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ACLU of Texas

ACLU reminds counties to provide voting materials in Spanish

From the inbox:

With weeks to go before the November 6 election, the ACLU of Texas has sent advisal letters to 36 counties across Texas that may be in violation of the Voting Rights Act. The letters urge the identified counties to comply with a provision in the law that requires any information about voting or elections to be provided in English and Spanish in counties where more than 10,000 or more than 5% of all voting age citizens are Spanish-speakers with low English proficiency.

“Counties need to ensure that they are providing all citizens with information that will enable them to vote,” said Edgar Saldivar, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Texas. “The obligation to provide information in Spanish is a simple but important requirement which helps to remove barriers to voting in the state with the largest number of counties needing foreign language voting materials.”

ACLU of Texas attorneys reviewed county election websites and looked at whether pertinent information was made available in Spanish, including voter identification information, key voting dates, voter registration information, and applications for ballot by mail and absentee voting. The preliminary research determined that 36 counties had inadequate or inaccessible information in Spanish, had poor or misleading translations, or offered no voting information in Spanish at all. For example, one county’s use of an automated translation service translated the term “runoff election” as “election water leak” or “election drainage.”

Several counties have already responded positively to the letters, agreeing to comply with the Voting Rights Act and include Spanish language voting information on their websites.

Click over to see the list of counties. If one of them is yours, maybe make a call yourself to your local elections administrator. It’s a little hard to believe that any county could still have problems with this after all this time, but here we are.

Dallas County gets the Harris County treatment in its bail lawsuit

We have a precedent, even if everything is still a work in progress.

Taking a cue from the rulings on Harris County’s bail-setting practices, a U.S. district judge in Dallas issued a temporary order Thursday evening saying the county’s post-arrest procedures routinely violate inmates’ constitutional rights. The judge gave the county 30 days to change its ways.

U.S. District Judge David Godbey in Dallas said that the county has to stop the practice of imposing pre-set bail bond amounts, which often keep poor defendants locked up for days or weeks while letting wealthier ones go free, without individual consideration if arrestees claim they can’t afford it. He sided with the plaintiffs’ allegation that the county uses “wealth-based detention.”

“Wealthy arrestees — regardless of the crime they are accused of — who are offered secured bail can pay the requested amount and leave,” Godbey wrote. “Indigent arrestees in the same position cannot.”

[…]

Godbey relied heavily on Harris County rulings from the federal district court and the appellate court. He said the cases had the “same roots” — despite Dallas’ lawsuit also including felony defendants whereas Harris only involves those accused of misdemeanors — and concluded that doing anything other than what the appellate court ruled in Harris would “put the Court in direct conflict with binding precedent.”

“Broadly, those procedures include ‘notice, an opportunity to be heard and submit evidence within 48 hours of arrest, and a reasoned decision by an impartial decision-maker,’ he wrote, quoting the higher court’s ruling.

See here for some background, and here for an earlier story on how bail hearings have been done in Dallas. You know where I stand on this, and we both know that Dallas County has Democratic leadership, and thus I hope more than enough incentive to find a settlement. Some long overdue change is coming, and it is in everyone’s best interests to embrace it. The Chron and the Observer have more.

ACLU sues Galveston County over bail practices

From the inbox:

The ACLU of Texas, the ACLU and Arnold & Porter filed a federal class-action lawsuit today against Galveston County, Texas, for violating the constitutional rights of people arrested for misdemeanors and felonies.

The lawsuit was brought against the County itself, as well as each of the County’s judges who hear felonies and misdemeanors, the County magistrates, and the District Attorney. This is the first filing by the ACLU to include the District Attorney as a defendant in bail reform litigation. It seeks an immediate and permanent change to an unconstitutional cash bail system that discriminates against people who are financially strapped.

Those who cannot afford to pay money bail amounts determined by the county’s bail schedule are detained for a week or longer, while those who face the same charges but can afford to pay the money bail amounts are freed until trial. Galveston County’s district attorneys are involved in setting bail amounts for felony charges, often recommending bail amounts even higher than what the bail schedule suggests.

“A system that requires people to buy their freedom is not a system interested in dispensing justice,” said Trisha Trigilio, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Texas. “Our client is seeking one thing: a fair hearing. Rich or poor, everyone should have a meaningful chance for a judge to hear them out before they are locked in a jail cell – but that’s not what’s happening in Galveston County.”

The lawsuit argues that Galveston County’s system of money bail violates the Constitution because it keeps people in jail if they can’t afford bail, while allowing those who can pay to go home to their families, jobs, and communities. With each day in jail, the person’s chances for a fair trial diminish as evidence and witnesses disappear, and many who are innocent nonetheless plead guilty simply to end the ordeal.

“A person’s wealth should never decide their freedom, but that’s exactly what’s happening in Texas and across the country,” said Brandon Buskey, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project. “Galveston’s bail system disregards the presumption of innocence, destroys families, and negatively affects jobs, and homes.”

The suit, filed on behalf of one plaintiff representing a class in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, accuses county officials of operating a two-tiered system of justice based on wealth, in violation of the right to counsel, the right to due process, and equal protection under the law.

“Studies consistently show that individuals who are held in jail until trial are more likely to be convicted, and more likely to be sentenced to prison, than those who are released pending trial,” said Christopher Odell, an attorney with Arnold & Porter. “Our goal is to ensure that the criminal justice system is fair to everyone in Galveston County, whether they’re rich or poor or somewhere in between.”

The plaintiff Aaron Booth, age 36, was arrested on April 8 for drug possession. He cannot afford the $20,000 money bail required by the court’s bail schedule. Mr. Booth fears losing his job because he is in jail; a job he needs to help his mother afford her monthly expenses.

Galveston’s system of wealth-based detention is arbitrary, the lawsuit argues. Each offense has an assigned dollar amount. If a person can arrange to pay the full amount to the sheriff in cash or property, or can arrange for payment through a bail bond company or another third party, the sheriff releases that person automatically.

Those who cannot pay the pre-determined bail amount must remain in jail indefinitely.

The lawsuit against Galveston County is a continuation of efforts from the ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice to end wealth-based bail detention in Texas and across the nation. This January, a related lawsuit aimed at ending Dallas County’s disciriminatory, wealth based bail practices was filed by the ACLU of Texas, the American Civil Liberties Union, Civil Rights Corps and the Texas Fair Defense Project.

The ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice — an unprecedented effort to reduce the U.S. jail and prison population by 50 percent and to combat racial disparities in the criminal justice system — is focused on bolstering the movement to end money bail and eliminate wealth-based pretrial detention through legislative advocacy, voter education, and litigation. Thirty-seven ACLU state affiliates are spearheading efforts to end this unjust system.

The complaint can be found here. The Chron adds a few details.

The Galveston County Commissioner’s Court issued a resolution in September supporting an immediate end to pretrial detention for misdemeanor and state jail cell arrests and committing a minimum of $2 million to those efforts.

The county also voted in December to approve a contract with the Council of State Governments to help implement reforms to the county’s jail system.

But Trigilio said that the county has not committed to large-scale changes to its bail system in an appropriate timeframe. The ACLU drafted a standing order proposal outlining steps that needed to be taken to create a model pretrial system and requesting that the county come up with its own detailed plan. Their requests were ignored, with only one judge, Lonnie Cox of the 56th District Court, reviewing the standing order in November.

“We’re very open to collaborative solutions with policymakers, in fact, that’s what we prefer,” Trigilio said. “But it’s important to act with the urgency that the situation merits, and when they’re locking hundreds of people away every day just because they’re poor, that’s not something we can tolerate while we work out the nuances of a system that might be in place any year from now.”

Galveston County Judge Mark Henry said on Monday that he had not had a chance to look at the lawsuit yet but that the county has been working with the ACLU “for nine months or so” to implement their suggested reforms to the bail system.

“We are certainly trying, yes,” he said, adding that he had not yet seen the suit but that the county was “absolutely committed” to making the changes already discussed.

“It’s not necessarily in our control,” he said. “There are about 15 other elected officials that have to agree and implement their part of it.”

Those of us in Harris County can relate to that complaint. You know where I stand on this, so let me just say that I hope other counties are looking at their own practices and taking proactive steps to get in line so they don’t have to be sued as well. But if suing them is what it takes, then so be it. Think Progress and KUHF have more.

Fifth Circuit lets most of SB4 remain in place

Ugh.

A panel of three U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals judges ruled Tuesday that most of the state’s immigration enforcement legislation, Senate Bill 4, can remain in effect while the case plays out, handing a victory to Gov. Greg Abbott and Republican supporters of the legislation.

As passed, Senate Bill 4 allows local law enforcement officers to question the immigration status of people they detain or arrest and punishes local government department heads and elected officials who don’t cooperate with federal immigration “detainers” — requests by agents to turn over immigrants subject to possible deportation — in the form of jail time and penalties that exceed $25,000.

The one part of SB 4 that is still on hold is a provision that punishes local officials from “adopting, enforcing or endorsing” policies that specifically prohibit or limit enforcement of immigration laws. The judges kept that injunction in place, but said it only applies to the word “endorse.” The bill, as passed and signed, would have made elected and appointed officials subject to a fine, jail time and possible removal from office for violating all or parts of the legislation.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, which represents some of the plaintiffs in the SB 4 case, said it was considering how to move forward.

“The court made clear that we remain free to challenge the manner in which the law is implemented, so we will be monitoring the situation on the ground closely,” said Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project.

See here, here, and here for the background. This one is destined for the Supreme Court, but in the meantime it can’t hurt to ask for an en banc review, as this wasn’t the friendliest three judge panel. This is still the injunction phase, not the trial on the merits, so no matter what there’s still a long road ahead. A copy of the ruling is here, and Texas Monthly has more.

ACLU goes after Judge McSpadden

As well they should.

The ACLU of Texas is asking Harris County’s longest serving felony court judge to resign after making a statement to the Houston Chronicle on his views about black men’s attitudes toward the criminal justice system.

The civil rights group also is asking that the judge be automatically recused from cases involving African-American defendants until an investigation into potential racial bias occurs, according to a news release Tuesday.

