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The status of Section 3

Lyle Denniston looks at a key aspect of the voting rights-related lawsuits in Texas.

About four years after the Supreme Court took away the government’s strongest authority to protect minority voters’ rights, a backup power under the federal Voting Rights Act – weaker and harder to use – is now being threatened, just as federal courts have begun applying it.

At issue now, as it was when the Supreme Court decided the case of Shelby County v. Holder in June 2013, is a form of government supervision of voting rights that goes by the technical term, “pre-clearance.” When operating against a state or local government, that means that officials cannot put any new voting law or procedure – however minor – into effect without first getting approval in Washington, D.C.

Three cases now developing in federal courts based in Texas are testing whether the variation of “pre-clearance” will take the place of what the Supreme Court scuttled. And there are already serious challenges facing that prospect, in each of those cases.

[…]

District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal, became the first since the demise of Section 5 pre-clearance to impose Section 3 pre-clearance as a remedy for a discriminatory voting practice. That case involves a shift of the way voters in Pasadena, Texas, elect the members of the city council. Judge Rosenthal, after finding that the change discriminated intentionally against the city’s Hispanic voters, adopted a six-year period of pre-clearance for any future change in voting laws in that locality.

That case has now moved on up to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. And that is where one major threat to Section 3 remedies has arisen. It came in a legal brief filed by the state of Texas last month, supporting an appeal by the city of Pasadena as far as the city is challenging the remedy of Section 3 pre-clearance. That remedy, the state brief asserted, “must be sparingly and cautiously applied.”

The state’s filing argued that “misuse” of that mode of pre-clearance “threatens to re-impose the same unwarranted federal intrusion that Shelby County found could not be justified under the Constitution.” The brief contended that Judge Rosenthal had engaged in such a “misuse” of this provision by imposing it for only a single incident of discrimination – the one-time change in the method of electing the Pasadena city council.

The only circumstance in which a Section 3 pre-clearance remedy is valid, under either the specific language of Section 3, the reasoning of the Supreme Court in 2013, or the Constitution, the Texas brief contended, is when a judge can conclude that the discrimination was “pervasive, flagrant, widespread, and rampant.”

The Fifth Circuit Court has been centrally involved for years in Voting Rights Act cases, because the state of Texas (located in that Circuit) has so often been sued for discrimination in voting. If that court were to read the Section 3 pre-clearance provision in the limited way that the state seeks, that would be a major setback in this legal field.

The Pasadena ruling was in January, and it put Pasadena under preclearance through the 2021 elections. The practical effect of that is likely to be minimal in that Pasadena is unlikely to want or need to engage in redistricting any time soon (other things like voting locations and hours for elections conducted by the city of Pasadena are also in scope), but the precedent as the first use of Section 3 in the post-Shelby world is big. As Denniston notes, the voter ID case, in which a finding of intentional discrimination has already been made, and the legislative redistricting case where the matter of intent has not yet been resolved, could impose similar requirements on the state as well. If the intent finding in the voter ID case is upheld, that would affect redistricting even if no such ruling is made in that suit.

So, it’s not surprising that the state is arguing for a limited application of Section 3. There’s an awful lot at stake, and it all begins in Pasadena. I’ll be keeping an eye on this. Link via Rick Hasen.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Greg Abbott wants to kill off cities

That’s the only way to describe it.

As state lawmakers gather for their biennial session this spring, they’re weighing whether to rein in localities that ban plastic grocery bags, extend civil rights protections to LGBTQ residents, discourage cooperation with federal immigration authorities, impose driver screening requirements for ride-sharing companies and regulate the chopping down of trees.

Those types of clashes, particularly between liberal cities and conservative states, are increasingly common throughout the country, in part because Republicans have a historically high level of control over state governments.

But in Texas, Abbott now suggests that instead of spending time and money battling these issues individually, the state should issue a “ban across the board” on municipal regulations.

“One strategy would be for the state of Texas to take a ‘rifle shot after rifle shot after rifle shot’ approach to try to override all these local regulations,” Abbott explained to the conservative audience last month. “I think it would be far simpler, and frankly easier for those of you who have to run your lives and your businesses on a daily basis, if the state of Texas adopted an overriding policy to create certain standards that must be met.”

The governor has not laid out many more details on how that approach would work, and his press office referred back to his remarks.

But one possibility, says Bennett Sandlin, executive director of the Texas Municipal League, is that the state could strip all 352 home-rule cities, which are free to enact regulations as long as they don’t expressly conflict with state law, of their home-rule powers. They would then be treated as general-rule cities, which are usually small and can regulate only areas the state specifically gives them permission to oversee.

[…]

Sandlin, from the municipal league, has naturally been an outspoken opponent of Abbott’s attacks on municipalities. He says this hostility toward cities and local control didn’t exist at the Texas Capitol before Abbott became governor.

“It’s only been since 2015 that we’ve seen this new tactic, where local control is no longer a good thing, it’s actually an evil thing,” says Sandlin. “The new good thing is now liberty from local regulations.”

I see Abbott’s antipathy towards cities as being of a piece with his antipathy towards the federal government, or a least towards the federal government when a Democrat is President. Basically, he doesn’t tolerate disagreement, and doesn’t recognize the authority of elected officials who do stuff he doesn’t like. It’s not a matter of philosophy or principle, in that he’ll have no problem with any heavyhanded federal actions as long as it’s in the service of policy he supports. Like eminent domain for a border wall, for example. Greg Abbott is about power – his power – and if cities are standing in his way, he’ll seek to crush them. I don’t believe there’s anything more to it than that.

Posted in: Show Business for Ugly People.

Weekend link dump for April 16

“Unlike the Golden Globes, where film and TV stars mingle on the red carpet but compete in parallel categories, MTV is all but erasing the barrier between the two.”

The number of pedestrians being killed by automobiles is way too high.

“The lesson that runs through all these moments is this: if you cling to what you once knew, you’ll be left behind. Keep learning.”

“[Researchers] found that a 2013 California law that granted driver’s licenses to immigrants in the country illegally reduced hit-and-run accidents by 7 to 10 percent in 2015, meaning roughly 4,000 fewer hit-and-runs. In that same year, 600,000 people got driver’s licenses under the law.”

“Is it any wonder, then, that the crack epidemic led to a “tough on crime” crackdown focused on harsher prison sentences and police tactics, while the current opioid crisis has led more to calls for legislation, including a measure Congress passed last year, that boosted spending on drug treatment to get people with substance use disorders help?”

“Nearly 50 percent of Americans tell Simmons they would be less likely to use a product or service endorsed by Trump. At the same time, 29 percent say they would actively boycott a product or service endorsed by the president. Only 18 percent of respondents say a Trump endorsement would make them more likely to use a product or service.”

RIP, Carolyn Kelly, artist and daughter of cartoonist Walt Kelly.

On punching Nazis, which is the sort of thing we find ourselves having to debate these days.

“Neither Social Security nor the Pentagon will go bankrupt unless Congress allows it, and Congress will never allow it. So why maintain the charade? Get rid of the regressive dedicated funding stream, fund Social Security from general revenues, and then adjust taxes and/or deficits as necessary to pay for it. This seems to work tolerably well for every other function of government, so why not Social Security?”

Happy Inception Day, Leon Kowalski.

“The assault of Trump on our constitutional foundations is, in fact, daily, insidious, effective, and cannot be bracketed off into the realm of the unthreatening, however keenly, desperately, we would all like to do that, for the sake of our own sanity and civic health—which depends, after all, exactly on not being compelled to pay attention to politics. A healthy polity lifts public life into a world of reasonable administration and procedural reliability, alongside which we can expand our inner lives and interests without having, as people in autocratic governments must, to think about the boss and the secret police and what is going on inside the palace at every minute.”

RIP, Spike Dykes, former Texas Tech football coach.

The annual White House Easter Egg Roll may be a spectacle this year for reasons unlike any other year.

“A 2013 proposal to allow cell phone calls during airplane flights will be thrown out by the Federal Communications Commission.”

RIP, John Geils, founder and lead guitarist of the J. Geils Band. My blood runs cold…

RIP, Dorothy Mengering, David Letterman’s mom and the best Winter Olympics correspondent ever.

“If you’re mad about this now, just wait until you find out that what United did was pretty much by the book.”

We’d make the same trade, too, Stephen.

“For folks keeping score on Trump’s policy flip-flops, it’s been a busy week. First, there was the Trump administration’s mixed messages on Syria and its rapid shifts on Russia. And yesterday? About-faces on China and the Ex-Im Bank and NATO and Janet Yellen, all in one day.”

“Chalking this up to some kind of new strategy probably gives Trump and his team too much credit. What we’re witnessing is governing chaos, driven by longstanding ignorance and confusion, led by a clumsy president with few core beliefs to help him navigate.”

RIP, Dan Rooney, chairman of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Paxton wants a new judge

He may not get his wish.

Best mugshot ever

The judge presiding over Attorney General Ken Paxton’s criminal trial plans to remain on the case, regardless of Paxton’s request for a new judge, his spokesman said.

“He anticipates remaining the judge,” District Judge George Gallagher’s spokeswoman Melody McDonald Lanier told the Houston Chronicle Thursday.

Paxton’s criminal defense team requested a new judge after Gallagher moved Paxton’s criminal trial to Harris County from Paxton’s home of Collin County, a move the attorney general’s lawyers opposed. Special prosecutors argued the attorney general’s allies had worked to poison the jury pool there.

Lawyers representing the embattled Republican attorney general said in a motion Tuesday they would refuse to sign off on a procedural move to to keep Gallagher with the case at it moves to Harris County.

Asked for comment about Paxton’s motion to remove him as the case’s judge, Gallagher’s spokeswoman said “He can’t comment because he is the judge and he anticipates remaining the judge.”

[…]

“As far as I know, there is nothing in the Code of Criminal Procedure that addresses what is to happen if the defendant or defense counsel withholds the consent to which article 31.09 refers,” said George Dix, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin, referring to the code Paxton cited in his motion. “No case, as far as I know, has addressed the meaning of this provision.”

See here and here for the background. As the DMN notes, what Paxton is asking for is basically unprecedented.

It’s quite possible no one else has ever asked for what Ken Paxton wants now.

This week, after Judge George Gallagher moved the attorney general’s upcoming criminal trials from Collin to Harris County, Paxton asked for a new judge. He cited a state law that’s meant to be procedural, a way for Gallagher to maintain the original case number and continue to use his own court reporter and clerk when the proceedings move to Houston.

But Paxton’s attorneys have interpreted the law to also require their client’s “written consent” for Gallagher to continue presiding over the case.

Paxton didn’t give his consent. He’s the first to refuse to do so and ask for a new judge in the process, experts said.

