unwarranted accusations cannot undo months of hard work spent collecting qualifying signatures on voters’ doorsteps and at public events, cross-referencing names and addresses with databases and eliminating any that raised questions,” said Sanchez, a public relations specialist. “The voters clearly chose us in the primary.”

[…]

In the lawsuit, Woolridge claims that Sanchez “knowingly concealed the fraudulent signatures from the Democratic local authorities” and that the volunteer circulators signed “the forged petitions before a notary public under duress.”

Jana Sanchez

Woolridge said she “only discovered the fraudulent conduct after the initial primary election was held for the Congressional seat for District 6,” according to the lawsuit. And she claims some people couldn’t vote in the primary election because someone else had already voted in their name through mail-in ballots.

She asks, in the lawsuit, for a special election or second runoff election to be held without Sanchez’s name on the ballot.

‘The purpose of the Election Code is to prevent fraud in our primary and general elections,” Woolridge’s lawsuit states. “The fraudulent and forged signatures submitted and filed by (Sanchez) in her petitions for a place on the Democratic ballot renders her applications null and void.”

The lawsuit was filed in Ellis County against Sanchez, as well as the Texas Democratic Party, Democratic chairmen in Tarrant, Ellis and Navarro counties and the Texas secretary of state.

Sanchez filed paperwork with the court asking that the lawsuit be dismissed.

“Ms. Sanchez denies any fraud by her campaign,” her filing states. “The small group of signatures that raised suspicions were set aside before ballot petition filing. Those signatures appear to have been collected by a person later revealed to have been helping the Woolridge Campaign while paid as a contractor for the Sanchez Campaign and who later openly moved over to the Woolridge camp. That person since admitted to signing a few names on behalf of voters (potentially a crime and so reported to appropriate authorities prior to receipt of the lawsuit).”

Sanchez said she will keep fighting the lawsuit.

The DMN has a copy of the lawsuit as well as Sanchez’s response. While I think this is highly likely to be bullshit, Woolridge has the right to challenge the result if she has reason to believe she was wronged. But as I said when now-former State Rep. Lon Burnam tried something similar after losing his primary in 2014, invoking Republican talking points about “vote fraud” will not get you any sympathy from me. Don’t let your desire to win cause you to lose your soul. I’m rooting for a swift and decisive resolution to this.

Texans move to dismiss one cheerleader lawsuit

Standard stuff, I presume.

Attorneys for the Houston Texans have asked a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed against the team by five former cheerleaders or to delay proceedings while the former cheerleaders’ complaints are submitted to arbitration.

Team attorneys, in a motion filed with U.S. District Judge David Hitner, cite several flaws in what they describe as a “frivolous” lawsuit filed by former cheerleaders Hannah Turnbow, Ainsley Parish, Morgan Wiederhold, Ashley Rodriguez and Kelly Neuner.

The suit is one of two filed last month by former Texans cheerleaders, complaining of wage violations, breach of contract, negligence and other issues.

Among the lawsuit’s flaws, the Texans say, is that former cheerleaders acted improperly by filing legal action despite signing contracts that require mandatory arbitration for disputes. If the suit is not dismissed, the team says, it at least should be stayed pending arbitration.

[…]

The former cheerleaders also “want to rewrite history,” the team says, by complaining about their treatment after several posted complimentary messages on social media about their association with the team.

“Above all, the plaintiffs want to ignore the law, which dictates that their claims fail, whether in arbitration … or in this court,” lawyers add.

The standard cheerleader contract includes a clause in which both sides agree that the NFL commissioner will preside over binding arbitration to settle any disputes. The commissioner also has authority to refer the dispute to an outside arbitrator.

In a separate filing, attorneys for the team say that Neuner’s complaint against the team because she has not been a cheerleader since the summer of 2011 and that that her complaints fall outside the statute of limitations, which range from 300 days to four years, along with being “factually invalid.”

See here for the background. I’m not aware of any action with the other lawsuit, but my guess is that the team will have a similar response. For sure, the cheerleaders will want to keep this in a courtroom and away from an arbitrator. That’s all I’ve got, so we’ll see what happens.

Paxton wants magistrates’ lawsuit tossed

We all want things, Kenny.

Best mugshot ever

The state attorney general Monday asked a judge to dismiss a lawsuit by three Harris County hearing officers who are fighting sanctions by Texas’ judicial ethics commission earlier this year over unfair bail practices.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton also asked that the case brought by three admonished magistrates be transferred from Harris County, where the judges sit, to Travis County, where the State Commission on Judicial Conduct is based. Paxton also asserts that the state watchdog agency has “sovereign immunity” from being sued.

The lawsuit, filed in May by three local magistrates, challenges the commission’s finding that they violated the state code of conduct for judges during probable cause hearings for newly arrested defendants. The hearing officers, Eric Hagstette, Jill Wallace and Joseph Licata III, initially challenged the commission’s findings through a more straightforward appeal to the state’s Special Court of Review. However, they later withdrew that appeal and sued the commission to have their records be cleared of the findings of misconduct.