[…]

“If there remained any doubt that the deck is stacked against people of color in our criminal justice system, Michael McSpadden just dispelled it,” said Terri Burke, executive director of the ACLU of Texas. “When a sitting judge feels comfortable enough to admit openly and on the record that he uses bail orders to jail black defendants on the assumption they can’t be trusted, it’s time to take action. This kind of flagrant racism has no place in our justice system.”

She said, “The Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct needs to take the first step toward rooting it out, and Judge McSpadden should voluntarily step down.”

McSpadden could not be immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday. His court staff said he was on the bench hearing cases.

The civil rights organization said McSpadden’s comments violate the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct and could merit removal from office.

“Judge McSpadden’s remarks are inexcusable, but not at all surprising for those of us who know the justice system well,” said former death row inmate Anthony Graves, who runs a criminal justice initiative for the ACLU of Texas.

See here for the background. Perhaps there’s some context Judge McSpadden can add to his comments, or perhaps he could just admit that was a dumb and offensive thing to say and offer an apology for it. People may or may not accept either action, but at least it would be something. In the absence of any such followup, one is left to conclude that he has nothing further to say on the matter. Whatever one may have thought of Judge McSpadden before now, that’s not a good look. And as a reminder, Judge McSpadden is up for election this fall. For all the griping some people do about partisan judicial elections, they do at least give the voters the chance to correct errors on the bench.

On a side note, two of Judge McSpadden’s colleagues on the misdemeanor courts are again urging the county to settle the bail lawsuit.

“The most conservative appellate court in this country, strict constitutional conservatives, have said that this practice that we are doing is unconstitutional,” said Judge Darrell Jordan, one of the defendants in the lawsuit.

Jordan told County Judge Ed Emmett and county commissioners that fighting the suit had already cost Harris County $6 million in legal fees. “I’m asking that you all cut this last check, fire these $6 million lawyers, let the County Attorney’s office come, and we all sit down and work out a settlement.”

Jordan’s co-defendant, Judge Mike Fields, urged Emmett and the commissioners to “use every tool in your arsenal to help us settle this lawsuit.” Fields added, “Our county needs to settle this for financial reasons, and our public needs it settled for reasons of good governance and confidence in the criminal justice system.”

Judge Emmett said he’s willing to settle on the basis of the 5th Circuit’s ruling, but said plaintiffs haven’t responded to offers to talk.

Judge Jordan, the lone Democrat on these benches, and Judge Fields have been the lone voices from those courts for sanity. Unfortunately, their colleagues remain uninterested in such matters as the cost of the litigation and the fact that they’ve lost at every step and looked bad in doing so. And they’re all up for election this November. See my comments above on that.

Lawsuit filed over Dallas County bail practices

Bring it on, I say.

On the heels of a federal ruling slamming Harris County for its bail practices, civil rights lawyers have now set their sights on a county with a similar system: Dallas.

Six indigent misdemeanor and felony defendants arrested this week and held in the Dallas County Jail filed suit against the county on Sunday night, claiming the bail system unconstitutionally discriminates against them by holding them in jail for days or weeks while letting similar defendants with cash walk free. One plaintiff, Shannon Daves, is a 47-year-old homeless and jobless transgender woman arrested on a misdemeanor theft charge. She has been kept in solitary confinement in the men’s unit since Wednesday under a $500 misdemeanor bond she can’t afford, the lawsuit claims.

“This system is really devastating for the people who can’t afford to purchase their freedom,” said Trisha Trigilio, a senior attorney at the ACLU of Texas, one of the legal groups representing the inmates. Lawyers with the Civil Rights Corps and the Texas Fair Defense Project are also leading the lawsuits in both Dallas and Harris counties.

[…]

In Dallas County, the plaintiffs state that judicial magistrates set money bail based on the alleged crime and prior convictions without considering an inmate’s ability to pay or determining if non-monetary conditions of release, like an ankle monitor or cab fare voucher, could ensure the defendant shows up to court. Texas law requires officials to consider financial ability when setting bail.

Instead, poor inmates who have yet to be convicted usually stay in jail because they can’t afford the bail, sometimes causing them to lose their jobs or housing, the lawsuit said. The lawsuit also argues that the threat of lengthy jail stays while awaiting trial encourages defendants to plead guilty.

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said Sunday that he wouldn’t comment on a pending lawsuit, but said the county is working to improve the system.

“I support bail reform because some low-risk suspects that don’t need to be there are held in Texas jails at taxpayer expense simply because they can’t afford to bond out,” he said.

Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price also pointed to the county’s efforts to reform its bail system, touting a decrease in the county jail population. As of December, there were about 5,000 inmates in the jail, which has a capacity for about 8,700, according to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.

You can see a copy of the complaint here. There are differences between the Dallas and Houston cases – the Dallas one involves felons as well as misdemeanants, and as noted their jail population had already declined by a significant amount. And, not to make too fine a point of it, Dallas County is ruled by Democrats, not Republicans. I would hope that means they’ll be much more amenable to finding a settlement rather than draw this out. (As this story reminds us, the Harris County case hasn’t even been heard yet – Judge Rosenthal’s ruling was an injunction, not on the merits.) We’ll see what happens. The ACLU’s statement on the suit is beneath the fold.

(more…)

The First Amendment remains in effect in Fort Bend

For now, at least.

Karen Fonseca, the owner of a white truck at the center of a social media dispute with Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy Nehls, is considering a civil rights lawsuit against the sheriff’s office.

Fonseca’s attorney, Brian Middleton, made the announcement during a press conference on Monday. Middleton added that the American Civil Liberties Union has also expressed interest in a possible lawsuit.

“We should not allow Sheriff Nehls to intimidate people into silence,” Middleton said. “This is wrong and we will not let it stand.”

The threat of legal action stems from controversy over a Facebook post Nehls made on Wednesday, Nov. 15, regarding Fonseca’s truck, which bears a sticker that reads “F— Trump and f— you for voting for him.”

Nehls threatened to charge Fonseca with disorderly conduct over the sticker. A day later, Fonseca was arrested on a pre-existing fraud warrant out of the Rosenberg Police Department.

Middleton and State Rep. Ron Reynolds allege that Nehls’ public dispute with Fonseca is a politically-motivated attack designed to gain attention as Nehls considers a campaign against Rep. Pete Olson, who represents the 22nd District of Texas.

“I demand an apology from Sheriff Nehls for targeting (Fonseca) and making her life and her family’s life a living nightmare,” Reynolds said in a statement.

Fonseca has since added a new sticker that reads “F— Troy Nehls and f— you for voting for him.”

I hadn’t covered this before now, but I’m sure you’ve seen the stories; some earlier Chron articles are here and here. To be perfectly honest, I don’t much care for the Fonseca’s bumper stickers. They’re tacky, and as a parent I have sympathy for anyone who would prefer their kids not see that. But clearly, they have a right to decorate their truck in that fashion, and Sheriff Nehls has grossly abused his office by arresting Karen Fonseca, against the advice of the Fort Bend County District Attorney. He deserves to get his hat handed to him in court for this. Pull up a chair and enjoy the show, this ought to be good.

Federal court bars enforcement if city’s ban on homeless encampments

Score one for the law’s opponents.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

A federal court on Tuesday temporarily blocked Houston from enforcing its fledgling ban on public encampments, dealing a blow to city efforts to manage escalating tensions between homeless people and the neighborhoods their camps abut.

The city’s three-month-old law – passed under intense pressure from residents and council members – bars the unauthorized use of temporary structures for “human habitation” and empowers police officers to arrest violators if they refuse medical treatment or social services.

Enforcing that prohibition may, U.S. District Judge Kenneth M. Hoyt wrote, violate the homeless plaintiffs’ Eighth Amendment protections against cruel and unusual punishment.

“The plaintiffs have demonstrated that they are subject to a credible threat of being arrested, booked, prosecuted and jailed for violating the City of Houston’s ban on sheltering in public,” Hoyt said. “The evidence is conclusive that they are involuntarily in public, harmlessly attempting to shelter themselves – an act they cannot realistically forgo, and that is integral to their status as unsheltered homeless individuals.”

[…]

The city ordinance “was not designed to punish homeless people. Rather, it was passed to stop the accumulation of property in these encampments,” Marc Eichenbaum, special assistant to the mayor for homeless initiatives, said in an affidavit filed last week.

Hoyt’s order, however, focuses on the law rather than the city’s approach to enforcing it.

“The fact that the governmental entity has not fully enforced the alleged unconstitutional conduct does not bar a suit for injunctive relief where the alleged unconstitutional conduct is imminent or is in process,” he wrote.

See here and here for the background, and here for a copy of the restraining order. It should be noted that in the complaint filed by the plaintiffs, they also asked for an injunction prohibiting “Enforcement of Houston City Code Section 28-46 (Aggressive panhandling) and Section 40-27(b) (Impeding the use of a roadway)”, but that request was not granted. The city had been lightly enforcing the enjoined provision, which suggests there had been concerns about it from the beginning. I get where the Mayor and Council are coming from, but they need to take this as a sign that they chose an unwise path. I do not want to wake up one day and read that the city is shelling out $500 an hour to some fancypants law firm to defend this thing in court. Find a way to fix this in a way that everyone can live with and move on.

The “run over a protester” bill

This was from a day or two after the racist violence in Charlottesville, which included the vehicular murder of a counterprotester.

Rep. Pat Fallon

Last month, Rep. Pat Fallon filed legislation to protect motorists who hit demonstrators “blocking traffic in a public right-of-way” if the driver exercises “due care.” House Bill 250 would protect drivers against civil liability only but would not lessen criminal penalties for deadly hit-and-runs, a second-degree felony in Texas.

Fallon’s bill has no chance of passing this summer. Lawmakers are scheduled to gavel out the month-long summer special session on Wednesday without even holding a hearing on the measure.

Nevertheless, by Monday morning, the Frisco Republican said he’d received “hundreds” of angry responses from people upset over the events this weekend in Virginia, especially the death of Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old protester struck and killed by a driver who also injured at least 19 other people.

James Alex Fields, a 20-year-old Ohio man who rallied with white supremacist groups on Saturday, has been charged with her murder as well as malicious wounding and failing to stop at a crash site that resulted in a death. Fallon said his legislation would not have protected someone like Fields from criminal charges. He blasted the white supremacists who gathered in Charlottesville.