[…]

If Paxton’s motion is granted and upheld on appeal, it could set a precedent that will allow any criminal defendant or prosecutor to use the same tactic and get a new judge if a case is moved. But it’s unclear how likely that is to occur.

If Judge Gallagher denies the motion, the Chron story suggests any appeals would be heard by either the 5th Court of Appeals in Dallas or the 1st or 14th Court of Appeals in Houston. I don’t think this is likely to affect the proposed trial calendar, but as noted we are in unprecedented territory here. Already the entertainment value of this proceeding is off the charts, and we’re still five months away from jury selection.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment, Scandalized!.

“Sanctuary cities” bill passes House committee

Something like this is going to pass, it’s just a matter of what form it takes.

A state House committee on Wednesday passed a “sanctuary cities” bill that is less harsh than the version passed by the Senate, but that still would require local sheriffs and jailers to comply with federal requests to hold on to individuals in this country illegally or face a misdemeanor criminal charge.

The Republican-dominated House State Affairs Committee voted 7-5 along party lines to send the bill to the full chamber for what is expected to be a heated debate and floor vote as early as next week.

At issue is whether local law enforcement should honor every federal immigration request by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hold on individuals in the country illegally until federal officials give further instructions or take them into custody.

As noted by several of the bill’s opponents, the decision to honor ICE requests, known as detainers, is voluntary.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security acknowledged last month that ICE detainers are not legally binding and that local jurisdictions have various policies regarding whether to honor the agency’s requests.

The Senate version of the bill, which was passed in February, would bar local law enforcement agencies and university police departments from enacting policies prohibiting officers from asking about immigration status if they have been stopped with probable cause.

[…]

Introducing his changes to the Senate version, state Rep. Charlie Geren, the Republican from Fort Worth who wrote the House bill, said the criminal penalty is enough to deter sheriffs and constables from violating the law. He eliminated a provision in the Senate proposal that would have withheld state grant money from local jurisdictions that do not comply, a punishment Democrats have argued would hurt domestic violence programs, veterans courts and other local services.

“By implementing this, we’ll be able to remove these individuals from office for not complying with the provisions of the bill. Also, by targeting those solely responsible for not complying with detainer requests, there is no need for removal of state grant funds,” Geren said.

[…]

Denise Gilman, director of the Immigration Clinic at the University of Texas’ School of Law, said the federal government cannot force a local sheriff’s department to comply with ICE detainers, so Texas lawmakers are trying to introduce stiff penalties to deter their actions as much as possible.

“Really, what I think is troubling in particular is that the whole debate at the Legislature seems to be one of suggesting that the problem is that certain jurisdictions are acting unlawfully that SB 4, cloaked in legality, would bring them into compliance,” Gilman said. “The opposite is the case. Under federal law, there is no obligation to comply.”

She also predicted lawsuits if the bill is signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott, who has named such legislation a priority.

“The question is whether it’s a good idea for the state to get in the middle of a question of federal immigration enforcement in a way that limits local jurisdictions to make their own decisions,” Gilman said. “If it passes, it’s extremely likely that there will be a lot of litigation around implementation and individual cases where people are profiled by law enforcement under the encouragement of SB 4, where people are held under detainer not supported by probable cause.”

See here and here for some background. There’s so much that’s wrong with this, from the assault on local control, to the erosion of trust in law enforcement and corresponding drop in crime reporting in immigrant communities, to the actual threat of deportation to people who haven’t committed any crime, to the questionable legality of the whole thing. But it’s going to happen because it’s a priority of Greg Abbott’s and Dan Patrick’s because they have to have someone to demonize and they care as much about cities as they do about immigrants. I wish I could be less cynical about this, but I can’t. The Trib and the Observer have more.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Bill to fix voting interpreters considered

This needs to happen, and it really shouldn’t be a big deal.

Sen. Sylvia Garcia

Almost three years after Mallika Das, a naturalized citizen who spoke Bengali, was unable to vote properly because she was not proficient in English, Texas lawmakers are considering a change to an obscure provision of Texas election law regarding language interpreters.

Members of the Senate State Affairs Committee on Monday took up Senate Bill 148 by Democratic state Sen. Sylvia Garcia of Houston, which would repeal a section of the state’s election code that requires interpreters to be registered voters in the same county they are providing help.

The measure will ensure that voters are able “to meaningfully and effectively exercise their vote,” Garcia told the committee. “This ensures that voters have the capacity to navigate polling stations, communicate with election officers and understand how to fill out required forms and answer questions directed at them by any election officer.”

Garcia’s proposal comes amid an ongoing legal battle over the state’s interpreter provision in a lawsuit brought by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund on behalf of Das, who has since died, and the Greater Houston chapter of the Organization of Chinese Americans.

Because she had found it difficult to vote in the past, Das in 2014 brought her son, Saurabh, to help her cast her vote at a Williamson County polling place. But when her son told poll workers he was there to interpret the English ballot for his mother, they ran into the state’s interpreter requirements. Saurabh could not serve as an interpreter for his mother because he was registered to vote in neighboring Travis County.

[…]

One provision of the state election code allows for “assistors.” It says voters can receive help reading or marking a ballot and states that assistance “occurs while the person is in the presence of the voter’s ballot.”

Yet a separate provision allows voters to select an “interpreter” to help them communicate with an election officer and “accompany the voter to the voting station for the purpose of translating the ballot to the voter.” The interpreter, unlike an assistor, must be registered to vote in the same county.

In Das’ case, had her son simply told poll workers he was “assisting” his mother — and not that the assistance involved interpreting the ballot for her — he would have been able to go into the voting booth with her.

Garcia’s proposal would essentially consolidate all forms of assistance and remove any requirements related to voter registration.

While the measure has picked up support by the Texas Association of Election Administrators, representatives with the Harris County Clerk’s Office, including Ed Johnson, testified against Garcia’s proposal.

“In Harris County, we think the role of an interpreter is different to the role of an assistant,” Johnson said, adding that the issue was a currently a “moot point” because the law has been put on hold and court is “still working through that process.”

See here, here, and here for the background. The lawsuit in question is being appealed to the Fifth Circuit, but if Sen. Garcia’s bill were to pass, it would (I assume) moot the issue. I honestly don’t get the argument against this, but that doesn’t mean Stan Stanart isn’t going to do Stan Stanart things. Sen. Garcia’s bill was left pending in committee, and an identical bill by Rep. Ramon Romero was not withdrawn from the House Elections Committee schedule, so there has been no action taken yet. Contact your Senator on the State Affairs Committee if you want to see this bill get passed.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

A little skepticism about hyperloops

Streetsblog isn’t having the hyperloop hype.

There are no functional, real-world examples of a Hyperloop, Tesla founder Elon Musk’s long-distance transport concept that involves shooting people through vacuum-sealed tubes in pods that travel at up to 760 mph. Anyone who believes it’s a viable endeavor is basically taking it on faith.

“Hyperloop One” — the $130 million startup promoting the idea — has built a short 500-meter test track in the desert outside of Las Vegas but has yet to construct a pod to go with the tube, much less tested the technology on humans.

And yet a surprising number of government agencies are treating the Hyperloop as a serious proposition.

[…]

Hyperloop One even sells the technology as a solution to high housing prices, by enabling, for instance, “breadwinners to build a career in Boulder’s thriving tech hubs while commuting from Greeley, where median home prices are 60% lower.” It is a promise to enable sprawl so central cities can relax and avoid the difficult politics of creating more walkable development and inclusive housing policies.

Four years ago, mathematician and transit analyst Alon Levy wrote an epic takedown about the viability of Hyperloop technology. Levy evaluated Musk’s white paper [PDF] detailing how the Hyperloop would connect L.A. to San Francisco in about 30 minutes, and he found major problems. Musk’s cost estimates for engineering and land acquisition are inexplicably low — by a factor of 10 compared with current market norms, he said. (Whether people will be comfortable under to that type of propulsion is a whole other question. Levy says the Hyperloop would be a “barf ride.”)

America has the means to reduce traffic and connect people to where they want to go in less time — but solving these problems entails politically difficult choices to shift travel away from cars and highways. Any high-tech solution that promises a shortcut around these thorny problems is probably too good to be true. Like “personal rapid transit” or the Chinese “straddling bus” — the Hyperloop could end up taking credulous believers for a ride.

See here for previous hyperloop blogging. I consider myself skeptical of this idea, but it sounds so cool that I kind of hope I’m wrong. It would be nice to see some kind of working prototype get built, so we’d have some data about the cost and practicalities. It’s a lot easier to be a visionary if one’s visions remain conceptual. If you’ve got your head in the clouds about hyperloops, this story and the aforementioned epic (and long) takedown are worth a read.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Saturday video break: Pressure Drop

Here’s Toots and the Maytalls:

I have a live acoustic version of this from the KCBO in-studio series. Any way they do it sounds good. Now here are The Specials:

That’s from the soundtrack to the movie Grosse Point Blank, which came out in 1997 and which I’d say was the leading edge of the 80’s music revival. Now I feel like I need to get the second album as well. It’s interesting that the score for Grosse Point Blank was composed by Joe Strummer of The Clash but their cover of this song was not the one picked for the movie. I think it was the right choice, but it’s still interesting.

Posted in: Music.

Bathroom bill 2.0

Beware.

House lawmakers will debate a so-called “bathroom bill” next week that supporters hope will be less worrisome to business interests concerned the measure could hurt the Texas economy.

The decision to debate the House bill, and to set aside a more severe version passed last month in the Senate, marks the latest split the two chambers have endured during a particularly divided legislative session. The House bill will probably get the backing of the Dallas Cowboys, their lobbyist said, but the state’s largest business group is withholding its support at this time.

“It’s a bill that’s trying to strike a balance between all the interested parties,” Rep. Ron Simmons, the bill’s sponsor, told The Dallas Morning News on Thursday. “It’s our belief that discrimination issues related to privacy should be handled at the state level.”

[…]

House Bill 2899 will be debated in the State Affairs Committee on Wednesday. The amended bill would ban cities, school districts and any other “political subdivisions” from passing local laws that protect certain people from discrimination in an intimate space. This would render local nondiscrimination ordinances that protect the rights of transgender people to use bathrooms that match their gender identity unenforceable.

“Except in accordance with federal and state law,” the bill’s language reads, “a political subdivision, including school districts, may not enforce an order, ordinance, or other measure to protect a class of persons from discrimination to the extent that the order, ordinance, or other measure regulates access to multiple-occupancy restrooms, showers, or changing facilities.”

While the language isn’t an exact match, Simmons bill looks quite a bit like the revised bathroom law recently passed in North Carolina. Both ban local governments from regulating use and access of restrooms, changing rooms and locker rooms.

