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September 7th, 2017:

Fifth Circuit stays voter ID ruling

Ugh.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The state of Texas can use its revised voter ID measure for the upcoming November elections, a divided federal appeals court ruled on Tuesday.

The 2-1 decision, first reported by Politico Tuesday night, came from a panel of three federal judges on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans — and it marks the latest in a series of winding legal battles on whether the state has intentionally discriminated against black and Latino voters through its original voter ID law passed in 2011

[…]

In a joint order Tuesday, Judges Jerry Smith and Jennifer Elrod wrote that Texas “has made a strong showing that it is likely to succeed on the merits,” and added that the state has also “made a strong showing that this reasonable-impediment procedure remedies plaintiffs’ alleged harm and thus forecloses plaintiffs’ injunctive relief.”

The dissenting judge on the panel, Judge James Graves Jr., said it was still uncertain whether Texas would succeed — and pointed to the court’s ruling last year that a North Carolina voter ID law had been propelled by race and was never properly fixed.

See here, here, and here for the background, and here for a copy of the order. Rick Hasen explains where we stand now:

Given how each judge voted in the en banc ruling on the last round of the voter id case, nothing here is a surprise.

This is a ruling just by a motions panel; a separate merits panel will review the case in short order (the motions panel expedited consideration of the case).

There is still a long road ahead. The last time this went through it went en banc to the full 5th Circuit and took a while—so the status quo in the interim matters perhaps for how the 2018 elections will be conducted.

Plaintiffs could try to appeal this stay order to the Supreme Court, where they would probably face a tough audience, with perhaps Justice Kennedy in play.

That’s really what it comes down to, the 2018 election and what voter ID rules are in place. Look how long it took us to get to this point. All we can do is keep moving, there’s still more to be done. ThinkProgress and the Chron have more.

UPDATE: Oral arguments are set for the first week in December.

Local government buildings took it on the chin from Harvey

Houses, businesses, schools, churches, government offices – the destruction caused by Harvey and the bill to fix it all keeps adding up.

Local governments grappled Tuesday with the staggering costs of responding to and cleaning up after Hurricane Harvey, a trifecta of wrecked infrastructure and damaged buildings, around-the-clock overtime for rescue and recovery and a massive, escalating cleanup effort to bring the Houston area a semblance of normalcy after days of chaos.

City and county officials could not provide complete estimates of the impact to their coffers from Harvey’s wrath – crews still were inspecting buildings Tuesday and workers logging 120-hour weeks walking door-to-door across Harris County’s nearly 1,800 square miles to survey the widespread devastation.

Amid the uncertainty, officials agreed that even for a government apparatus well-versed in weathering and recovering from severe storms, Harvey’s damage was unlike anything ever seen here before.

“I’ve been here 30 years,” said Harris County Engineer John Blount. “I was through Allison. I was through Ike, and this was the worst I have ever seen.”

On Tuesday, public officials across the Houston region said they were only beginning to understand the scope of Harvey’s damage and its impact on public services.

Mayor Sylvester Turner sent a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott this week, requesting state and federal funding and detailing “a catastrophic strain on our infrastructure, with damages estimated at more than $5 billion.”

[…]

The county Tuesday was actively relocating the hundreds of employees that work in the criminal justice center, including the district attorney’s 330-lawyer operation.

Hundreds of prosecutors and staffers with the district attorneys office, many dressed in T-shirts and shorts, spent Tuesday pulling their personal possessions out of the 20-story downtown criminal courthouse next to the still-swollen Buffalo Bayou.

The move is expected to slow the local criminal justice system as everyone involved will have to work from unfamiliar offices and commute to courtrooms spread across the downtown courthouse complex.

Neither the city of Houston nor Harris County had a detailed accounting of the damage yet, which will include vehicles as well as buildings, plus lots of overtime costs. I suspect that $5 billion number cited above includes private losses, but it’s not clear to me. The point is that in the short term, a lot of the federal and state relief money needs to go towards paying the workers who did their jobs so heroically during the storm and its aftermath, and towards getting these damaged institutions back up and running. The alternative is a huge amount of debt, and we’ll all pay a lot more for that.

From the “Stupid haters gonna stupidly hate” department

It’s the same basic story we hear about every time there’s a natural disaster, though with a bit of a twist this time.

When Sandy hit the New York metropolitan area in 2012, the floodwaters in Lower Manhattan were still rising when some pastors pointed out what, to them, was obvious.

“God is systematically destroying America,” the Rev. John McTernan, a conservative Christian pastor who runs a ministry called USA Prophecy, said in a post-Sandy blog entry that has since been removed. The reason God was so peeved, he claimed, was “the homosexual agenda.”

McTernan belongs to a subset of religious conservatives – including some well-known names – who see wrath and retribution in natural disasters.