“Any jackass that thinks they’re going to be cool because they’re a Nazi, are you serious?” Fallon told The Dallas Morning News. “There’s no room for that,” he added, calling Heyer’s death “horrific.”

Fallon added he was “incredibly offended” that people tied his bill to Fields and those like him.

[…]

Representatives with the ACLU in Texas and North Carolina, where similar legislation is being debated, said Fallon’s bill was intended to discourage free speech and assembly.

“The flavor and tenor of this is to quell protest,” said Karen Anderson, executive director of the ACLU of North Carolina. “It is to essentially set up a structure where you protest at your own risk (and) there is a shield for motorists who choose, which happened just recently, to use their vehicle as a literal bludgeon.”

She expressed concern over why the proposal does not define “due care,” and questioned how protesters could prove they were hit intentionally if there was no video footage of the incident, like there was in Charlottesville.

Matt Simpson, a police specialist with the ACLU of Texas, acknowledged Fallon’s bill would not lessen criminal penalties for drivers who intentionally kill pedestrian protesters. But he said the bill would be difficult to implement if it became law and would send “a terrible message” to Texans.

“This is obviously more symbolic than meaningful,” said Simpson. He said he was unaware of anyone who had sued a Texas driver who accidentally hit protesters. “This seems like a solution in search of a problem.”

Seems like there’s a lot of that these days. Rep. Fallon pitched a fit when people pointed out his bill and the potential it had for making life easier for someone who might feel the need to dish out a little four-wheeled havoc. Maybe don’t file such morally vacant bills in the future? Just a thought. All I can say is that if he files the same thing in 2019, he’ll definitely have learned nothing from this experience.

ACLU seeks information about state’s compliance with Trump election commission

From the inbox:

Today the ACLU of Texas filed an open records request with the Texas Secretary of State seeking documentation related to the State’s compliance with the federal Election Integrity Commission, which had asked states to submit voters’ full names, the last four digits of their social security numbers, their voting histories and information regarding felony convictions. The ACLU’s request seeks all communications between the Texas Secretary of State and the Election Integrity Commission, including records relating to the “views and recommendations” Texas submitted at the Commission’s request.

“The true threat to electoral integrity is voter suppression, not voter fraud,” said Edgar Saldivar, senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Texas. “This nonsense of voter fraud is a lie peddled by politicians complicit in a corrupt scheme to rig elections by keeping minority and low-income Americans away from the polls. We are demanding this information of state officials to ensure they are doing everything they can to advance the right to vote, not threaten it.”

The ACLU of Texas’s request comes days after the ACLU national office sued the Trump administration over the Commission’s failure to comply with the Federal Advisory Committee Act, a law that guarantees transparency and public accountability of advisory committees.

“The President’s Election Integrity Commission is a voter suppression machine, pure and simple” said Terri Burke, executive director of the ACLU of Texas. “It threatens our right to privacy, endangers the foundations of our democracy, and its mission is based on a lie. No wonder it conducts its business behind closed doors.”

The Commission’s vice chairman Kris Kobach, who requested the sensitive voter information, was recently fined $1,000 by a federal magistrate judge in a voting-related lawsuit for “deceptive conduct and lack of candor.” The judge said that Kobach and his legal team had “made patently misleading representations to the court.”

The ACLU of Texas is not requesting any information related to private voter information or voter roll data.

See here for a copy of the open records request, and here for a copy of the ACLU’s lawsuit against the Trump Commission, which is one of seven that have been filed so far around the country. This phony commission is all about suppressing the vote. It needs to be resisted on every front.

City of El Paso joins in on SB4

Add one more to the list.

The city of El Paso voted on Tuesday to join the growing list of local governments that have filed a legal challenge in hopes of stopping Texas’ new immigration enforcement law from going into effect.

The city council’s vote to join El Paso County and the cities of Dallas, Austin, San Antonio and Houston to halt the legislation, Senate Bill 4, means Fort Worth is the only major Texas city that hasn’t registered its opposition to the bill. Maverick and Bexar counties and the border city of El Cenizo are original plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which was filed in a federal court in San Antonio in May, just one day after Gov. Greg Abbott signed the bill.

[…]

In a statement, the city council said even though El Paso is not considered a “sanctuary city,” they voted to join the effort because local leaders are “concerned with provisions in SB 4 that raise questions related to the compliance and integration of the proposed bill in current law enforcement operations.”

“The unfunded mandate is expected to put additional strain on the El Paso Police Department, as SB 4 will add an extra requirement on the workforce that is already seeing a shortage in staff,” the statement continues. “The City of El Paso has a long successful history of working alongside our federal law enforcement partners, to add additional mandates on local resources will only limit officers from performing their public safety responsibilities.”

As you know, the hearing for a temporary injunction was Monday, but there’s a long way to go to get to the arguments on the merits, so it is far from too late for any entity to join in. I had previously listed El Paso as a plaintiff in the litigation, but it was El Paso County; I had assumed the city was in there as well, which was my mistake. No big deal, they’re in there now. I hope they and the other plaintiffs have a lot more company by the time this gets to the main event.

SB4’s day in court

Sparks were flying.

Opponents of Texas’ state-based immigration law told a federal judge Monday that allowing the controversial measure to stand would pave the way for a nationwide police state where local officers could subvert the established immigration-enforcement powers of the federal government.

But the state’s attorneys argued in tandem with their colleagues from the U.S. Department of Justice that the issue was settled in 2012 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of a state-based immigration-enforcement provision passed in Arizona.

The day marked the first skirmish in what could be a lengthy battle over Texas’ law, Senate Bill 4, which has been billed as the toughest state-based immigration bill in the country. Known as the “sanctuary cities” law, SB4 allows local law enforcement officers to question the immigration status of people they detain or arrest and seeks to punish local government department heads and elected officials who don’t cooperate with federal immigration “detainers” — requests by agents to turn over immigrants subject to possible deportation. Punishment could come in the form of jail time and penalties that exceed $25,000.

Opponents of the measure, including the cities of Houston, Austin, San Antonio and El Cenizo, as well as Maverick and El Paso counties, have argued the law violates several provisions of the U.S. Constitution, including guarantees of equal protection and freedom of speech. They are seeking a temporary injunction of the rule, which is scheduled to go into effect Sept. 1.

Lee Gelernt, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union representing the city of El Cenizo, a small municipality in Webb County, argued that the law, as written is vague and provides such little guidance to officers that they will be forced to use a heavy hand when detaining or arresting someone. That, he said, will lead to a broad assumption that they need to ask nearly every minority their immigration status for fear of violating the provision of the law — the aftereffect of which would be an across-the-board erosion of Texans’ rights.

“The overriding point is that the penalties are so harsh that it’s simply unrealistic for any police officer to take a chance” of violating the law, Gelernt told U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia. “[The lawmakers] knew what they were doing when they crafted the legislation.”

There’s a lot more, so go read the rest. The state’s argument, among other things, was that SB4 was less strict than Arizona’s infamous SB1070, and that it adhered to the parts of SB1070 that were upheld by SCOTUS. The plaintiffs’ argument, also among other things, was that the law was so vague and broad it was hard to even say what it did and did not allow and require law enforcement agencies to do; they also noted that while the Arizona law punished agencies, SB4 targets individuals who fail to comply with it. The plaintiffs are seeking an injunction to prevent the law from taking effect while the matter is being litigated; you can read the ACLU’s application for an injunction here. Judge Garcia did not say when he might rule, but he did note that he’s also one of the judges in the redistricting litigation, so maybe don’t expect anything till after those hearings in July. The Observer, the Chron, and the Current and Current again have more.

ACLU files for injunction against SB4

From the inbox:

The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Texas filed the first motion today to block the anti-immigrant and anti-law enforcement Texas Senate Bill (SB4) before it takes effect. This is the next step in the organization’s effort to strike down SB4.

The law, recently signed by Gov. Greg Abbott, strips localities and local law enforcement in the state of the authority to determine how to best use their limited resources to ensure the safety of their communities. The law also turns Texas into a “show me your papers” state. Law enforcement leaders throughout Texas and the country strongly oppose the law.

The motion, filed on behalf of the plaintiffs Texas LULAC and its members, the City of El Cenizo, the City’s Mayor Raul Reyes and Maverick County and elected officials of the County, asks the federal district court in San Antonio to fast track a ruling on the constitutionality of SB4. In this motion, the ACLU demonstrates that SB4 violates numerous fundamental constitutional rights and principles.

“Governor Abbott and his allies in the legislature enacted the harshest anti-immigration law in the country, ignoring the concerned voices of many Texans who stood in solidarity with our immigrant communities,” said Edgar Saldivar, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Texas. “Not only will SB4 lead to wholesale racial profiling, it is so vaguely written that local officials and law enforcement agencies are essentially left to guess whether their policies and practices would violate the law. We’re proud to lead the charge on this important next step in the legal battle to keep this calamitous legislation from taking effect on September 1.”

“SB4 is patently unconstitutional. Under SB4, local authorities will be unable to serve their constituents,” said Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project. “Local officials won’t be able to keep Texans safe and will be forced to carry out harsh discriminatory policies that hurt their communities.”

The ACLU’s co-counsel are Luis Roberto Vera, Jr., LULAC’s National General Counsel, and Renea Hicks of the Law Office of Max Renea Hicks.

Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, submitted a declaration in support of the ACLU’s motion filed today. Gupta is a former head of the Civil Rights Division at the U.S. Department of Justice.

SB4 Application for Preliminary Injunction:
https://www.aclutx.org/sites/default/files/sb4_application_for_preliminary_injunction_6.5.17.pdf

See here and here for the background. This occurred after the AG’s office filed a motion in the Austin court to consolidate the other anti-SB4 lawsuits with the lawsuit he filed to declare the law constitutional. Among other things, the courts are going to have to decide which of them will be the court in which all the action takes place. For now, there’s a lot of parallel activity going on. I can see this escalating quickly.

In the meantime, go read this NBC Latino story for the backdrop against which all this takes place.