Unlike the North Carolina law, Simmons’ measure would not affect colleges campuses. It also would not restrict bathroom use based on biological sex, which the Senate Bill does. The House bill is co-sponsored by Republican Reps. Dustin Burrows of Lubbock, Cole Hefner of Mount Pleasant, Jodie Laubenberg of Parker, Valoree Swanson of Spring and Terry Wilson of Marble Falls.

[…]

The fact that Simmons’ legislation appears similar to North Carolina’s law could be an issue for business, said Texas Association of Business president Chris Wallace, who added that his organization doesn’t think the laws passed there “are right for Texas.”

“We remain focused on stopping discriminatory legislation and keeping Texas open for business and inviting for all,” Wallace said. The TAB is still looking at the House bill, but was “focused on defeating” the Senate version “and other discriminatory legislation,” he said.

Sorry, but any bill that includes overriding local non-discrimination ordinances is a non-starter for me. Forget the local control issues for a minute, this is once again a bad solution for a problem that doesn’t exist. NDOs have been on the books in multiple Texas cities for almost 20 years. Yet we are led to believe that now this is something the Legislature needs to fix? No. The House has had the right idea up until now. Moving forward with this bill would be a terrible mistake.

State Affairs Committee Chairman Byron Cook made the decision to hold debate on Simmons’ bill. In the past, he’s echoed Straus’ concerns that the legislation seems to be a solution in search of a problem. Last month, he said there’s “no evidence” Texas needs a bathroom bill.

But on Thursday, Cook said the House bill was the “appropriate” approach “for the issue before us.”

“It’s important that we contemplate the right kind of balance that speaks to the privacy issue and also ensures that we don’t do something that has a chilling effect on business,” Cook said. “What I’m hopeful is that this legislation will end up being something that people can be for, which I think is important.”

Asked about the Texas Association of Business’ choice not to throw their support behind the bill at this time, Cook said, “I think what you’ll find is that the business community will be supportive of what Mr. Simmons has put forward.”

Sorry, but the only people who are going to be for this are the people who were for SB6. The right answer here is to do what was already being done about that bill, which is to say, nothing. The Chron and Think Progress have more.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

State wants to appeal redistricting ruling

From Texas Redistricting:

The State of Texas filed a motion [Wednesday] afternoon with the three-judge panel in the Texas redistricting case, asking the panel to give the state permission to appeal the panel’s March 10 ruling on the state’s 2011 congressional plan (Plan C185) to the Fifth Circuit.

Texas told the court that it sought review of the panel’s decision that claims about the 2011 map had not been mooted by the state’s adoption of a new congressional map in 2013. Texas said that appeal to the Fifth Circuit, rather than the Supreme Court, was appropriate in this instance because the panel’s “Order is not final and does not grant or deny an injunction” and “is therefore ‘is one of the relatively rare situations in which a Court of Appeals is required to review the decision of a three-judge District Court.”

The motion said the redistricting plaintiffs opposed the request.

See here, here, and here for the background. And here’s the followup:

The three-judge panel in the Texas redistricting case has set oral argument for April 27 on the request of the State of Texas for leave to appeal the panel’s March 10 congressional plan ruling to the Fifth Circuit.

In that ruling, the court found that a number of districts in the state’s 2011 congressional plan were intentionally discriminatory and/or otherwise violated the Constitution or the Voting Rights Act. The state contends that disputes about the 2011 map were mooted by the Texas Legislature’s adoption of the court-drawn interim plan on a permanent basis in 2013. The plaintiffs sharply disagree, arguing that a number of districts in the two plans are identical and also that questions of discriminatory intent are relevant to whether Texas should be put back under preclearance review using the bail-in provisions of section 3 of the Voting Rights Act.

The court’s order setting oral argument directed that the plaintiffs respond to state’s request to appeal by Friday, April 21, and gave the state until Tuesday, April 25, to file a reply.

Basically, we’ll know more about where things are headed after the hearing on the 27th. And may I say, it’s such a pleasure to see Michael Li updating his blog again.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Hate groups are getting busy on college campuses

From the Anti-Defamation League, another reason to be worried, if you needed one.

White supremacists, emboldened by the 2016 elections and the current political climate, are currently engaged in an unprecedented outreach effort to attract and recruit students on American college campuses. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has cataloged 104 incidents of white supremacist fliering on college campuses since the school year began in September 2016, with surge of activity since January 2017, when 63 of the total incidents (61 percent) occurred.

Until recently, on-the-ground white supremacist actions have been relatively infrequent on college campuses. But this year has been different, according to ADL’s Center on Extremism. White supremacists are using a variety of tactics including anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim and racist fliers, as well as on-campus appearances and speeches by racist activists.

“White supremacists have consciously made the decision to focus their recruitment efforts on students and have in some cases openly boasted of efforts to establish a physical presence on campus,” said Jonathan A. Greenblatt, ADL’s CEO. “While there have been recruitment efforts in the past, never have we seen anti-Semites and white supremacists so focused on outreach to students on campus.”

White supremacist engagement tactics on campus range from the virtual, such as sending racist fliers to thousands of campus fax machines, to on the ground rallies and speaking engagements. More extremists are also making a point of visiting campuses to speak with students individually. This is part of a push to move their activism from online chatter to “real world” action.

See here for a fuller report. As noted by the Current, seventeen of these documented incidents have taken place on campuses of Texas universities, with Texas State being especially popular. I don’t have a prescription for this, but it’s everyone’s responsibility to be part of the resistance to it. Among other things, it would be very nice if our state leaders addressed the problem, spoke out against it, and maybe had just the tiniest glimmer of self-awareness for the role their support of Donald Trump has had in exacerbating this problem.

Posted in: The great state of Texas.

Friday random ten: Ladies’ night, part 41

Down to the last three.

1. Where Do You Run To – Vivian Girls (Cassie Ramone, Katy Goodman, Ali Koehler)
2. Launderette – Vivien Goldman
3. Christmas Wrapping – The Waitresses (Patty Donahue)
4. Do You Know The Way To San Jose? – Dionne Warwick
5. It’s Raining Men – The Weather Girls (Martha Wash and Izora Armstead)
6. My Guy – Mary Wells
7. Its Been So Long – Wendi Slaton
8. Waterfall – Wendy & Lisa
9. I Can Swing A Hammer – The Wet Secrets (Kim Rackel, Emma Frazier)
10. Hungry – White Lung (Anne-Marie Vassiliou, Mish Way)

Yeah, two more mis-sorted names. Also three 80s groups. And now two more of these lists to go.

Posted in: Music.

Would a contested primary for Senate be bad for Dems in 2018?

I have three things to say about this.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

A primary showdown between two well-liked and well-funded Democrats would add an extra layer of time and money for [Rep. Beto] O’Rourke and potentially [Rep. Joaquin] Castro – and could make it easier for Cruz to brand the winner as an out-of-touch liberal if O’Rourke and Castro need to spend time winning over the state’s liberal base.

“A competitive primary will split the party, leave hard feelings and limit the ability to raise the money needed to compete in the general” election, said University of Houston professor Brandon Rottinghaus, author of a recent book on Texas politics. “Two competitive Democrats in the primary who have run in the past has fractured the party and created new fault lines that Dem voters weren’t able to cross.”

Rottinghaus brought up the 2002 election, in which former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk won a four-way Democratic primary to challenge Sen. John Cornyn for an open seat at the time. While Republicans were united behind Cornyn’s ultimately successful bid, Democrats were divided by geographical and ideological interests that made it harder to win the general election.

In recent years, big-name Democrats have largely stayed out of one another’s way in statewide races. State Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth faced nominal opposition in her 2014 gubernatorial bid against Greg Abbott, which she lost. Democrats did not contest primaries in races for lieutenant governor or attorney general.

1. I dispute the notion that a contested primary is necessarily a “good” or “bad” thing for a party’s chances in November. I certainly disagree with the assertion about the 2002 Senate primary. For one thing, it was mostly overshadowed by the Tony Sanchez/Dan Morales gubernatorial primary. For another, Ron Kirk was one of the better-performing Democrats, getting a higher percentage of the vote than any Dem after John Sharp and Margaret Mirabal. I’m gonna need to see some numbers before I buy that argument. Plenty of candidates have won general elections after winning nasty, brutal primary fights – see Ann Richards in 1990 and Ted Cruz in 2012, to pick two off the top of my head. I’ll bet a dollar right now that if Ted Cruz is re-elected next year, a primary between Beto O’Rourke and Joaquin Castro will be very low on the list of reasons why he won.

2. We don’t know yet if Castro will run or not – he says he’ll tell us later this month. As was the case last week in Dallas, Castro has made multiple appearances at events with Beto O’Rourke, which for now at least has kept everything nice and civil. I’ve said that I don’t think Castro will give up his safe Congressional seat and increasingly high profile within the party for what everyone would agree is a longshot run against Cruz. (Though perhaps somewhat less of a longshot if the political conditions from that Kansas special election persist through next November.) If he does, however, and especially if he does in the context of having to win a March election first, then I’d suggest it’s because he thinks his odds of winning are better than the current empirical evidence would imply. Maybe he’d be wrong about that, but I believe if Castro jumps in, it’s because he really believes he can win, above and beyond the usual amount that candidates believe.

3. Whatever Castro does, I do hope Beto O’Rourke faces at least one primary challenger, even if that’s a fringe or perennial candidate. I want him to take it seriously and begin engaging voters as soon as possible. As I said before, I was wrong to be dismissive about the 2014 primaries and what they meant for that November. Whoever else runs, I prefer to see this primary as an opportunity and not a threat.

Posted in: Election 2018.

Lawsuit filed over Muslim ban documents

From the inbox:

The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit [Wednesday] demanding government documents about the on-the-ground implementation of President Trump’s Muslim ban.

Today’s action is part of a total of 13 FOIA lawsuits filed by ACLU affiliates across the country. The ACLU of Texas lawsuit is seeking records from U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Houston Field Office.  In particular, the lawsuit seeks records related to CBP’s implementation of President Trump’s Muslim ban at Houston’s Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) and Dallas Ft. Worth International Airport (DFW). The ACLU first sought this information through FOIA requests submitted to CBP on February 6. The ACLU is now suing because, other than acknowledging receipt of the request, the government has failed to respond.

“Transparency and accountability in our government are fundamental marks of a vibrant democracy,” said Edgar Saldivar, senior staff attorney of the ACLU of Texas. “If our government is to be truly of the people, by the people, and for the people, the American public needs to know what goes on behind the veil of federal agencies. FOIA gives us that right. And with this lawsuit, we expect to find out more about CBP’s role in carrying out the Muslim ban.”

“President Trump has tried twice to force his unconstitutional and ham-fisted Muslim ban on the public, and twice American courts have had to remind him — swiftly — that he is not above the law,” said Terri Burke, executive director of the ACLU of Texas. “CBP’s refusal to comply with our FOIA requests indicates that not everyone in the Trump administration got the message. But we will continue to do everything in our power to ensure that CBP respects our laws, as well as the people — all of the people — they protect.”