Usually, their logic revolves around LGBT themes – Buster Wilson of the American Family Association claimed God sent Hurricane Isaac to stop an annual LGBT festival; the Rev. Franklin Graham blamed Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans’ “orgies”; and Catholic priest Gerhard Wagner called Katrina “divine retribution” for New Orleans’ tolerance of homosexuality.

Other times, the scapegoat is gay marriage, abortion rights or policies seen as harmful to Israel.

Yet as Harvey hit Houston, those quick to see God’s angry handiwork in earlier storms have so far focused their efforts on praising Houston’s first responders and volunteers.

[…]

Stephen T. Davis, a professor of philosophy at Claremont McKenna College who has written about Christian theodicy – the problem of why bad things happen to good people – said the idea of God’s punishment gets “very little traction” outside conservative religious circles.

He said that “the secular world finds explanations like ‘God wanted to punish Houston’ ridiculous.”

But Peter Montgomery, a senior fellow at People for the American Way, which monitors the religious right, said the reaction from the finger-waggers “is different this time around.”

“I checked with my colleagues and we have a couple of theories,” Montgomery said.

One theory is that Texas, with a few exceptions, is a religious right stronghold. Gov. Greg Abbott is popular with conservative Christians, so perhaps they are less willing to suggest God is unhappy with him. Abbott supports tougher abortion access laws and signed the “Pastor Protection Act,” which allows pastors to refuse to marry same-sex couples.

Another theory is that Christian conservatives don’t want to suggest Houston deserves divine retribution. In 2015, city voters soundly struck down an anti-discrimination bathroom law with support from many Christian groups and leaders.

“I think that makes it hard for the religious right to say there is some kind of collective sin in Houston that God wants to punish,” Montgomery said. “But if Harvey had hit New Orleans you still would have had people dredging up decadence in that city, or if an earthquake had hit San Francisco, you would have had people saying it was because of homosexuality.”

It may be the case that some of the usual high-profile suspects are keeping their pie holes shut in deference to some warped political thinking, but there are still plenty of other assholes who are happy to fly their freak flags. I don’t have words strong enough to condemn the monstrousness of this line of thinking, but I do know this. I’m friends with Melaney Linton, the President and CEO of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast. I ran into her over the weekend, and as one does I asked her if she made it through the storm all right. She told me that all of the PPGC Gulf Coast clinics made it through with no damage, as did she and her house. For those of you who want to see a divine hand in this type of storm, make of that what you will.

Texas blog roundup for the week of September 4

The Texas Progressive Alliance suggests a donation to the United Way Houston Relief Fund to help everyone affected by Hurricane Harvey as it brings you this week’s roundup.

Off the Kuff celebrated the federal court ruling that halted enforcement of the “sanctuary cities” ban before it went into effect.

SocraticGadfly, from up in North Texas, offers his take on both the politics behind Harvey, and pseudoskeptics, including an alleged actual skeptic in Houston, the politics behind Harvey everything behind the Arkema explosions.

After getting his 91-year old mother out of the calamity that Harvey left behind in Beaumont, PDiddie at Brains and Eggs collected some observations about the looming environmental catastrophes threatening the Texas Gulf coast.

South East Texas soil, air and water are awash in toxic chemicals thanks to deregulation by Trump and Abbott. Trump’s gutting of the EPA ensures that the destruction and suffering will have the maximum effect. CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme wishes each of them could experience all of the suffering they are causing themselves.

Neil at All People Have Value said you don’t have to be “Houston Strong” regarding Hurricane/Tropical Storm Harvey if you don’t want to be. Do what you need to do to move forward. APHV is part of NeilAquino.com.

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And here are some posts of interest from other Texas blogs.

Space City Weather, which got some well-earned national attention for its coverage of Harvey, assures us we will get though this.

It’s Not Hou It’s Me shared their pictures of high water around town.

Katharine Shilcutt found the helpers.

Therese Odell rounded up more examples of Harvey heroism.

Lone Star Ma made it through Harvey in Corpus Christi.

Dan Solomon mourns for Port Aransas.

TransGriot knows that a general evacuation of the Houston metro area would have been an unmitigated disaster.

Maggie Gordon documents the effort to save the Waugh Street Bridge bat colony during the height of the flooding.

The Overhead Wire explains why the lack of zoning in Houston had little to do with Harvey-related flooding.

The Lunch Tray details how to help Houston school kids.

Raise Your Hand Texas discusses how school districts affected by Harvey are coping.

Juanita calls your attention to a couple of folks feeding people who need it in Fort Bend.

BeyondBones tells you what you need to know about floatinf gire ant mounds (spoiler alert: stay away).

Better Texas Blog answers your questions about Harvey and health care coverage.

Angelia Griffin begs you to choose the things you donate to disaster relief carefully.