Supporters of SB4 balk at suggestions the immigration enforcement law may foster racism or encourage discrimination, but as they try to enact it on Sept. 1, it will be impossible to ignore the state’s history of racism and the current challenges for Texans of Mexican descent.

Consider that, during the period from 1848 to 1928, at least 232 people of Mexican descent were killed by mob violence or lynchings in Texas — some committed at the hands of Texas Rangers, according to research by William D. Carrigan and Clive Webb, authors of “Forgotten Dead: Mob Violence Against Mexicans in the United States.” Texas led 12 states in killings of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, the authors solidly documented.

In addition, the effort to place Texas under the anti-discrimination provisions of the Voting Rights Act was the genesis of the 1975 expansion of the act to extend its protections of voting rights of Latinos and other people who were then called “language minorities.”

More recently, Texas’ voter ID law, enacted in 2013, has been struck down in a series of court decisions that found it discriminatory.

Also, Texas’ education board only added Mexican-American studies as an elective course to its public school curriculum in 2014.

“For Texas it really has been a slow march to effective citizenship for Mexican-Americans,” said John Morán González, director of the Center for Mexican American Studies at University of Texas at Austin.

Read the whole thing. You can argue with its premise or with the assertion that SB4 is racist, but you still have to grapple with the history. The DMN has more.

State files motion to combine all the “sanctuary cities” lawsuits

This isn’t a surprise, but there is a bit of a twist.

Best mugshot ever

In a filing late Thursday, Attorney General Ken Paxton asked a federal district court in Austin to absorb two other legal challenges that have been filed against the ban in San Antonio, which is seen as a friendlier venue toward opponents of the law.

In May, the city of El Cenizo became the first jurisdiction to file suit to block the ban. El Paso County followed a few weeks later.

But Texas had filed a pre-emptive lawsuit May 7 asking for the Austin district court to rule the ban constitutional. Because Texas had filed its suit first, Paxton argued in his motion, the cases should be tried in the court it had petitioned under a concept known as the “first-filed” rule.

“The El Paso case (in the San Antonio Division) and this case ask the courts to decide the same legal issues because they are essentially the same case,” Paxton wrote. “Since this case was first-filed, the interests of justice and judicial economy warrant consolidating these cases in the Austin Division.”

Because Texas had filed its suit first in the Austin Division, Paxton said, that court should determine whether other cases should be “dismissed, stayed, transferred or consolidated.”

Paxton also argued that the legal challenges in the San Antonio court should be stopped because the plaintiffs, which include El Paso and El Cenizo, had no connection to that jurisdiction.

“The proper venue for the El Paso case lies in Austin,” he wrote. “There is no substantial connection to San Antonio and plaintiffs sued the Governor and Attorney General in their official capacities. Suits against government officials in their official capacities should be brought in the division from where those officials primarily perform their duties.”

The motion could mean that jurisdictions and groups that had signed on to lawsuits as plaintiffs — like El Paso, El Cenizo and the League of United Latin American Citizens — will now become defendants in the state’s original suit.

[…]

Mimi Marziani, executive director of the Texas Civil Rights Project that is representing the Texas Organizing Project Education Fund, said the state is trying to intimidate civil rights groups to make them wary of joining suits against the ban.

“It’s clear that Texas is seeking to punish civil rights organizations that have bravely stood up against the State and prevent additional groups from coming forward,” she said in a written statement. “Indeed, their lawsuit does not include any specific allegations against groups like our client.”

See here, here, and here for the background. I presume that Paxton will eventually amend his motion to encompass the San Antonio/Austin lawsuit as well. I Am Not A Lawyer, so it is not clear to me what the advantage to Paxton is in doing this, other than his apparent belief that the court he filed in is more amenable to his argument than the San Antonio court. Plaintiffs usually have some burden of proof on them, so you’d think that being the defendant would be the less onerous task, but again, I don’t know what I’m talking about, so any actual attorneys out there are encouraged to weigh in. I do believe that this is intended to intimidate any other potential litigants, though I don’t think it will be successful on that front. In any event, I’ll be keeping an eye on this.

ACLU joins first “sanctuary cities” lawsuit

From the inbox:

The ACLU of Texas and the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project have joined the lawsuit challenging Texas Senate Bill 4 (SB4), which demands that local governments and their employees engage in federal immigration enforcement practices. The case, City of El Cenizo, Texas, et al. v. State of Texas, et al., was filed earlier this month on behalf of a group of local governments and law enforcement officials whose rights and ability to serve their own constituents are imperiled by SB4. The Plaintiffs include the City of El Cenizo, El Cenizo Mayor Raul L. Reyes, Maverick County, Maverick County Sheriff Tom Schmerber, Maverick County Constable Mario A. Hernandez, and the Texas State League of United Latin American Citizens (Texas LULAC).

“As the leader of a diverse community along the South Texas border, I am challenging SB4 because it will undo the decades of work to build trust with the immigrant community and to use our scarce resources to increase public safety. We will not be part of Trump’s deportation force,” said Raul Reyes, mayor of El Cenizo. “This lawsuit will give a voice to the people and families that live in fear because of SB4.”

“By joining as co-counsel for the City of El Cenizo, Mayor Reyes, and the other courageous plaintiffs who sued the state, we aim to protect the civil liberties of immigrant communities,” said Edgar Saldivar, senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Texas. “The Constitution does not allow the State of Texas to enact laws that threaten immigrants and the local officials entrusted to protect them. Today, we assert our resistance to the state’s pervasive attacks on vulnerable people and say to Gov. Abbott, see you in court.”

“Under SB4, local authorities will lose control over public safety and Texans will suffer from discrimination because of the color of their skin, accents or background,” said Lee Gelernt, ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project deputy director.

The El Cenizo lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas, San Antonio Division. The ACLU will serve as co-counsel with Luis Roberto Vera, Jr., LULAC’s National General Counsel, and Renea Hicks of the Law Office of Max Renea Hicks.

See here for the background. There is also the El Paso County lawsuit, which is different in nature due to a previous lawsuit settlement that may put El Paso in conflict with SB4. The city of San Antonio may get into the act in the near future, and once the pension reform bill is signed there will be pressure on Mayor Turner to address the issue as well. I’m happy to see as many lawsuits against this atrocity as possible.

Lawsuit filed against Houston panhandling ordinance

From the inbox:

The ACLU of Texas announced today that it had filed a lawsuit on behalf of three homeless Houstonian plaintiffs adversely affected by the City of Houston’s camping and panhandling ordinances. Taken together, these ordinances illegally deprive homeless Houstonians of shelter, infringe on their right to free speech and ultimately constitute a criminalization of homelessness itself.

“In recent years, Houston has admirably managed to reduce homelessness by half by pursuing sensible and compassionate solutions to this nationwide crisis,” said Trisha Trigilio, staff attorney for the ACLU of Texas. “But these latest ordinances abandon that humane approach. The City says they’re meant to get people into shelters with ‘tough love,’ but the truth is the shelters are full and Houston’s homeless have nowhere else to go.”

“Laws that criminalize homelessness are ineffective, waste limited public resources and violate basic human and constitutional rights,” said Maria Foscarinis, executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty. “The Law Center shares the ACLU’s concerns that Houston’s new ordinances governing outdoor camping and panhandling violate homeless persons’ constitutional rights.”

“The main thing these laws take from us is our dignity,” said Plaintiff Tammy Kohr. “We’re not bad people; we’re just trying to survive.” Plaintiff Eugene Stroman added, “This law shows little respect or sympathy for the impoverished people of Houston. Living in shelters just isn’t an option for us, but if you can’t find your own place to live, you’re treated like a criminal.”

The lawsuit requests an injunction prohibiting the tent ban, the panhandling ban and the seizure of homeless Houstonians’ private property.

See here for some background. The ordinance went into effect on Friday, which is no doubt why the lawsuit was filed on Monday morning. The Chron story adds some more details.

Mayor Sylvester Turner defended the ordinances in response to questions from the Chronicle at a Monday afternoon news conference, saying the rules aimed to balance constitutional rights and “the legitimate public health safety and welfare of all citizens in the public space.”

“Based on my reading of the lawsuit filed by the ACLU, they would have us do nothing,” the mayor added. “We have chosen to work with those living on the streets on a one by one basis to assess and address their individual needs and provide compassionate and meaningful solutions. Make no mistake, this is a public safety issue and we cannot bury our heads in the sand and pretend that it does not exist. The question is what is the best way or ways to transition people from living on the street.”

The mayor has said the panhandling ordinance doesn’t put an undue burden on free speech, as the ACLU lawsuit contends.

[HPD Captain William Staney, who oversees the mental health division] said Friday that Houston police would slowly ramp up enforcement. He said no one was arrested, cited or even formally warned on Friday. However, police eventually would take away people’s property if they keep more belongings than would fit in a 3-foot cube, as the ordinance requires.

The police department circulated a memo Friday emphasizing that arrest is a last resort and that officers must first offer access to medical help, addiction treatment and temporary shelter before taking action under the new rules.

While the ACLU lawsuit and some homeless people contend that shelters don’t have room, the mayor’s special assistant for homeless initiatives differed on Monday.

“We’ve worked with these shelters to make sure that even if a bed is not available that there’s still room for them to get them out from the elements inside where there’s additional services,” said the assistant, Marc Eichenbaum.

I agree that the city has done a lot of work to reduce homelessness in Houston, all to its credit, and I think there’s a lot of merit to the push to redirect charity towards support services and away from giving a dollar to people on the streets. Mayor Turner believes this ordinance is compliant with previous court rulings. Obviously, that remains to be seen, and the fact that advocates for the homeless think this ordinance will do more harm than good cannot be overlooked. I would really rather see this get mediated instead of litigated. Surely there are things the city can do to the ordinance to settle this. The Press has more.

Get ready for the “sanctuary cities” lawsuits

It’s just a matter of time.

Now that Senate Bill 4 is on its way to becoming law, opponents are looking to the courts for relief – and a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court case is giving them hope.
The high court struck down parts of a controversial 2010 immigration law in Arizona on the grounds that Congress, not the states, has the power to create immigration law. Experts say that argument could come into play with Texas’ SB 4, which requires local jails to comply with immigration detention requests that federal officials have said are voluntary.