“CBP has a long history of ignoring its obligations under the federal Freedom of Information Act — a law that was enacted to ensure that Americans have timely access to information of pressing public concern. The public has a right to know how federal immigration officials have handled the implementation of the Muslim bans, especially after multiple federal courts have blocked various aspects of these executive orders,” said Mitra Ebadolahi, Border Litigation Project Staff Attorney with the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties.

Each lawsuit seeks unique and local information regarding how CBP implemented the executive orders at specific airports and ports of entry in the midst of rapidly developing and sometimes conflicting government guidance.

The coordinated lawsuits seek information from the following local CBP offices:

Atlanta
Baltimore
Boston
Chicago
Detroit
Houston
Los Angeles
Miami
Portland
San Diego
San Francisco
Seattle
Tampa
Tucson

All of the affiliate FOIA lawsuits will be available here:
https://www.aclu.org/other/aclu-cbp-foia-lawsuits-regarding-muslim-ban-implementation

This release can be found here:
https://www.aclutx.org/en/press-releases/aclu-texas-files-lawsuit-demanding-documents-implementation-trump-muslim-ban

The ACLU national release is here:
https://www.aclu.org/news/aclu-files-lawsuits-demanding-local-documents-implementation-trump-muslim-ban

The ACLU national release on the original FOIA requests is here:
https://www.aclu.org/news/aclu-files-demands-documents-implementation-trumps-muslim-ban

The ACLU of Texas release on the original FOIA request from is here:
https://www.aclutx.org/en/press-releases/aclu-texas-files-demands-documents-implementation-trumps-muslim-ban

More background on CBP’s FOIA practices is here:
https://www.aclu.org/letter/aclu-letter-cbp-re-foia-practices-july-2016

Here’s a Chron story about the lawsuit. Given what a debacle this all was (and still is), we deserve to know exactly what happened and to whom.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Improving Metro service for disabled riders

It’s a work in progress.

Many elderly and disabled people in the region rely on the bus, and a 6-foot stretch of missing sidewalk can cut off their access completely. Advocates expect better from the city with the world’s largest medical center, home to the former president, George H.W. Bush, who signed the Americans With Disabilities Act – and who now uses a wheelchair to get around himself.

Largely via prodding from [Metro board member Lex] Frieden, who helped craft the Americans With Disabilities Act, Metro officials are taking another look at increasing access for disabled and elderly riders by improving their paths to mass transit. As Metro revamps its own policies that might drive away disabled riders – such as tense interactions with bus operators – the larger issues remain smoothing over Houston’s bumpy sidewalk system and repairing Metro’s crumbling concrete slabs at many bus stops.

City leaders agree there are major problems, ranging from poorly maintained sidewalks to ill-placed utility poles and electrical boxes.

“I am very sensitive about that, especially with the disabled community,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said.

Aside from the city’s own sidewalk plans, Metro officials expect to spend $16.5 million over the next five years, including more than $3.5 million in the current fiscal year on “universal accessibility,” a hodgepodge of projects aimed at making it easier for everyone to get to a bus. Projects include improved sidewalks, rebuilt ramps, making bus stop slabs level and even adding trash cans.

Still, problems persist even as Houston enjoys new development that brings new sidewalks and street crossings.

“Overall, it is getting better,” Frieden said on a recent tour of problem spots old and new along Metro’s routes. “Any time there is new development, there is new construction that is up to code and often it is better. The problem is that one exception that keeps me from benefiting from the new development.”

Increasing access to Metro buses also helps curtail the growing demand for costly, door-to-door paratransit provided by MetroLift.

MetroLift cost $54 million in 2014, about the same the agency spent on commuter bus services to park-and-ride lots, which provided four times as many trips. On a per-trip basis, each 2014 MetroLift trip cost $22.51 for a taxi ride or $30.46 for a small bus equipped with a wheelchair lift, according to the Federal Transit Administration. Every conventional bus trip costs Metro $4.78 on average.

I wrote about the need for good sidewalks in my Vision for Metro post about boosting bus ridership. I admit I didn’t think of it in terms of making the system more accessible for disabled riders, which as this story notes would allow Metro to provide fewer of the more expensive MetroLift rides, but the principle was the same. People can’t and won’t ride the buses if they can’t get to and from the bus stops in a safe and convenient manner. It’s good that Metro is putting some money into addressing the issue, but let’s be clear that this is not, and should not be, strictly a problem for Metro to solve. It’s a Houston issue and a Harris County issue, too. We all need to treat it like the pressing concern that it is.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Making vaccination information public

I support this.

While most parents in Texas vaccinate their children, the number of parents opting out of immunizations for non-medical reasons is on the rise. Since Texas changed its laws to allow parents to opt out citing a conscientious objection, the number of unvaccinated children has shot up more than 1,700 percent in 13 years, to 45,000 from 2,300. In response, parents and health advocates are backing an effort to increase public reporting on how many students who have skipped vaccines attend each school.

Currently, that data is housed at the state level and available via an open-records request. County and school district-level data also is available online.

House Bill 2249 would require the Texas Department of State Health Services to publish school-by-school data that would indicate the total number of students who forgo vaccinations, including those who opt out by choice, such as a religious objection. No names or identifying information would be listed.

Advocates for publishing the data say the information would offer parents insight into their child’s school and help them weigh whether to switch, particularly for parents of medically fragile children like Riki Graves’ daughter, Juliana. Now 3, she received a new heart at 18 days old, and doctors say she will need to attend a school where least 95 percent of the students are immunized.

“My job as a transplant mom is to protect that organ,” said Graves as she drove from her home in Sugar Land to Austin where she plans to testify before the House Public Health Committee on Tuesday. “We have the data … there’s no reason not to publish it.”

Opponents say there are plenty of reasons, including children’s medical privacy.

“If this is truly about keeping children safe, we have to have that honest conversation about keeping all people safe. It puts a target on the backs of children whose parents have chosen to opt out for various different reasons,” said Jackie Schlegel, a mother of three and executive director of Texans for Vaccine Choice, a grass-roots parent group that has ballooned in recent years as the movement against vaccinating children has gained traction. The group is planning a rally at the Capitol on Thursday, dubbed the “freedom fight.”

“At schools where you do have a high number of opt-out, we are creating a witch hunt against families, and that’s just unacceptable,” Schlegel said.

We clearly have a different definition of “unacceptable”. I think knowing that a given school has a high rate of unvaccinated children is something any parent would want to know. HB 2249 has four co-authors, two of whom )JD Sheffield and John Zerwas) are medical doctors, which ought to tell you something. As the story notes, an identical bill passed the House in 2015 but never got a hearing in the Senate. Let’s hope this year’s version meets a better fate. The Trib has more.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Paxton’s trial date set for September 12

Mark your calendars.

Best mugshot ever

Attorney General Ken Paxton’s newly relocated criminal trial is scheduled to begin Sept. 12.

The judge in the case set the trial date Wednesday, a day after moving the proceedings to Harris County. The trial had originally been scheduled to start May 1 in Collin County.

The judge, George Gallagher, said in his scheduling order that the trial “will conclude no later than” Sept. 22. The order also said jury selection will begin Sept 11.

[…]

Paxton is now seeking a new judge in the case. Hours after Gallagher sent the trial to Harris County on Tuesday, Paxton’s lawyers told the judge they would not give their permission for him to follow the case to the new venue.

See here for the background, and here for more on Paxton’s attempt to get a new judge. I presume someone still needs to rule on that motion, and my guess is that first Judge Gallagher will have the opportunity to step down on his own, and if he chooses not to do so the administrative judge will rule on the motion. (You lawyers please feel free to correct me on this.) I don’t think that will take enough time to disrupt the proposed schedule, but if a new judge is installed I suppose it could. Finally, note that Paxton will only be tried on the lesser charge that he failed to register with the state securities board. If he is convicted, then prosecutors will proceed on the much more serious charges of securities fraud; if they fail, I presume they will cut their losses and go home. Between this and the Stockman trial, we’ve got quite the full calendar ahead of us. The Chron has more.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment, Scandalized!.

Settle the damn bail lawsuit already

Enough.

Harris County commissioners Tuesday voted to add high-profile, conservative litigator Charles Cooper to a growing team of attorneys defending the county and several public officials against a civil rights lawsuit alleging the county’s bail system unconstitutionally jails the poor.

Cooper, a former clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist and friend of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, would represent 15 out of 16 county criminal court of law judges in a potential appeal.

No decision has been made yet in the case nor has it gone to trial. Parties are awaiting a ruling from Chief U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal to determine if the current bail system should be suspended before trial. When Rosenthal makes that ruling, either the plaintiffs or the county could appeal.

“It’s simply being ready to deal with eventualities,” First Assistant County Attorney Robert Soard said of Cooper’s retention. “Whether the county decides to appeal, the plaintiffs decide to appeal, it’s sometimes good to have these things lined up in advance.”

[…]

The county already has paid approximately $2 million to two outside law firms in the case, money that reform advocates such as Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis said could have been spent on actually implementing reforms being sought in the suit.

Ellis, who has advocated to settle the lawsuit and has criticized the county’s bail system, cast the lone vote Tuesday against retaining Cooper. He questioned Cooper’s role in defending California’s ban against gay marriage before the U.S. Supreme Court.

“He seems like the leading candidate that people go to if you want to fight civil rights,” Ellis said.

See here and here for some background. I realize that we’re still waiting for a decision on whether to put an injunction on the county’s bail policies (which I think will be granted) in advance of the trial itself, but this has already taken a long time and cost a ton of money. Meanwhile, the county’s justification is that they’ve made reforms so there’s nothing for them to be sued about. If that’s truly the case, then it shouldn’t be that difficult to work out whatever differences do remain, and save a lot of time and trouble. Digging our heels in further makes no sense to me, and I question the judgment of everyone involved who insists on it. The Press has more.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment.

“Strongly held religious beliefs” do not justify discrimination

This is a very bad idea.

Legislation that would allow county clerks in Texas to decline to issue same-sex marriage licenses if it conflicts with their religious beliefs was tentatively approved Tuesday by the Texas Senate.

State Sen. Brian Birdwell, a Granbury Republican who authored the measure, said the Senate Bill 522 would allow clerks to recuse themselves from issuing a same-sex license and would instead assign their duties to other clerks, a judge or even a special clerk.

The vote was 21-10, mostly along party lines. A final vote is expected within a few days.

“This provides a way for clerks to exercise their profoundly held religious beliefs under the First Amendment, and at the same time protect the rights of couples who are coming in for a marriage license,” Birdwell said. “Right now, there is not an alternate mechanism for a clerk who is not willing to issue a license because of their sincerely held beliefs.”