Mike Stafford, who is representing the magistrates free of charge in this lawsuit, said the sanctions should be eliminated because the watchdog commission surpassed its authority in telling magistrates they can’t refer bond matters to the judges assigned to the cases.

“This case presents an important and rare opportunity to affirm that the Commission may not interpret Texas law and to ensure that the Commission is not allowed to exceed its mandate,” Stafford argued in district court filings.

See here for the background. I presume the reason to ask for a transfer as well as a dismissal is that if you don’t get the one you might at least get the other. Beyond that, I have no particular insights so I’ll just note this for the record and move on.

SCOTUS punts on non-Texas redistricting cases

The Magic 8 ballSCOTUS says Reply hazy, try again later in the two partisan gerrymandering cases before it.

On Monday, the court punted two major political redistricting cases: Gill v. Whitford, a challenge to Wisconsin’s Republican gerrymander, and Benisek v. Lamone, a challenge to Maryland’s Democratic gerrymander. Together, Gill and Benisek presented the Supreme Court with an opportunity to finally decide whether legislators violate the Constitution when they draw districts designed to dilute the power of voters’ ballots on the basis of their political associations. Instead, the court shooed away both cases on plausible but not entirely satisfactory grounds. Its nondecision will allow partisan gerrymandering to continue for the time being. Yet Justice Elena Kagan’s concurring opinion provides a road map for voting rights advocates to follow in the future—one that might attract Justice Anthony Kennedy’s vote if he remains on the court.

Ironically, Gill’s assault on Wisconsin’s gerrymander failed for precisely the reason that so many advocates thought it would succeed. In 2004, the Supreme Court splintered on the question of whether the judiciary can strike down a legislative map drawn along unduly political lines. Kennedy declared that courts might be able to, because partisan gerrymandering constitutes a genuine threat to voters’ First Amendment rights to free association and expression. But first, Kennedy wrote, the courts would need reliable, manageable, and consistent “judicial standards” to determine when, exactly, a gerrymander infringes upon these rights.

Gill marked an effort to hand Kennedy that standard, in the form of the “efficiency gap.” This formula measures two types of “wasted votes”: “lost votes” cast for a defeated candidate and “surplus votes” cast for a winning candidate that weren’t necessary for her to win. As its creator explains it, the efficiency gap measures “the difference between the parties’ respective wasted votes in an election, divided by the total number of votes cast.” A large efficiency gap indicates a particularly egregious partisan gerrymander; an efficiency gap of 7 percent can entrench the majority party’s power indefinitely. Wisconsin’s GOP-drawn gerrymander has an efficiency gap of 13 percent, indicating that Democrats could not possibly win back a majority in the state legislature. The Gill plaintiffs used this calculation as proof that Wisconsin Republicans had trammeled their First Amendment rights.

But here’s the problem: In order to bring a lawsuit in federal court, an individual must have standing—a “particularized injury” that burdens their rights individually. And in Gill, the group of voters who sued Wisconsin Republicans had not proved that their specific votes had been diluted on account of their association with the Democratic Party. Instead, Chief Justice Roberts wrote in his majority opinion, they “rested their case” on a “theory of statewide injury to Wisconsin Democrats.” This statewide injury, Roberts held, was not sufficiently particularized to give the plaintiffs standing to sue. So he sent the case back down to the lower court, giving the plaintiffs another opportunity to prove that Wisconsin’s gerrymander directly injures them.

[…]

Kagan, on the other hand, wrote a concurring opinion, joined by the other three liberals, effectively providing the plaintiffs with guidance on how to prove standing next time around. After reiterating that partisan gerrymandering is “incompatible with democratic principles,” Kagan explained that the plaintiffs should now “introduce evidence that their individual districts” were drawn to dilute Democratic votes. Moreover, the lower court should still “consider statewide evidence,” such as GOP mapmakers’ explicit desire to create a map that disfavored Democrats. Taken together, this evidence should suffice to give the plaintiffs standing.

But Kagan went further, giving the plaintiffs a different route to victory on their second try. The justice explained that partisan gerrymandering may burden a voter’s constitutional rights even if she does not live in a gerrymandered district. In Wisconsin, for example, all members of the state Democratic party are “deprived of their natural political strength by a partisan gerrymander.” As a result, members of this “disfavored party … may face difficulties fundraising, registering voters, attracting volunteers, generating support from independents, and recruiting candidates to run for office.” Individual voters may have standing, Kagan wrote, when mapmakers burden their “associational rights” in this manner. And their injury—a broad harm to their “First Amendment rights of association”—would be fairly easy to prove.

I’ll let you read that story and the “more reading” links at the end for analysis, but that’s the gist of it there. Expect to see this case take another tour through the courts, with a different name or set of names on top. The main thing to remember otherwise is that these cases were about partisan gerrymandering, which is not a claim being decided in the Texas litigation. That one is an old-fashioned racial discrimination claim, so the court has no real basis to send it back. Though with this court, who knows. I was clearly of the opinion back in April when the case was argued that we would have a decision by the end of June, but now I think I got that wrong. The Gill case was argued last October, so based on that I now expect this to be handed down late in the year. But again, with this court, who knows? Ian Millhiser, Rick Hasen, Daily Kos, and Pema Levy have more.