“My opinion is the state is regulating in the immigration field,” said Barbara Hines, senior fellow at the immigration reform group the Emerson Collective. “What the state of Texas is doing is they are creating their own detainer program. That is pre-empted. Immigration is a federal area.”

Among other things, SB 4 would create civil and criminal penalties for officials who disregard requests by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to extend the detention of jail inmates suspected of being in the country illegally. Those detention requests, or detainers, help facilitate possible deportation proceedings.

State Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, predicted that the bill will follow the same course as Arizona’s SB 1070, better known as the “papers please” law because it required law enforcement officers in Arizona to demand the documentation of anyone they believed was in the country illegally.

Texas’ SB 4 doesn’t require officers to ask, but it prohibits sheriffs or police chiefs from keeping their officers from doing so.

“It allows local law enforcement to ask anybody on the street for their immigration status,” said Anchia, who chairs the Democrat-dominated Mexican American Legislative Caucus, which is fighting the state in court over redistricting maps it says are racially discriminatory.

[…]

Critics have argued the bill would separate families, deport well-meaning immigrants and create a fear in immigrant communities that might undermine their safety.

They picked up a legal argument this week after a group of mayors, including Austin Mayor Steve Adler, met with U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions for clarity on the ramifications for so-called “sanctuary cities.”

Sessions confirmed Tuesday to the mayors that compliance with the federal immigration detention requests sent to local jails — the central requirement of SB 4 — isn’t mandated under federal law. Rather, the jails can choose whether to hold inmates longer at the request of ICE, Sessions said.

That the comments came from such a high-ranking Trump administration official deflated the notion often associated with SB 4: that local officials like Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez are breaking federal law by choosing to ignore some ICE detention requests.

It also raised questions over whether the state could step in and create an immigration law making the detainers mandatory.

“It is inevitable that you will see cities and counties across the state suing the state. The overreach is unprecedented,” Austin City Council Member Greg Casar said. “I don’t know who died and made Greg Abbott (into) Putin, but our cities are going to fight back.”

See here for the background, and here for more on what Mayor Adler said about his meeting with Sessions. I hope opponents of this lousy bill flood the zone with lawsuits. It’s clear from the HB2 experience that setbacks in court will not stop the Lege from trying the same things again in the future, but it’s still necessary. Also, I say Greg Abbott has always had authoritarian inclinations, he’s just more comfortable expressing them in public now.

There will also be many headaches for law enforcement agencies, which strongly opposed SB4.

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo spoke vehemently against Senate Bill 4 Thursday afternoon, calling it a dangerous move by the state Legislature because it would redirect limited HPD resources from crime fighting efforts to an initiative that does not improve public safety.

Acevedo did not share if HPD would alter its policies if SB 4 were to become law. However, he made it clear during the afternoon presser he would make public safety a priority over policies he believe are unrelated.

“I am carrying out my sworn duty and moral duty to speak out on matters of public safety. And I’m not here to keep a job to do it,” he said.

[…]

The legislation would force police to honor all federal requests to detain people suspected of being in the country illegally until federal authorities can investigate the person’s status. It also would prohibit local jurisdictions from passing or enforcing an ordinance that prohibits police officers from inquiring about a detained person’s immigration status, which would nullify the Houston Police Department’s 1990 policy on the matter.

“If that language does not get removed … we’re going to have some negative consequences,” Acevedo said.

Police departments across the state, including Houston, are understaffed, he said. And the bill would diminish those already limited resources, he added. Just this year Acevedo announced plans to target high-crime areas and violent documented gang members.

He also announced a joint effort with the Texas Department of Public Safety to decrease violent crime in the area by creating two squad assigned to the initiative.

However, he believes SB4 may affect those plans.

“We don’t have the resources, nor do we have the bandwidth nor the desire to be ICE agents. If I wanted to work for ICE, I would’ve applied for ICE,” he said.

Acevedo’s worry is that a police officer’s duty and the proposed policy will create a divide among departments throughout the state. While police officers are sworn to protect, he says the bill could open the door for harassment.

“I will lose my ability and authority to direct (my officers) workflow,” he said. “ … And all of sudden I’ll have a police officer that wants to go off and play ICE agent all day.”

He went on to add he hopes that isn’t the case, but that perception would be damaging for Houston – particularly on immigrant communities.

It’s not about what local officials want, it’s about what Greg Abbott wants. Sorry, Chief. The Chron, ThinkProgress, and the Press have more.

House passes its “sanctuary cities” bill

Terrible.

After more than 16 hours of debate, the Texas House of Representatives early Thursday morning tentatively gave a nod to the latest version of a Senate bill that would ban “sanctuary” jurisdictions in Texas.

The 93-54 vote on second reading fell along party lines and came after one of the slowest moving but most emotional legislative days at the state Capitol.

The vote came at 3 a.m. after state Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, successfully made an what some Democratic members called an unprecedented motion to group all of the remaining amendments — more than 100 — and record them as failed. He said he made that suggestion so members wouldn’t be forced to pull their amendments. The motion passed 114 to 29, with about a third of Democrats approving the measure.

Members voted on the bill after adding back a controversial provision that extends the scope of the bill and allows local peace officers to question the immigration status of people they legally detain. The original House version of the bill only allowed officers to inquire about status during a lawful arrest.

That detainment language was included in what the Senate passed out of its chamber in February but was later removed by state Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, the bill’s House sponsor.

The amendment to add that provision back into the bill was offered by Tyler Republican Rep. Matt Schaefer, who was in the middle of a back-and-forth, deal-making struggle that stopped debate for more than hour. Both parties’ members caucused as they tried to hammer out a deal whereby Schaefer would pull his amendment and Democrats would limit the number of proposals they would offer.

But no compromise was reached, despite several high-profile Republicans, including Geren and House State Affairs Committee Chairman Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, telling members they would vote against the Schaefer proposal.

The intent of bill is “getting dangerous criminals off the street. That’s the mission. Shouldn’t be anymore than that,” Cook said.

The bill keeps a provision that makes sheriffs, constables and police chiefs subject to a Class A misdemeanor for failing to cooperate with federal authorities and honor requests from immigration agents to hold noncitizen inmates subject to removal. It also keeps civil penalties for entities in violation of the provision that begin at $1,000 for a first offense and swell to as high as $25,500 for each subsequent infraction.”

[…]

One point of major contention was a controversial amendment that moves the House version closer to the bill that passed the Senate.

The amendment would make police eligible to question the status of any person detained for an investigation of a criminal infraction, no matter how serious. The House had originally gutted that language and limited the questioning to police officers making an arrest.

The 81-64 vote came after key Republicans, including Geren, said came out against the change. Geren was one of nine Republicans joining Democrats in voting against the amendment.

SB4 was given final approval yesterday and will head back to the Senate for concurrence. Remember how the revised House version was supposed to be less awful than the original Senate version? Thanks to the Schaefer amendment, that is no longer the case. This bill was a top priority of the Republicans, and it was always going to pass. The only real question was how harmful it was going to be, and now we have an answer to that. I still don’t know what public policy goals the Republicans have in mind for this bill, but I’m confident they will not achieve them. What they will get is a bunch of lawsuits, so get ready for that.

Two more things. One, there’s this:

Legislation designed to limit the ability of cities for issuing ID cards to undocumented immigrants and onetime criminals was tentatively approved Thursday by the Texas Senate.

Supporters insisted Senate Bill 1733 was designed to standardize ID across Texas, and ensure that they meet federal homeland-security standards.

Opponents said the measure is designed to make it harder for minority populations to get access to services, and targets immigrants since many of them use locally issued ID cards for that purpose.

[…]

Sen. Jose Rodriguez, an El Paso Democrat who chairs the minority caucus in the Republican-controlled Senate, said he fears “various groups would be restricted from accessing services” because the bill appears to limit local officials from issuing cards and restricts the types of cards that can be accepted for identification by a government official.

Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, expressed similar concerns.

“They’re more worried about this being used for voting than anything else,” she said after the debate ended. “It’s all made up. It’s a problem that doesn’t exist.”

Many problems that don’t exist have been getting solved this session. I’d say it’s the Republicans’ core competency.

Two, I usually put statements I receive in email about this bill or that news item beneath the fold, but in this case I want it on the main page. So here are some reactions to the House passage of SB4.

From the ACLU, which had a press call with several Texas leaders:

The State of Texas is on the verge of enacting legislation that could make the state a pariah in the eyes of the nation.

Today, local elected officials and advocates gathered on a press call to condemn this legislation and outline the varied consequences, including: 1) promoting racial profiling based on appearance, background and accent that will affect U.S. citizens and immigrants alike; 2) hurting public safety policies that encourage all residents, including immigrants, to report crimes and serve as witnesses; and 3) dictating to elected officials and law enforcement that they must follow state mandates or else face jail time.

A recording of today’s call is available here.

When Arizona enacted draconian legislation in 2010, it resulted in boycotts, lost revenue and a devastating blow to the reputation of the state. Texas is on the verge of repeating that mistake.

As the United States courts continue to uphold the Constitution and block Trump’s overarching, un-American and anti-immigrant executive orders — including his attempts to cut funding from so-called sanctuary cities — legislation, such as this bill, allows states to circumvent the courts and enlarge Trump’s Deportation Force.

Greg Casar, Austin Council Member
“The Legislature is attempting to blackmail cities into violating our residents’ constitutional rights. We must not comply with this unconstitutional, discriminatory and dangerous mandate. We will fight this bill to the end — at City Hall, in the courts, and protesting in the streets.”

​Terri Burke, executive director for the ACLU of Texas
“I am deeply grieved but wholly unsurprised that anti-immigrant lawmakers in the Texas House have taken a wrongheaded, racist piece of legislation and made it a ‘show me your papers’ bill. They have stated as clearly as they can that they’re willing to target innocent children, break up families, encourage constitutional violations like racial profiling and endanger Texas communities solely to make immigrants feel unwelcome in Texas. But the members of our immigrant communities should know that you are welcome in Texas, and you’re not alone. The ACLU stands ready to fight the inevitable excesses and abuses of this inhumane, wasteful, hateful bill. We stand with Texas immigrants.”​

State Representative Victoria Neave
“This issue is very personal to me. It will impact families on a level some people just don’t understand. This bill will make us less safe and cause a chilling effect among communities in our state.”