[…]

Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, questioned who the bill was supposed to protect.

“My main concern here is that all the clerks and judges know about the law and are following the law,” Garcia said.

Birdwell responded: “Without this, we’re saying that if you have strongly held religious beliefs, you are not welcome in public office.”

There is so much wrong with what Sen. Birdwell is saying. Warren Jeffs has “strongly held religious beliefs”. Last I checked, no one was seeking to pass a bill to better accommodate those beliefs. Believing in something extra hard doesn’t make it good or just or worthy of respect. A Catholic county clerk with “strongly held religious beliefs” would by this logic want to be able to recuse themselves from issuing a license to anyone who was divorced or to couples that were cohabiting. There’s a perfectly reasonable alternative bill that would address the concern of the deeply religious county clerk without singling out any particular marriage license applicants.

And that’s really the crux of this. The reason for this bill is because some people still don’t approve of same sex marriage and want to be able to express that disapproval in a formal and sanctioned way. That in turn leads to things like desperate legal attempts to redefine “marriage” in a way that makes it something lesser for same sex couples. There’s no way to escape the animus that a bill like this expresses towards same sex couples, which is at the heart of the Obergefell decision. All but a handful of County Clerks were able to do this after that ruling was made, and those who objected initially have since complied with the law. If there is anyone who can’t comply with that law now, then maybe being a County Clerk isn’t the right job for them.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Texas blog roundup for the week of April 10

The Texas Progressive Alliance really just wanted to celebrate the return of baseball as it brings you this week’s roundup.

Continue reading →

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Paxton trial moved to Harris County

The circus is coming to town, with none of those morally questionable animal acts to get all angsty about.

Best mugshot ever

Attorney General Ken Paxton will face a jury in Harris County on felony criminal charges he committed securities fraud and failed to register with the state as an investment advisor, a district judge ruled Tuesday.

District Judge George Gallagher opted to relocate Paxton’s criminal trial across county lines last month after citing concern that political influences are strong in the attorney general’s home of Collin County where he originally was set to be tried.

“Harris County was selected because the lead counsel for the state and the defense are located there. Harris County also has the facilities to accommodate the trial,” Gallagher said in a statement.

Paxton’s lawyers have opposed the change of venue and say a recent poll shows possible jurists in Collin County are largely undecided about the case. However, attorneys on both sides agreed to allow the court to relocate the trial to a county not adjacent to Paxton’s home county, according to the ruling.

See here for the background. If you live in Harris County and receive a jury summons in the next few weeks, that may end up being a more exciting experience than you’d normally expect.

And with the change in venue, it appears there will be a change of judge as well.

Paxton’s attorneys filed a motion hours later asking that a new judge from Harris County be assigned to the case.

“By this motion, Paxton respectfully advises the Court that he will not be giving the statutorily-required written consent… to allow the Honorable George Gallagher or his court staff to continue to preside over the matter in Harris County,” the motion reads.

Needless to say, there’s no trial date set yet. The questions of who will preside over the case and in which courtroom will have to be settled first, and the new judge will have to get up to speed. I may have to reconsider my original expectation that there will be a verdict before next November. Anyway, time to stock up on popcorn and get ready for the show. You can see copies of the judge’s order and the Paxton motion here, and the Trib and the Dallas Observer have more.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment, Scandalized!.

Voter ID education was a massive failure

This is outrageous.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The University of Houston Hobby School of Public Affairs recently completed a report, “The Texas Voter ID Law and the 2016 Election,” based on surveys of registered voters who sat out the 2016 elections in the state’s two highest profile battleground jurisdictions: Harris County and Congressional District 23 (CD-23), which stretches from San Antonio to El Paso.

We found almost all registered voters who did not vote had a valid photo ID, and virtually no one was prevented from voting for lack of one of the seven state-approved forms of photo ID needed to vote in person.

However, these registered voters were poorly informed about the photo ID regulations, which are the foundation for revised ID legislation now being considered in the Legislature.

It’s no surprise that the Texas Secretary of State’s 2016 public education campaign left some voters uninformed about the voter ID law, given that only $2.5 million was allocated for the effort and the requirements changed just months before the election.

But legislators can correct that problem, even as they consider other changes to the law. We urge them to take that responsibility seriously in light of what we discovered.

Thirty-seven percent of registered voters in Harris County and 45 percent of those in CD-23 did not vote in November. But almost all of them could have. Altogether, 97 percent of registered non-voters in Harris County and 98 percent of those in CD-23 had an unexpired, state-approved photo ID. That rose to 99 percent in Harris County and remained at 98 percent in CD-23 when acceptable expired IDs were considered.

[…]

Only 20 percent of non-voters could accurately identify the photo ID rules. Three out of five incorrectly believed all voters were required to provide a state-approved photo ID to vote in person, unaware that people could also vote by signing an affidavit and providing one of several supporting documents.

Latino non-voters were significantly less likely than Anglo and Harris County African American non-voters to accurately understand the rules. Latino non-voters in both locales were also significantly more likely to believe the photo ID rules were more restrictive than they actually were.

Three out of four non-voters incorrectly believed only a valid, unexpired Texas driver’s license qualified as a state-approved form of photo ID, and only 1 in 7 knew a license that had expired within four years qualified.

You can see the study here. You can’t tell me that this kind of confusion isn’t a part of the appeal for Republicans who advocate for voter ID, especially strict voter ID laws like Texas’. There’s a reason why that law was ruled to have been passed with discriminatory intent. That confusion will continue to be a factor going forward as well even as the law is invalidated (which may or may not continue to be the case as the appeals process gets underway). It’s going to take a large investment in voter education to counteract that effect, unlike the pathetically puny effort the state grudgingly put forward last year.

The Trib adds some reporting to the op-ed that the study’s authors published.

“If [Texas] just used rules similar to those enforced in 2016 but did a better job educating voters, we would see only very modest adverse effects on participation,” Jones said.

The survey results tracked similarly to findings in a 2015 joint Rice University and University of Houston study of CD-23 that found eligible voters stayed home because they erroneously thought they lacked proper IDs — possibly factoring into the outcome of Hurd’s close win over Democrat Pete Gallego.

Jones called it unrealistic to expect the secretary of state’s office, previously led by Carlos Cascos, to educate would-be voters across the vast state with just $2.5 million — a sum better suited to reach folks in just one of Texas’ 36 congressional districts.

A federal judge ordered Texas to launch the voter education effort just three months before Election Day last November, and the campaign hit an early speed bump when that same judge ordered the secretary of state’s office to correct and re-issue press materials following allegations that the office inaccurately described fixes to the ID rules.

The agency at the time called educating voters its top objective.

Researchers can’t analyze how effectively the agency has used its scarce resources for education because it has refused to release key details about where it purchased television and radio advertisements to publicize the relaxation to ID requirements in the run-up to the elections — secrecy supported by a ruling from Attorney General Ken Paxton.

The justification for that ruling and for the secrecy in the first place is that the work done by these overpriced consultants on behalf of the state was a “trade secret” on their part, which is bullshit on so many levels I can’t even begin to categorize them. Rep. Justin Rodriguez filed a bill to force transparency on this, which I suppose may now be moot in light of the ruling from Corpus Christi. What needs to happen, regardless of what becomes of that ruling, is that a crap-ton of money needs to be spent to undo the toxic effects of the voter ID law and make sure everyone who is eligible to vote knows it. Since the state isn’t going to spend that money, someone else needs to do it. If the Texas Democratic Party wants a cause to rally people to, that would be my recommendation.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Castro will decide this month

We should know soon if there are two Democratic challengers to Sen. Ted Cruz.

Rep. Joaquin Castro

After Joaquin Castro exhorted a room full of Dallas-area activists Sunday to mobilize against Republican Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018, a man asked the San Antonio congressman the most pressing question: “You gonna run?”

A grinning Castro said he would make a decision on a Senate campaign by the end of April.

“Beating Ted Cruz in Texas is a tough hill to climb,” he said. “We’re going to need all the energy we can get.”

Meanwhile in Fort Worth, U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of El Paso, already a candidate to challenge Cruz, was making his pitch to Cowtown voters.

“The fact that you have a member of Congress that’s already announced and filed, and another member of Congress who is weeks away from making his decision, that is a sign of health and vitality,” O’Rourke said before his campaign stop. “This is becoming a two-party state.”

[…]

The potential of two Democrats vying to meet Cruz in an uphill battle has the party faithful excited. Cruz is the most popular Republican in Texas, and beating him will be tough for anyone, let alone a Democrat in a GOP-controlled state.

“Competition is good,” said DeSoto City Council member Candice Quarles, who attended Sunday’s march. “A competitive Senate race will get Democrats excited again. If you want it, you’ve got to earn it, and there’s nothing wrong with that.”

Quarles said the fresh faces of Castro and O’Rourke would inspire younger voters who have grown tired of the same faces that often discourage new involvement in the political process.
State Rep. Victoria Neave, who in 2016 upset incumbent Republican Kenneth Sheets in Dallas-based House District 107, said voters were excited about both candidates.

“People are excited about the change we can have here in Texas,” Neave said. “Both of the candidates are exciting and they are getting people engaged. Anytime we have dialogue and discourse about issues in our community, it’s a good thing.”

I’ve discussed the primary question before, mostly in the context of it being Beto O’Rourke versus some nobody or nobodies that he could (hopefully) crush as a warmup exercise. A primary against Castro would be a whole ‘nother thing. No question, it would energize a lot of people, it would bring a ton of attention to the Democratic ticket, and it would be great exposure and experience for the winner, and quite possibly for the loser if he’d consider a 2020 challenge to John Cornyn as a Plan B. And right now at least, everyone is being cordial and focusing on the big prize. Castro and O’Rourke have been appearing at events together and openly talk about their respect for each other. But let’s not kid ourselves, primaries are competitions in which someone wins and someone loses, and the more competitive it is the harder and more personally everyone takes it. This isn’t an argument against Castro getting in – by all means, if that’s his intention, he should go for it – just a reminder that the laws of primary elections have not been repealed. Whatever people are saying now, if Castro/O’Rourke does happen, they will all be glad when it’s over.

Posted in: Election 2018.

Stockman trial date set

Mark your calendar.

Best newspaper graphic ever

Former U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman is set to go to trial June 5 on federal corruption charges.

Stockman, a Houston-area Republican, has pleaded not guilty to charges of funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars in charitable donations to himself and his congressional campaign. He was arraigned Monday.

The trial is expected to last one month, according to a scheduling order filed Tuesday. Pretrial motions are due May 12 and responses two weeks later.

[…]

Stockman has cycled through a number of lawyers since his arrest last month. On Thursday, he was given a court-appointed attorney, Richard Kuniansky.