Jose P. Garza, executive director of Workers Defense Project
“Today, Texas officially became the front line of resistance against racist and discriminatory immigration policies. SB 4 will result in increased racial profiling, communities that are less safe and a more stagnant economy. On behalf of working families across the state, we vow to fight this policy in the streets, in the courtroom and at the ballot box until we prevail.”

Karla Perez, statewide coordinator for United We Dream UndocuTexas Campaign
“Anti-immigrant legislators in Texas have directed their hate at the immigrant children and families of this state, people of color and our LGBTQ community by criminalizing us and our families, and by passing legislation that will tear apart families like mine. They have shown that they do not care about dignity and respect for immigrants in our state. It is no surprise that under anti-immigrant leadership, Texas is advancing yet another proposal couched in discriminatory intent to the aide of their white supremacist agenda. We will hold accountable those causing pain and fear in our state, and history will not judge them well. Our fight does not end here. When our immigrant community is under attack, we unite and we fight back. Our diverse communities will continue to organize and build our networks of local defenses across the state to move us forward. This is our resilience, this is our strength, and this is our home — we are here to stay.​

Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice Education Fund
“Texas Governor Greg Abbott and the state Legislature are turbocharging the radical mass deportation strategy of President Trump, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly. If not reversed or resisted, the combination of ‘unshackled’ federal deportation force agents and state-mandated collusion with those agents by local jurisdictions could result in one of the darkest chapters in American history. Texas has a population of 1.5 million undocumented immigrants, second only to California. The prospect of a Trump-Abbott mass deportation strategy taking root is as terrifying as it is despicable. People of goodwill from throughout America, and from throughout the world, are not going to stand by in silence as the state of Texas unleashes a campaign of discrimination against people based on their color, national origin or accent. Nor are they going to continue embracing a state that is about to unleash a campaign of terror aimed at immigrant families with deep roots in the state.”

From the Texas Organizing Project:

The following is a statement from Michelle Tremillo, executive director of the Texas Organizing Project, on the passage of SB4 by the Texas House early this morning:

“This morning’s vote by the Texas House is disheartening and disgraceful, and puts Texas closer to passing a show-me-your-papers law that will promote racial profiling of Latinos. The amendments added during the debate that will allow police to question the immigration status ofr children and people detained, not arrested, are especially troublesome and cruel.

“If SB4 becomes law, it will also make Texas less safe by further driving undocumented immigrants into the shadows, afraid of all interactions with police, whether they’re the victims or witnesses. It will also hurt the state’s economy by making us a target for economic boycotts and the loss of productivity that an increase in deportations this law would surely cause.

“No one except Republicans in the state’s leadership wants this racist, divisive and inhumane bill to become law; not police, not local elected officials and certainly not a majority of Texans.

“This bill, combined with the voter ID law and redistricting maps that have been repeatedly deemed to be intentionally discriminatory by federal courts, prove that our state’s legislature wants to erase and marginalize people of color. But we will not succumb to their will. We will not disappear. We will rise up. We will vote. We will claim our power. This is our Texas.

“As Martin Luther King Jr. said: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Justice will prevail. We will prevail.”

From State Rep. Gene Wu:

Today’s passage of Senate Bill 4 is a solution in search of a problem. This is a bill that has been crafted out of fear and hatred of immigrants. Not a single Texas city refuses to comply with voluntary ICE Detainers. Not a single Texas city can be called a “Sanctuary City.” The bill as passed, would not just detain criminals, but would target children, victims of crimes, and even immigrants who served in our armed forces. The Texas Legislature has, today, passed a Arizona-style, “Show-me-your-papers” law that will disproportionately affect communities such as those that make up District 137 — hardworking communities made up of native and non-native Texans, refugees, and immigrants both documented and undocumented.

This legislation is cruel. When it was made clear this bill would cause American citizens to be jailed and detained, the proponents of the bill shrugged it off as an unfortunate inconvenience. When Democrats offered amendments to exempt children and victims going to testify in court, those measures were repeatedly defeated on purely party lines. Democrats also asked to exempt religious-based schools who may object with deeply held beliefs; that too was defeated on partisan lines.

When I first spoke on this bill I couldn’t stop thinking about my boys. This bill and other laws like it are a constant reminder that, despite being born in this nation, they will be seen as outsiders because of the way they look; that the law will treat them with suspicion; and they will have to fight just to be treated equally. I was reminded that this is not the first time laws were passed against immigrants based on fear and hatred. And, it will not be the last.

Democrats were united in their opposition to the legislation because this felt like an attack on the diverse communities that we represent and that make Texas great. At the end of the day, all we asked for was mercy for our communities; mercy for our families; and mercy for our children. But no mercy was given.

From the Texas AFL-CIO:

Approval of a harsh, “show me your papers”-style bill that drafts local criminal justice officials into becoming an arm of the federal immigration system marks one of the saddest days I have ever spent around the Texas Legislature.

This bill will harm all working people. Immigrants do some of the hardest jobs in our state and are net contributors not just to our economy but to our future. SB 4 will not only make it easier for unscrupulous employers to deny important workplace rights to immigrants, but will also undermine important labor standards for all workers.

SB 4 is also bad for our Brothers and Sisters in law enforcement who depend on the trust of those who live in the communities they police. That trust could become all but unobtainable under SB 4.

Worst of all, SB 4 will broadly discriminate against minorities in Texas, regardless of immigration status. It will increase the number of times American citizens are asked about their immigration status because of their appearance or language. By making mere detention, rather than arrest, the threshold for questioning immigration status, the law will ensnare people who are not even suspected of committing a crime.

We believe there is broad consensus that the U.S. immigration system is broken. But SB 4 will simply increase discrimination and hardship rather than point toward comprehensive immigration reform.

The DMN, the Texas Observer, the Dallas Observer, and the Current have more.

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.

There’s more than SB6 to watch out for

Keep an eye out for other anti-LGBT bills, because any of them might pass even if SB6 goes down.

With the media seemingly preoccupied by Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick’s bathroom bill, three Republican state senators have quietly introduced a sweeping anti-LGBT “religious freedom” measure.

Senate Bill 651, filed last week, would bar state agencies that are responsible for regulating more than 65 licensed occupations from taking action against those who choose not to comply with professional standards due to religious objections.

Eunice Hyon Min Rho, advocacy and policy counsel for the ACLU, said SB 651 would open the door to rampant discrimination against LGBT people, women seeking reproductive health care and others. Rho said the bill could lead to doctors with religious objections refusing to perform medical procedures, teachers not reporting child abuse if they support corporal punishment, or a fundamentalist Mormon police officer declining to arrest a polygamist for taking underage brides.

“This is incredibly broadly written,” said Rho, who monitors religious freedom legislation across the country. “It’s just really alarming. There are no limitations to this bill.”

Rho said only one state, Arizona, has passed a similar law, but unlike SB 651 it includes exceptions related to health care and law enforcement. She also warned that anti-LGBT state lawmakers may be trying to use the bathroom bill as a distraction.

“I think because some of the bills are receiving more attention than others, it’s a way for them to sneak some stuff through with a little bit less fanfare,” Rho said. “This is a tactic we’ve seen in countless states.”

[…]

As of Thursday, nine anti-LGBT bills had been filed in the 2017 session, according to Equality Texas, compared to at 23 in 2015. But there were indications that additional anti-LGBT “religious freedom” proposals are coming before the March 10 filing deadline.

Take a look at that Equality Texas list, and if you’ve gotten yourself into the habit of calling your legislators, add the bad bills there to your recitations. There’s nothing subtle about any of this, but with SB6 taking up all the oxygen, there’s cover for those bills. They would allow discrimination of the Woolworth’s lunch counter kind, and they cannot be allowed to pass.

Transgender health directive halted

One last kick in the rear from the annus horribilis that was 2016.

A Texas judge issued an injunction Saturday against a federal mandate aimed to protect transgender people, finding that the federal health rule violates existing law.

The preliminary injunction, granted by U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor, is in response to a lawsuit filed by Texas, on behalf of religious hospital network Franciscan Alliance, and four other states in August.

In the suit, Texas and the other plaintiffs argued that a federal regulation prohibiting discrimination against transgender individuals in certain health programs would force doctors “to perform and provide insurance coverage for gender transitions and abortions, regardless of their contrary religious beliefs or medical judgment,” according to the order. The plaintiffs also claim they could be required to perform gender transition procedures on children. Texas asked the court to block the federal government from enforcing the regulation.

Transgender rights activists have refuted claims that the health rule prevents doctors from using sound medical judgment, arguing instead that it clarifies that health care providers can’t deny services or insurance to someone because that person is transgender.

In Saturday’s ruling against the federal government, the judge indicated that a preliminary injunction was appropriate because the federal health mandate violates the Administrative Procedure Act, which governs how federal agencies develop and issue regulations, and likely violates federal religious freedom protections for the plaintiffs that are private entities.

“While this lawsuit involves many issues of great importance—state sovereignty, expanded healthcare coverage, anti-discrimination protections, and medical judgment—ultimately, the question before the Court is whether Defendants exceeded their authority under the ACA in the challenged regulations’ interpretation of sex discrimination and whether the regulation violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act as applied to Private Plaintiffs,” the order reads.

See here and here for the background. The Chron adds on.

Ezra Young, director of Impact Litigation at Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, challenged both rulings as misinterpretations of federal law. He called Saturday’s “flatly contrary to law,” “morally repugnant,” and predicted it would be overturned on appeal.

“The U.S. Supreme Court has long recognized that sex discrimination takes many forms, and our nation’s expansive and unyielding nondiscrimination laws necessarily reach sex discrimination whenever and wherever it strikes,” Young said in a statement Saturday.

[…]

Young said the impact could be damaging to transgender people seeking care, who for years have faced denial of insurance benefits or access to doctors they chose because of their gender identity. Young said while some states have similar rules protecting transgender rights, Obama’s move was “groundbreaking.”

“The benefit of the federal law is it sort codifies things and it gave one unifying rule all across the country,” he said.

I’m sure this will be appealed. At least with the intervention of the ACLU, the defense of the lawsuit can’t be tanked by a corrupted Justice Department. I don’t know enough to speculate about the legalities going forward, but I do know this: Some day, and I hope to live long enough to see it, people will look back at the actions of Ken Paxton and the other obstructers of progress, and wonder what the hell they were doing. Paxton and those like him will be seen as the George Wallace and Bull Connor of the early 21st century. I don’t know when that day will come, I just know that it will.

ACLU intervenes in transgender health care suit

Good for them.

RedEquality

The ACLU and ACLU of Texas are getting involved in a lawsuit over a regulation in the Affordable Care Act. In August, Texas filed a lawsuit against federal regulations that prohibit healthcare discrimination against people who are transgender. The lawsuit was announced by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, representing the Franciscan Alliance. The lawsuit will be heard in Wichita Falls.

The rules state that healthcare entities are not allowed to deny or limit services – including gender transition services – based on race, national origin, sex, age or disability.

But the State of Texas, along with four other states, says the regulation in would force doctors to perform medical procedures to change the gender of children.

The ACLU says the lawsuit would have the larger implication of allowing providers to use religion to deny medical care.

Josh Block, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s LGBT project, says the lawsuit echoes the recent attempt to strike down guidance from the U.S. Department of Education to allow public school students to use the bathroom that is in line with their gender identity.

Block says the ACLU got involved because no one else had intervened to represent the interest of the people who are being discriminated against.

“It’s really crucial that the people who are being discriminated against have a voice in that courtroom to explain why the law is so necessary,” he says.

[…]

Individual doctors and hospitals are saying they should not be required to perform gender transition procedures because they violate their religious beliefs. Block says the regulations aren’t targeted at individual doctors; instead, they require the medical institution to follow the rules.

“They don’t require anyone to perform any surgery or give any treatment that the doctor doesn’t want to,” Block says. “The obligations are on the entity that’s employing the doctors. The burden isn’t on anyone’s individual conscience – this is an organization that is claiming the right to have federal funds to provide healthcare to the general public but then discriminate based on their religious beliefs.”

See here for the background. I sincerely hope the ACLU has some company in its involvement here. I put in those last two paragraphs to address a comment from my earlier post on this topic. If the rule in question really applies to institutions and not individual doctors, I’m hard pressed to see what the objection is. Truth be told, though, I believe this rule should apply to individual doctors, for the same reason why individual firefighters should respond to an alarm at an LGBT person’s house regardless of that firefighter’s personal feelings. If you can’t treat every person you serve with equal respect, dignity, and effort, then you really ought to consider another occupation, and that’s before we take the Hippocratic Oath into account for the docs. Every person deserves equal treatment. What is so freaking difficult about that?

Paxton encourages schools to discriminate against transgender students

From the ACLU of Texas:

[Friday], the ACLU of Texas issued a letter to Texas school districts outlining their ongoing legal responsibility to provide transgender students access to educational opportunities and school facilities on the same basis as all other students. Yesterday, the State of Texas issued its own “guidance” letter to Texas schools regarding thefederal government’s May 13 guidance.

The following may be attributed to Rebecca L. Robertson, legal and policy director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Texas:

“We value Texas educators, whose top priority is the academic success of their students and we think those educators deserve better legal advice than they got from Attorney General Ken Paxton. To be clear, public schools are not party to the lawsuit filed by the State of Texas in federal court in Wichita Falls and they aren’t subject to the preliminary injunction that prevents the Obama administration from acting on its Guidance regarding Title IX. School districts in Texas that already have inclusive policies to protect their transgender students are free to enforce them. School districts considering such policies are free to adopt them. School districts that do not have appropriate policies under Title IX risk being sued by transgender students who experience discrimination.”

A copy of the ACLU of Texas letter on Transgender Student Guidance is available here.

Here’s a Chron story about this. Remember how Paxton has said he was willing to meet with a transgender child’s family, to, I don’t know, tell the kid that it’s nothing personal, he just wants to make sure no one is forced to treat that kid like a fellow human being? I still don’t believe he will really do this, but if he does, I hope it’s the most awkward and uncomfortable experience he ever has.

More on Mississippi’s anti-LGBT law and the effect in Texas

Doesn’t look like we’re going to learn anything from the Mississippi experience.

RedEquality

Reeves’ ruling isn’t likely to deter Texas Republicans who have stated adamantly that Christians and others with sincerely held religious beliefs need extra protection when following their faith, particularly after the U.S. Supreme Court last year allowed gay marriage and the Obama administration earlier this year directed public schools to let transgender students use the bathroom and locker room that corresponds to their gender identity.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has urged legislators to pass a series of targeted “religious liberty” bills, many of which mirror the Mississippi law, including:

  • Protecting small businesses from having to provide goods or services to same-sex couples.
  • Allowing judges to refuse to perform same-sex weddings.
  • Allowing government employees, such as county clerks who issue marriage licenses, to opt out of serving same-sex couples.
  • Exempting religious groups from nondiscrimination laws on hiring and housing.

Legislators can begin prefiling bills in mid-November for the 2017 session, which begins Jan. 10.

Paxton on Friday criticized Reeves’ ruling as “flawed and inconsistent with the Constitution.”

“The law in Mississippi simply affirms the freedom of Americans to peacefully live and work according to their deeply held beliefs, in accordance with the First Amendment. We look forward to the Fifth Circuit upholding that common-sense law on appeal,” Paxton said in a written statement.

[…]

Rebecca Robertson, legal and policy director for the ACLU of Texas, said Reeves’ opinion should send a clear warning to Texas legislators.

“Lawmakers shouldn’t enact laws that they know are constitutionally suspect,” she said. “We do have a history in America of trying to get around people’s constitutional rights and give discrimination the color of law. That is a really unfortunate history that we ought to be ashamed of and try not to replicate.”

If Texas tries to follow Mississippi’s lead, Robertson predicted a costly legal fight followed by a similar ruling.

“When a court says a law is not constitutional, and lawmakers try to do an end run around that, you are going to get a smack down from a federal judge,” Robertson said.

See here for the background. The ruling has yet to be appealed, so there’s no direct consequence for Texas yet. No question in my mind, it’s going to take repeated smackdowns for the message to sink in. Those smackdowns are going to have to come at the ballot box too if we really want to have a lasting effect. the best defense against bad laws being passed is electing people who won’t pass those laws in the first place.

State finally releases abortion data

It’s exactly what you’d expect.

Right there with them

Right there with them

The Texas Department of State Health Services has released the state’s 2014 abortion data after weeks of allegationsthat the agency had been intentionally withholding the numbers.

The 2014 data is significant because it is the first year to reflect the impact of Texas’ anti-abortion law, House Bill 2, on abortion providers and patients across the state.

The U.S. Supreme Court struck downparts of HB 2 as unconstitutional this week, in part because the court could not find evidence for Texas’ justification for the law — that mandatory hospital admitting privileges for abortion providers and hospital-like renovations for abortion clinics would increase patient safety. In their challenge to the law, Texas abortion providers argued that HB 2 would instead reduce access to abortion and would have a disproportionately negative impact on Texas Latinas.

According to the newly released numbers, the providers were right.

One of the most striking revelations is the change in number of medical abortions — a two-pill regimen that, under HB 2, was heavily restricted and required many more clinical visits than a surgical abortion procedure. In 2013, 16,189 Texans got medical abortions; in 2014, that number dropped to almost 5,000. (Medication abortions became easier to access earlier this year, when an FDA label change enabled more providers to issue the drugs under the law.)

The 2014 DSHS data also suggest the law had a disproportionate impact on Texans of color. In 2013, over 24,000 of Texans who got abortions were Hispanic; in 2014, that number decreased by 18 percent to under 20,000. The numbers also show a 7.7 percent decrease among black Texans who got abortions.

Overall, the number of abortions in Texas decreased by 14 percent from almost 64,000 in 2013 to almost 55,000 in 2014. The data also show that the number of abortions performed in clinics dropped by 21 percent from 2013, and the number performed at ambulatory surgical centers increased by 12 percent, reflecting the closure of half the state’s non-surgical center clinics after parts of HB 2 took effect in 2013.

The new numbers also don’t show abortion was any safer post-HB 2. For both 2014 and 2013, complication rates were negligible; the complication rates were 0.04 percent and 0.05 percent, respectively.

See here for the background. On the matter of medical abortions, the Austin Chronicle explains:

While more than 16,000 women took medication to terminate their pregnancies in 2013, less than 5,000 did so in 2014 – a stunning 75% decrease. The number of women going in for surgical abortion, on the other hand, rose about 3,000. The likely reason? HB 2 included a provision that forced women to ingest abortion pills following outdated, more expensive, and potentially more harmful FDA protocol. Some providers responded by discontinuing the service and it was reported that women were less eager to opt for medication abortion, which had forced them to take the pill in the doctor’s office rather than their homes. The FDA has since updated its guidelines. Planned Parenthood Central Texas centers, including the Austin location, saw its medication abortion rates drop to less than 1% from 40% before HB 2.

See here for more on that. Since the FDA updated its guidelines, use of the abortion pill has risen sharply, which is exactly what you’d expect since taking a pill is safer, cheaper, and more convenient than going to a medical facility for an invasive procedure. Of course, women were still seeking medical abortions after HB2’s passage, they just were doing it on their own, without any assistance from a medical professional. Because HB2 was all about their safety, don’t ya know.

More women traveled out of state to obtain abortions as well.

The statistics also show a slight increase in the number of pregnant persons who traveled out of state to obtain abortion care. The number of abortions that took place “out of state” was 754 in 2014, compared to 681 in 2013.

However, data from other states suggest a much larger increase during that time period. As Rewire previously reported, statistics from Arkansas, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana appear to indicate at least 1,086 patients traveled to those states from Texas to obtain an abortion in 2014.

Basically, everything is as abortion rights activists said it would be under HB2, and whatever the reasons for the delayed release of this data, there’s no question that the timing was convenient for the state. Thanks for not buying the BS, Supreme Court. The Trib and the Chron have more.

State still resisting refugees

Because of course we are.