See here for the previous update. How long this actually takes will depend in large part on what happens with the pretrial motions. The Tom DeLay and Ken Paxton sagas were and are as drawn out as they were because the indictments were challenged in the pretrial hearing, and the trial judges’ rulings upholding them were then appealed. I don’t think that will be the case here – there’s nothing so far to suggest that the charges themselves are in any way a stretch – but you never know. If nothing interesting comes out of that, then expect the trial itself to be on the schedule suggested by the story.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment, Scandalized!.

Voter ID law declared discriminatory

Again.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

A federal judge has ruled — for the second time — that Texas lawmakers intentionally discriminated against Latino and black voters in passing a strict voter identification law in 2011.

U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos ruled Monday that Texas “has not met its burden” in proving that lawmakers passed the nation’s strictest photo ID law, know as Senate Bill 14, without knowingly targeting minority voters.

The 10-page ruling, if it withstands almost certain appeals, could ultimately put Texas back on the list of states needing federal approval before changing election laws. A 2013 Supreme Court ruling sprung Texas and other states with a history of discrimination from that list.

U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals last July ruled that the Texas law disproportionally targeted minority voters who were less likely to have one of the seven forms of state-approved photo ID — a violation of the U.S. Voting Rights Act. And Texas conducted the 2016 General Elections under a court-ordered relaxation of the rules.

But the appeals court asked Ramos, of Corpus Christi, to reconsider her previous ruling that lawmakers discriminated on purpose, calling parts of her conclusion “infirm.”

After reweighing the evidence, she came to the same conclusion, according to Monday’s ruling. Her decision did not identify what some have called a smoking gun showing intent to discriminate, but it cited the state’s long history of discrimination; “virtually unprecedented radical departures from normal practices” in fast-tracking the 2011 bill through the Legislature; the legislation’s “unduly strict” terms; and lawmakers’ “shifting rationales” for passing a law that some said was needed to crack down on voter fraud.

“The Court holds that the evidence found ‘infirm’ did not tip the scales,” Ramos wrote. Civil rights groups and others suing the state offered evidence that “established a discriminatory purpose was at least one of the substantial or motivating factors behind passage of SB 14,” she added.

See here and here for the background. This will of course be appealed, and who knows what will happen with that. In the meantime, as was the case with Pasadena, the court will decide what if any Voting Rights Act remedies will need to be applied to fix the problem. For starters, the voter ID law will be thrown out in its entirety, just as it had been enjoined while Section 5 was in effect and preclearance was required. The big question will be whether preclearance will be reinstated, and if so for how long. I’m pretty sure that it will be, but we’ll have to wait to see about that. In the meantime, let’s celebrate the win as we wait for the appeal. Statements from MALC and Sen. Sylvia Garcia are beneath the fold, and the Chron, Rick Hasen, the Texas Election Law Blog, the Current, and the Lone Star Project have more.

Continue reading →

Posted in: Legal matters.

Stockman pleads not guilty

And we’re off.

Best newspaper graphic ever

Standing tall, with his hands hanging loosely at his sides, former U.S. Congressman Steve Stockman told a federal magistrate in Houston Monday he understood the criminal charges against him and pleaded not guilty to theft of about $800,000 in charitable donations intended for conservative organizations and associated charges.

Upon Stockman’s request, U.S. Magistrate Judge Nancy Johnson had appointed him a lawyer last week to be paid for by the government until he can land a job. Stockman said he needed to dismiss his hand-picked lawyers because he can’t work while under indictment: His job requires him to travel overseas, which is not permitted under his bond.

Stockman was indicted on 28 federal corruption charges. He said publicly that he expects to be fully vindicated. He is free on bond.

Robert J. Heberle, an attorney from the public integrity division of the Justice Department, told the magistrate Monday he anticipated the trial would last one month and as many as 40 to 50 witnesses could be called for the prosecution. Johnson encouraged the government to whittle down the list. Stockman’s trial is set for June 5 before Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal for the Southern District of Texas.

Stockman’s new attorney, Richard B. Kuniansky, who defended former accountant Mark Kuhrt in the massive Stanford prosecution several years ago, said after Stockman’s plea that he felt news reports had been unfair in their portrayal of the former lawmaker.

“It’s my understanding that pretty much been a pattern of attack on the character of Mr. Stockman,” Kuniansky said. “We’re looking forward to the truth coming out.”

See here for the background, and here for the pre-hearing version of the story. All I have to add at this point is that I too look forward to the truth coming out.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment, Scandalized!.

O’Rourke’s “calculated gamble”

The Trib takes a look back at Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s successful for for Congress in 2012 to see what we might learn about his current campaign for the Senate.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

In announcing Friday his challenge to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, O’Rourke threw himself into a long-shot race that he has vowed to approach much like his El Paso campaigns: without much regard for the established political order, the pricey trappings of modern campaigns or what the political prognosticators think.

The question to many now — especially those watching from his hometown — is whether the devil-may-care politics that made him a star in El Paso are convertible to the massive undertaking that is a statewide campaign in Texas.

“Something that is very doable on a local level over time — can you scale that to an 18-month statewide campaign?” asked El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar, a longtime O’Rourke ally. “I think you can with the kind of work ethic Beto has and the kind of passion and enthusiasm Beto has.”

To many familiar with O’Rourke, the 2012 race is not exactly a blueprint for his 2018 effort — but it’s certainly instructive.

[…]

Reyes was not exactly caught flatfooted by O’Rourke’s challenge — he had been rumored to be interested in higher office long before he announced — but it soon became clear O’Rourke was the workhorse in the race. He spent months knocking on doors — over 16,000 by his count — and showed up everywhere, while Reyes was not fond of block walking and sent a staffer to most campaign forums.

People involved in the O’Rourke campaign jokingly referred to it as the “Great Depression campaign” due to its lack of financial resources — and tightfistedness when it had them. The campaign was made up of mostly unpaid volunteers, not the high-priced consultants and pollsters that O’Rourke has also sworn off for his Senate campaign.

O’Rourke’s shoestring operation provided a vivid contrast to Reyes’ well-funded bid, which had all the makings of a modern campaign — including a slick 60-second TV ad that aired during the Super Bowl. Reyes also had on his side President Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton, who traveled to the far-flung district to stump for the incumbent.

O’Rourke’s most memorable endorsement may have been that of the El Paso Times, which said Reyes had “stood on the sidelines” as decisions had been made affecting the border region.

It was a theme O’Rourke frequently echoed throughout the race as he promised to be a more forceful, engaged advocate for the region in Washington. O’Rourke also was not afraid to raise ethical questions about Reyes, who doled out hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to himself and family members, according to a 2012 study that got ample attention in the race.

It’s a good read, so check it out. Underdog stories are always enticing, but I don’t know how much O’Rourke’s 2012 primary victory tells us about his chances in a statewide race in 2018. I do believe O’Rourke will work hard, and he has already generated a lot of positive attention for his campaign. We’ll see how that translates into fundraising and other metrics as we go. For now, don’t underestimate the guy.

Posted in: Election 2018.

Interview with Pat Van Houte

Pat Van Houte

There’s a lot of interest in the May elections this year, driven in large part by a newfound level of engagement from progressives and other Trump opponents. Of the races in the Houston area, the most consequential is the Pasadena Mayoral election, where a group of candidates are vying to succeed term-limited Johnny Isbell. Pat Van Houte has served on Pasadena City Council since 2009, and has also served as a foil for Mayor Isbell, in particular on the controversial and now-illegal redistricting plan that Isbell pushed through in 2013. A former employee of the Texas Workforce Commission and Child Protective Services, Van Houte is a graduate of Michigan State University and has lived in Pasadena since 1980. Here’s what we talked about:

I have one more interview for this race in the works. Let me know what you think.

Posted in: Election 2017.

The first step is admitting you have a problem

Rewire points out an issue that should have been obvious.

Earlier this month, about 70 Texas businesses signed a letter condemning a discriminatory bill now circulating in the state legislature that would largely bar transgender people from using public restrooms or changing facilities that match their gender identity.

“We believe everyone should be treated with dignity and respect, and we are proud of our companies’ track records on creating diverse workforces and inclusive work environments,” reads the March 1 letter against SB 6, which passed the state senate on March 15 and is currently in the house. “We stand together to oppose legislation that would legalize discrimination against any group that would undermine our ability to ‘Keep Texas Open for Business.’”

Despite their public stance against this anti-trans legislation, however, representatives of some of these same companies—including Dow Chemical, Hewlett Packard, and United Continental—have given hundreds of thousands of dollars over the last two decades to the campaigns of the very lawmakers pushing the bill.

The political action committees of three law firms, one trade association, and eight other companies that signed the letter have given a total of nearly $185,000 to the campaigns of 15 of the 18 Republican state senators who sponsored SB 6. From 1998 through 2016, companies have filled the coffers of these conservative Republicans’ campaigns, helping to seat them at the legislature and make SB 6 possible.

Meanwhile, PACs of six of those companies and an additional law firm that opposes SB 6 combined to donate over $50,000 since 2006 to the recurring campaigns of Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, one of SB 6’s biggest proponents. Some also gave large donations to the state Republican Party and to outside political groups that funneled money into Texas politics, aiding the bill’s sponsors.

[…]

Rewire reached out to 12 companies and the SMART union to ask if they were aware that their donations had helped elect SB 6 sponsors and if their donation policies would change in light of the bill. An American Airlines spokesperson affirmed the company’s dedication to equal rights for its LGBTQ customers and employees, but said it doesn’t comment on specific contributions made by its PAC.

A Dow spokesperson wrote that the company “seeks to work with political leaders at all levels” to aid its competitiveness, and it welcomes “open and respectful dialogue and exchange of views” with politicians it doesn’t agree with to “achieve meaningful results.”

The Texas Association of Business, the main business trade association in the state that represents companies and many local chambers of commerce, did say that SB 6 will affect future donation decisions. Communications Director Robert Wood wrote in an email to Rewire that while these decisions by the PAC’s board are never based on one piece of legislation, “SB 6 will be factored into future endorsements and contributions.” Without giving specifics, Wood said, “Unsolicited, many of our members have shared they will have to make tough business decisions if SB 6 passes.” Earlier, he wrote, “If companies leave the state entirely or focus on making future choices elsewhere, [these] are tough decisions many companies are facing.”

Honestly, I’m a little surprised this article hadn’t been written before, since it’s about as standard an issue in any legislative controversy as there is. It should be noted that the amounts in question are actually pretty small, especially given that Rewire totaled everything up going back to 1998, which will cover the entire political career of just about everyone listed. Jane Nelson and Dan Patrick are over $50K, Craig Estes over $20K, and most of the rest are under $10K. Which may sound like a lot, but 1) this is for multiple cycles for most of them, and 2) these people tend to have campaign treasuries in excess of $1 million. It’s a small part of their resources, and these companies are far from the biggest donors.

All that said, there’s a big principle involved. Most companies would surely have echoed Dow’s rationale if they had commented, and there is something to that. The point I’ve been making all along is that there are plenty of politicians out there who will be at least cordial to them while not acting against their interests on a big issue like this. I’ve criticized the TAB many times for continuing to support legislators who have regularly opposed them on matters like immigration, so kudos to them for recognizing the need to do something different. It’s a simple enough thing to do. I’d suggest that if you work for one of the companies mentioned, you might consider raising the matter to your management. Companies don’t like it when their own employees point out when they violate their stated beliefs and values. There’s more than one way to work within the system to bring about change.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

A happy ending

This was a long time coming.

When I first reported on this family a year ago, the boys – who had behavioral issues and delays likely stemming from abuse, neglect and being shuttled through foster placements – had just been removed from the loving women they called Mama and Mommy, and the stable home where they tended gardens filled with chickens, vegetables and butterflies.

Angela Sugarek and Carol Jeffery, Houston public school educators whose home was regarded as exemplary, had been deemed uncooperative by the Wharton Child Protective Services office after they repeatedly reported concerns, including suspected abuse by a teen half-sibling elsewhere in foster care whom the boys were required to visit.

The women fought in court to get the boys back. Seven weeks later, they did – but it was only supposed to be temporary. CPS continued to block adoption efforts and to shop around the boys and their sibling as a package deal. The mothers say that after my columns began running, CPS staffers who once praised their care began to nitpick and demean, at one point initiating an investigation about a pedicure one boy received on medical advice, and another time terminating their right to medical consent.

Then, suddenly, everything changed. Just as mysteriously as CPS staff had opposed the adoption by Sugarek and Jeffery, they consented to it. Maybe they realized the battle was futile.

“We weren’t going to stop fighting,” Jeffery said.

In this business, we live for happy endings. But like everything else in this saga, it didn’t come easy.

See here, here, and here for the background, and be sure to read the whole thing. I don’t have anything to add to what Lisa Falkenberg says. There are lots of problems with CPS, many of which we can blame on the Legislator and our Governor, and others that CPS itself is responsible for. This story was an example of the latter. It’s great that it all worked out in the end, but it shouldn’t have taken this long and it shouldn’t have been this hard or this frustrating.

Posted in: The great state of Texas.

Weekend link dump for April 9

The original ending for Frozen, in which Elsa was the villain.

So why do cartoon characters only have four fingers, anyway?

“VPNs can be a useful tool for protecting one’s privacy online. However, it’s important to understand the limitations of this technology, and to take the time to research providers before entrusting them with virtually all your browsing data — and possibly even compounding your privacy woes in the process.”

“When a pres­id­ent can’t even pres­sure his core sup­port­ers, it’s a clear sign that his pres­id­ency is shrink­ing in the pub­lic’s eyes.”

“The information networks we’ve built are almost perfectly designed to exploit psychological vulnerabilities to rumor.”

“But with the rise of Donald Trump—and his spectrum-bending brand of populist nationalism—many longtime Republicans are now struggling to figure out where they fit in this fast-shifting philosophical landscape.”

All the women who have accused Bill O’Reilly and Roger Ailes of sexual harassment. So far.

“There seem to be an awful lot of people who heard only one thing from Trump during the campaign: He was going to build a wall and keep out all the Mexicans.”

Blaming the victim for auto-pedestrian fatalities.

“The problem with [the save the firepower] argument is that it’s delusional to believe that Mitch McConnell—who prevented Merrick Garland from even receiving a hearing—would allow Democrats to filibuster the next Supreme Court vacancy if they allow Gorsuch to go through. If Justice Kennedy or a liberal justice like Ginsburg or Breyer stepped down and Republicans had the ability to overturn landmark laws like Roe v. Wade with a 6-to-3 vote, they would do everything in their power to make it happen and wouldn’t blink for a second about going nuclear.”

“But given all the rest we’ve learned in recent months, the fact that Russian intelligence had tried to recruit the guy who two years later became Trump’s chief advisor on Russia and Europe seems like a hell of a coincidence.”

“When did Matt Taibbi begin to sound exactly like George Will?”

Advertisers are fleeing The O’Reilly Factor.

Cadbury eggs are the latest totems in the culture wars.

“Also, I’m not taking that trip until Elon Musk sends his mother and brings her back alive. Then I’m good for it.”

“Why did it take this week’s violence and bloodshed to change Trump’s mind about something he should’ve known before?”

“Britney Spears’s Tel Aviv Concert Is Forcing an Important Israeli Election to Be Postponed“. Don’t mess with Britney, y’all.

RIP, Don Rickles, legendary insult comic.

“The apology to Jenner was misplaced, not just because it infantilizes her, but because it doesn’t address the real source of the offense. The apology should have been directed toward the protesters and the movement itself, which their ad appears to trivialize.”

“But for now I’m just glad that one of the most painful moments of my life has been turned into stinging satire that makes me laugh out loud.”

Every story I have read about Trump supporters in the past week”.

“Now, today, our president says he’s changing his mindset on Syria. OK, but real empathy is more than just words. You want to show the beautiful babies of Syria that you meant what said, Mr. President? Let them come to America.”

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Some Texas voting rights lawsuit updates

This has been a busy week for litigation related to voting rights issues in Texas. Here are updates to some cases, all of which happened this past week.

From Texas Redistricting:

The three-judge panel in the Texas redistricting case has set a status conference for April 27, at 9:30 a.m. in San Antonio to discuss a trial schedule for the remaining claims in the case as well as the redistricting plaintiffs’ request to block the state’s use of its current congressional plan (Plan C235) on the grounds that defects found by the court in the 2011 plan continue to exist in the current plan. The court directed lawyers for the state to be prepared to discuss at the status conference “whether the Legislature intends to take up redistricting during this legislative session to remedy any violations that persist in the 2013 plans.”

The court also asked the parties to be ready to discuss the timing for its consideration of requests that Texas be bailed back into preclearance coverage under section 3© of the Voting Rights Act.

A copy of the court’s order setting a status conference can be found here.

See here and here for the background. The plaintiffs want a new map in place by July 1.

A couple of days after that happened, the plaintiffs responded.

On Friday, plaintiffs in the Texas redistricting responded in a court filing to the State of Texas’ position that it was premature to consider the plaintiff’s request to block and require a redraw of the state’s congressional map (Plan C235).

In the filing, the plaintiffs told the court that while there was sufficient time to remedy constitutional defects in the map if the process began now, “delaying all relief until the Court schedules and holds another trial and issues another merits determination would raise a serious risk that Plaintiffs will be forced to vote in yet another election under unconstitutional districts.” The plaintiffs noting that filing for the 2018 Texas primary will open on November 11 and that a number of steps would have to occur to finalize any map changes, including redrawing precinct boundaries.

Circle April 27 on your calendar. We won’t have final answers to these questions then, but we should have some idea of what answers to expect.

From the Texas Civil Rights Project:

[On April 3], Chief Judge Orlando Garcia of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas denied the state’s motion to dismiss Stringer v. Pablos, TCRP’s “motor voter” case.

This decision provides critical validation of the arguments advanced by the plaintiffs — disenfranchised Texas voters — who challenge voter registration processes at the Department of Public Safety under the National Voter Registration Act, or NVRA, and the U.S. Constitution.

One by one, Judge Garcia considered the state’s arguments for dismissal and rejected them. Judge Garcia found the state’s current procedures “inconsistent with the plain language of the NVRA,” refusing to adopt “circular and self-defeating” interpretations of the NVRA offered by the defendants. Instead, the Judge expressly found that the NVRA applies to the thousands of online transactions Texans initiated through DPS.gov every day. This ruling means that the Secretary of State should be registering and updating voter registrations for all of these individuals as a matter of course unless they opt out. Moreover, any alleged interest in avoiding the upfront expense in creating a modern system cannot justify “the burden imposed on voters” under the Equal Protection Clause.

From the beginning, TCRP has argued that “motor voter” failures have excluded countless eligible voters from the Texas electorate. The judge acknowledged the systemic nature of the state’s actions, noting that the plaintiffs had “produced evidence that thousands of Texans submitted complaints to the state that related in some way to DPS’s processing of voter registration information through its website.”

Judge Garcia’s decision comes on the heels of sanctions imposed against Texas on February 17th for causing undue delay and for repeatedly, and without justification, ignoring court orders to provide the necessary documents to move forward with the case. TCRP represents the plaintiffs with co-counsel at Waters Kraus LLP.

Mimi Marziani, Executive Director with the Texas Civil Rights Project, said:

“Today’s opinion is a resounding victory for the countless Texas voters who have been disenfranchised by the state’s failure to adhere with federal law. With this decision, we are hopeful that we can resolve the case before the 2018 election so that every eligible voter can cast a ballot that counts.”

See here, here, and here for some background. Link via Rick Hasen.

From the Express News:

A federal judge has denied the state of Texas’ attempt to quash a lawsuit that challenges the way the state elects judges to the Texas Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals.

Seven Hispanic voters (six from Nueces County and one from El Paso) and a civic organization, La Unión Del Pueblo Entero Inc., allege in the suit that Latino candidates almost always lose statewide elections for judges to the two highest courts in Texas.

In an opinion issued Monday, U.S. District Judge Nelva Ramos ruled that all the plaintiffs have standing to bring the suit under the Voting Rights Act.

The judge rejected the state’s argument that the plaintiffs had failed to state a cause of action under Section 2 of the law, noting that the U.S. Supreme Court has already held that Section 2 applies to judicial elections.

The ruling clears the way for a trial, according to a news release from two law firms and an organization representing the plaintiffs.

See here and here for the background, and here for a copy of the judge’s order. It’s not clear to me what a remedy for this looks like if the plaintiffs ultimately prevail, but in the meantime it will be interesting to see how this plays out. Rick Hasen has one of the press releases mentioned in the story; I couldn’t find any others googling around.

And finally, also from the Express-News:

Proposed legislative changes to Texas’ voter ID law won’t affect a lawsuit’s claim that the law is discriminatory, a federal judge has ruled.

U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos, based in Corpus Christi, made the declaration in an opinion that also allowed the Justice Department to withdraw from the case.

The opinion follows a hearing in February in which — as directed by a federal appeals court, the U.S. Fifth Circuit — she heard more arguments about whether the law, SB 14, was passed with discriminatory intent.

The state argued that lawmakers planned fixes to be made in Austin with a measure called Senate Bill 5.

“The court holds that the Fifth Circuit did not direct this Court to withhold a decision on the discriminatory purpose claim and that the claim is not, and will not be, moot as a result of pending or future legislation,” Gonzales Ramos wrote.

The civil rights groups that brought the suit say the proposed changes, if passed in the newly introduced legislation, are irrelevant and that the GOP-controlled Legislature designed and passed the 2011 voter i.d. law with discriminatory purpose.

See here and here for some background. Judge Ramos did let the Justice Department officially withdraw from the case, so only the private plaintiffs will continue on. Her order can be seen here, in which she sets a status call on June 7 to discuss whether an evidentiary hearing on remedies is required, how long that might take, and what the deadlines for briefs and whatnot should be. This too came via Rick Hasen.

So the TL;dr summary of all this is:

1. The judges in the redistricting case will discuss wrapping up the other items and figuring out what to do with the Congressional map on April 27 with the litigants. This isn’t a hearing, just a discussion of what they all will be doing and when they will be doing it.

2. Similarly, the judge in the litigation to determine (again, under the standards set by the Fifth Circuit) whether the 2011 voter ID law was passed with discriminatory intent will discuss the schedule and logistics with the attorneys on June 7.

3. Two previously filed lawsuits, one that alleges the state of Texas does not comply with federal Motor Voter laws and one that argues that the statewide election of judges violates the Voting Rights Act, survived motions to dismiss.

Whew!

Posted in: Legal matters.

One more thing about vouchers

I’m going to enjoy this just a little bit more.

The Texas House of Representatives all but killed Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s prized school choice bill Thursday, dealing the powerful Republican a major loss as he struggles to push his agenda through this year’s legislative session.

House members considering the state’s budget plan for the next two years voted overwhelmingly against diverting public education funds to private schools in the next biennium, registering their resistance to a so-called school voucher program and sending a message to Patrick that the bill has no chance this year of passage.

“The House stands strongly in support of our neighborhood schools and our public school teachers and that any scheme, such as a voucher or otherwise that attempts to siphon funds away from our public schools, is not something that would be acceptable in the House,” said Rep. Abel Herrero, a Robstown Democrat. He sponsored an amendment expressly blocking any school voucher program.

Lawmakers, in the midst of a day-long marathon session debating the state’s $218 billion spending plan for the next two years, voted 103-44 in favor of the amendment. The revision declared state money “may not be used to pay for or support a school voucher, education savings account, or tax credit scholarship program or a similar program through which a child may use state money for non-public education.”

The Republican-led House also rejected a follow-up amendment allowing the state to fund a smaller so-called school voucher program limited to children from poor families. The chamber voted that idea down 117-27, signalling that paring down Patrick’s prized Senate Bill 3 will not win it more votes.

“Good-bye SB 3,” Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston, said from his desk after the vote.

Assigned a low bill number to reflect its importance among Patrick’s priorities, SB 3 would create education savings accounts that parents can tap to pay for private school tuition, home school costs, tutoring or other expenses. The bill would also create a tax credit scholarship program that rewards businesses with a tax break for cutting checks to the state to fund scholarships that could send children to private school. The Senate passed that plan last week on a 18-13 vote.

[…]

With the bill unlikely to pass this year, advocates for vouchers and school choice will use the vote to drive their political activities in the 2018 elections by singling out lawmakers who voted against vouchers, said Randan Steinhauser, co-founder of Texans for Education Opportunity, which advocates for broader school choice.

“This isn’t surprising. The House has always been an obstacle, and there are many Republicans who are not representing their constituents and their school children,” said Steinhauser, who has already gone door-knocking in several Republican lawmakers’ districts to pressure them into voting for vouchers. “This is an opportunity for parents in the state of Texas to see who is standing in the way of educational opportunity.”

See here for the background. I’ll get back to this in a second, but in the meantime, as Depeche Mode advises, enjoy the silence.

A day after Texas House members pointedly approved an amendment to prohibit the use of public money for private schools, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the Legislature’s most vocal proponent of so-called “school choice,” has yet to issue a public reaction.

[…]

Repeated calls and emails to Patrick’s office for comment went unanswered Thursday and Friday, although his staff has posted videos of him on Facebook talking about child abuse prevention initiatives and tuition set-asides since the House vote Thursday morning.

Patrick, who has rallied for years to pass a school choice program, assigned the proposal a low bill number to indicate its importance among his legislative priorities. Last week, he and Taylor, the Senate education chairman, pared down the bill to appease senators on the fence about the proposal, agreeing to exempt counties of less than 285,000 unless voters there petition for a voucher program.

Taylor, a Friendswood Republican and sponsor of the bill, did not respond to requests for comment Friday about whether he had been in contact with Patrick about how they would proceed on the measure.

House lawmakers long have said they have little interest in passing SB 3 and Public Education Chairman Dan Huberty, R-Houston, said he did not want to force his committee to vote on the bill. The measure, which passed the Senate 18-13, is now awaiting action in the House.

A defeat on school vouchers likely would not hurt the lieutenant governor, said Jason Sabo, a longtime political observer and education lobbyist. Instead, he said, the House vote shows how politics are evolving away from party loyalty and toward regional and issue-based factions.

“It’s not about party. It’s about place,” he said. “If the largest employer in half the counties in your giant legislative district are public schools, you hate vouchers, it doesn’t matter if you’re a Democrat or a Republican. You’re anti-voucher. ”

Who knew it was even possible to get Dan Patrick to shut up? And with all due respect to Jason Sabo, whose remarks may be a bit out of context here, this alignment on vouchers is nothing new. As this DMN article from January notes, people have been pushing for vouchers, thankfully without success, for going on thirty years. The Legislature came fairly close to fulfilling the wishes of people like GOP megadonor James Leininger, who was then the main force behind vouchers, during the 2005 session. Among other things, this led to the rise of the Texas Parent PAC and its shocking primary win over then-House Education Committee Chair Kent Gruesendorf. Patrick has taken up the banner in the two sessions since he became Lite Guv, but the fight long predates him.

And this is why Randan Steinhauser is wrong. At this point, there have been many elections, mostly Republican primaries, in which public education has been a big issue. Even with the likes of Leininger and then-Speaker Tom Craddick and now Dan Patrick behind them, voucher proponents have basically gained no ground, and aren’t anywhere close to a majority in the House. Hell, we’re at a point where they had to rebrand themselves, because “vouchers” has become a toxic label, and resort to a third-rate astroturfing campaign for their lobbying. Voucher supporters are the definition of a narrow interest group seeking to carve out an advantage for themselves. I’m not going to say they’ll never succeed, because politics doesn’t work like that, but I see no evidence that they are gaining public acceptance. They got the fate that they, and Dan Patrick, deserved.

Posted in: Budget ballyhoo, That's our Lege.

Steve Stockman claims he’s broke

Pobrecito.

Best newspaper graphic ever

Former Congressman Steve Stockman told a federal magistrate Wednesday he can’t afford to pay for a lawyer to represent him against allegations he helped steal about $800,000 in charitable donations intended for conservative organizations.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Nancy Johnson agreed to appoint a lawyer for him and postponed a hearing on his case until Friday.

Stockman told the judge he needed to dismiss his hand-picked lawyers from the elite firm of Smyser Kaplan & Veselka and ideally he wanted the court to re-appoint them to the case at the government’s expense. She said she’d consider the request.

He confirmed for the judge details on a disclosure form he’d filled out in front of a roomful of defendants in shackles and jail uniforms, indicating he owned a home, a rental property and two vans.

“But you have no assets?” Johnson asked.

“This is a four-year case,” the former lawmaker said, indicating he’d been paying for legal support on these matters for a long time.

See here and here for some background. I would have asked him “what, you can’t use some of that money you stole to pay your lawyers?”, which is no doubt why I’m not a US Magistrate. Well, that and the lack of a law degree. But seriously, this guy. I don’t know why anyone believes a word he says.

In the meantime, feast on this.

The fact that the former congressman is facing multiple felony counts made national news. But one of the most interesting details in the 46-page Stockman indictment escaped notice: The suggestion that Richard Uihlein, one of the country’s biggest conservative political donors, personally wrote a check for $450,571.65 to mail a fake newspaper called The Conservative News to voters across Texas. The paper, which prosecutors say was part of a Stockman-run, secretly funded operation intended to take down Cornyn, included the dubious claims that Cornyn wanted to ban veterans from having guns, had voted to fund abortion, and was secretly working with Democrats to grant amnesty to illegal immigrants.

Mailing a fake newspaper is not a crime, nor is secretly funding a candidate to do so. Thanks to a series of court decisions now known collectively as Citizens United, billionaires are allowed to fund anonymous attacks as long as they abide by an arcane set of tax and campaign finance rules. And Uihlein, who has given more than $43 million to conservative candidates and super PACs since 2011, is a particularly big fish. He is the chief executive of a family-owned shipping and packing materials company that’s confusingly named “Uline,” which Forbes estimated was worth at least $700 million in 2014. And through his private foundation, Uihlein has given millions more to nonprofits that push a conservative policy agenda and train a new generation of political operatives to sell it.

It’s not clear what, if anything, Uihlein knew about Stockman’s fake-news scheme. He is described as a victim in the Stockman case: Prosecutors say Stockman and his staffers fraudulently diverted hundreds of thousands of dollars Uihlein had donated. Uihlein’s funding of the fake-news operation would likely never have become public had Stockman not gotten tangled up with an FBI investigation — meaning this episode exposes a side of the U.S. campaign finance system we don’t often get to see.

[…]

Larry Barry, director of legal affairs at Uline, refused to answer questions about the case, but said in an emailed statement that “we are deeply troubled by the allegations … that certain contributions made in good faith may have been used for unintended personal and political purposes.” Barry referred to Uihlein as “a victim of this alleged misconduct” and said that “we have and will continue to fully cooperate with the Department of Justice in this investigation.”

[…]

One of the biggest unanswered questions in the Stockman case is how he apparently fooled Uihlein twice.

Prosecutors say Posey told Uihlein’s accountant in a May 13, 2014, email ― sent two months after Stockman lost the election ― that some of the money that was supposed to be used for Freedom House had gone to delivering medical supplies to “third world” countries. The email, which also included an attached tax exemption letter for Life Without Limits, allegedly constituted wire fraud ― though prosecutors don’t spell out exactly why.

What the documents don’t clear up is why Uihlein would fund Stockman’s direct mail campaign a year after his donation for Freedom House ― especially since it seemed like so little progress had been made on that first project. “You raise a good question, but it’s not one I can talk about today,” said Dane C. Ball, a Houston lawyer defending Stockman.

An answer may be in the offing if the case goes to trial. If that happens, it’s likely Uihlein would be called to testify, said D.C. campaign finance lawyer Brett Kappel.

“Get your popcorn,” he quipped.

There’s not enough popcorn in the world. Also, I am unreasonably amused by the fact that Uline’s director of legal affairs is named “Larry Barry”. I cannot wait for this trial to begin.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment, Scandalized!.