The federal government wants Texas to accept more than 2,000 additional refugees this year. Texas’ response: No thank you.

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission is putting the federal government on notice that the state will refuse to take in more refugees than it did last year and will accept only those who do not pose a security risk.

Texas on Friday submitted to the U.S. Department of State a 2017 state plan for refugee resettlement, rejecting the federal government’s proposal to increase the number of refugees moving to the Lone Star State by 25 percent.

“Texas continues to have concerns about the safety of its citizens and the integrity of the overseas security and background vetting process of the federal resettlement program,” Executive Commissioner Charles Smith wrote in a letter to the U.S. Department of State. “Americans face an undeniable terrorist threat that is imported through new manipulations of our national security protocols each day.”

According to Smith’s letter, the federal government is proposing to place 11,020 refugees in Texas during fiscal 2017, an increase of 25 percent over the projected fiscal 2016 figure. Smith wrote that the proposed funding is insufficient, as well, and concludes the state could accept a maximum of 8,605 refugees. It is unclear how many refugees have been placed this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

[…]

The state could land itself in court should it try to stop refugees from moving to Texas, said Terri Burke, executive director of the ACLU of Texas, which represented the nonprofit International Rescue Committee in the case.

“In the course of this litigation, the Attorney General’s Office has acknowledged the state has no legal authority to block anyone from being settled in Texas. If the state attempts to do so, its actions would be illegal,” she said.

Refugees go through a strict vetting process in order to make their way into the U.S. and Syrians are subject to additional levels of review, according to Jennifer Sime, senior vice president of U.S. program for IRC, the resettlement agency front and center in the lawsuit.

“These are very vulnerable people who are fleeing violence and persecution and they’re coming here to live a safe and peaceful life,” she said. “We want to be able to support them in that process.”

See here for a reminder of the legalities. I’m just going to say this: I never, ever want to hear about how Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton are motivated or influenced by their Christian faith again. The “What Would Jesus Do?” question has an answer that is blindingly obvious to anyone with even a rudimentary acquaintance with the Bible, and it’s the exact opposite of what these guys would do and have done. Specifically on the question of Syrian refugees, the President of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops “[urges] all Catholics in the United States and others of good will to express openness and welcome to these refugees, who are escaping desperate situations in order to survive. Regardless of their religious affiliation or national origin, these refugees are all human persons—made in the image of God, bearing inherent dignity, and deserving our respect and care and protection by law from persecution”. Greg Abbott, our Catholic Governor, does not come close to doing this. This is Christianity 101, and they all get a big fat zero. These guys cite their religious beliefs when it’s politically expedient for them to do so, and ignore them all other times. It’s hypocrisy at its most basic level, and they should all be called on it.

Where’s the abortion data?

The ACLU would like to know.

Right there with them

Right there with them

With the U.S. Supreme Court poised to decide the biggest abortion case in nearly a decade, the ACLU of Texas is demanding that the Department of State Health Services “stop concealing” abortion statistics for 2014 and make the information public.

In a letter sent Wednesday to department Commissioner John Hellerstedt, the ACLU accused the state agency of purposely withholding statistics that would show patterns of abortion across the state in 2014, including the number of Texan women who had abortions, the procedures they used and the types of facilities they visited.

The 2014 data is particularly significant, the ACLU said, because it was the first full year during which the state implemented provisions of the controversial abortion law known as House Bill 2. That law, which is the subject of a Supreme Court case, requires doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles of an abortion clinic and also requires clinics to maintain the same standards as hospital-like ambulatory surgical centers.

“It has come to our attention that your agency completed the relevant statistical tables in March 2016,” the ACLU letter said. “Since that time, upper-level supervisors within DSHS have instructed employees to mislead the public about whether these statistical tables are complete, and to refrain from sending email about the statistics in order to avoid creating a paper trail.”

The Department of State Health Services said the data remained incomplete.

“If the data were final, we would release it,” a department spokeswoman said in an email. “The detailed data for 2014 isn’t final yet for Texas. We released the provisional total as soon as it was ready several months ago, but the underlying details are being reviewed for accuracy. For the last several years, Texas abortion data was typically finalized and published between March and June.”

Yeah, I’m afraid the state doesn’t get any benefit of the doubt here. No question, if the data made their legal case look weaker, they’d do whatever they felt like doing to obfuscate for as long as possible. Sure, the DSHS could be telling the truth here, and under normal circumstances I’d counsel patience. But these aren’t normal circumstances, and there’s no basis for trust. Show us the numbers ASAP.

Hanen stays his sanctions

Good.

The Texas-based judge that last year put a hold on President Obama’s executive order on immigration decided on Tuesday to also suspend a controversial punishment he had recently issued to the administration’s attorneys.

U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen asserted in May that the federal government’s attorneys intentionally misled his court during last year’s proceedings over the Obama administration’s order on immigration, known as Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents.

As punishment, Hanen ordered the government’s attorneys to attend ethics classes in the 26 states that filed suit while directing the Department of Justice to turn over the names and confidential information of about 50,000 undocumented immigrants he said benefited from the administration’s plan prematurely.

On Tuesday, however, Hanen put his own order on hold and instead scheduled a status conference on the issue for August. The decision came after critics blasted Hanen’s order as a potential breach of privacy for the tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants.

“Judge Hanen was very thoughtful in the way he approached the idea that the 50,000 [deferred action] recipients are really innocent bystanders in this,” said Nina Perales, the vice president of litigation at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, or MALDEF.

[…]

MALDEF has also asked the 5th Circuit to stop the order outright, a request the group said it would continue to pursue.

See here, here, and here for the background. A copy of yesterday’s order is here. I’m glad to see this, but I’ll be rooting for MALDEF to prevail in squashing it for good at the Fifth Circuit. The August status conference will come as we await a decision from SCOTUS as to whether the plaintiffs have standing to sue in the first place. If they don’t, this is all over pending any further sanctions from Judge Hanen. If they do, then we’re just getting started. Needless to say, I’m rooting for the former. A statement from the ACLU of Texas, which had joined with MALDEF and the National Immigration Law Center (NILC) in petitioning the Fifth Circuit to stay Judge Hanen’s sanction order, is beneath the fold.

(more…)

Groups ask Fifth Circuit to block Judge Hanen order

Interesting.

A coalition of civil and immigrant rights groups on Friday asked an appeals court to stop a federal judge’s order that requires the Obama administration to turn over the confidential information of thousands of undocumented immigrants.

The filing in the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals by the National Immigration Law Center, the American Civil Liberties Union Immigrants’ Rights Project and the ACLU of Texas is on behalf of four undocumented immigrants, including two Texans. The immigrants say they are nothing more than pawns in a political game whose privacy will be breached if the order stands.

The petition is in response to a mandate issued May 19 by U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen of Brownsville. Hanen concluded that the Obama administration intentionally misled his court during the trial over the president’s controversial 2014 executive action on immigration, known as Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or DAPA. An expanded version of a 2012 action, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, was also included in the suit, although the original 2012 action was not.

Hanen said the administration’s attorneys knowingly misrepresented facts about when applications for the program were accepted and how many undocumented immigrants benefited prematurely from the program by receiving three-year work permits under the preceding 2012 program. In response, Hanen ordered the department to turn over the names, addresses and immigration information of about 50,000 immigrants. Hanen ordered that the information be turned over next week. He also ordered the government’s attorneys who want to practice in the 26 states that filed suit to take ethics classes.

“With these outrageous demands, Judge Hanen has unfairly and unnecessarily dragged a group of blameless individuals into this politically driven lawsuit, potentially compromising their privacy and safety with no legal justification,” Karen Tumlin, the National Immigration Law Center’s legal director, told reporters during a conference call.

[…]

The attorneys for the undocumented immigrants said they filed their own request directly to the Fifth Circuit because they are not parties in the original suit and because there is a time factor to consider.

“There’s just not enough time to really get relief in any other way except through a petition like this one,” said Omar Jadwat, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project.

See here and here for the background. A copy of the writ of mandamus is here, and a copy of the emergency motion for a stay is here. I don’t know what the legalities are for this, but I believe the plaintiffs are right on the merits and I am rooting for them to succeed. A statement from the ACLU on behalf of the petitioners is beneath the fold.

(more…)

Get ready for more “religious freedom” bills

Gird your loins.

Sen. Joan Huffman

The next Texas legislative session is almost a year away, but Senate Republicans are already zeroing in on proposals to bolster legal protections for religious opponents of same-sex marriage after its legalization by the U.S. Supreme Court last year.

At a hearing of the Senate State Affairs Committee on Wednesday, some Republicans appeared to endorse a piecemeal approach to passing legislation shielding religious objectors to same-sex marriage instead of pushing for more comprehensive state constitutional amendments like Indiana’s embattled “religious freedom” law.

Republican state Sen. Joan Huffman of Houston appeared to support prioritizing “targeted pieces of legislation” like last session’s Pastor Protection Act, which codified protections for clergy members who refuse to conduct same-sex marriages, “rather than to try to redefine anything.”

“I think that was an approach that would be a path for the Legislature, for this committee to examine,” said Huffman, who chairs the committee. “I don’t think we really took that push in the last Legislature.”

Piecemeal measures could include protections for faith-based adoption agencies that refuse to place children with same-sex couples, tax accommodations for religious organizations and housing policies at religious schools.

LGBT rights activists have described some of those proposals as “license to discriminate” laws. At Wednesday’s hearing, they reiterated that state lawmakers are still required to strike a balance between religious rights and equal rights, particularly when it comes to behavior by government employees.

There is nothing in the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage that “deprives someone of their right to religious liberty,” Rebecca Robertson, legal and policy director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, told the committee. But “people who are acting on the behalf of the government are not free to impose their religious beliefs,” she added.

[…]

At Wednesday’s hearing, Bill Hammond, chief executive of the Texas Association of Business, warned lawmakers against picking up that mantle in the next legislative session. He recalled Indiana’s religious freedom law, which opponents have claimed enables discrimination against the LGBT community, and the economic fallout that state faced when that law came under scrutiny.

Huffman retorted that the committee’s charge was to focus on religious protections and “not to discriminate.”

“Perception is probably greater than the facts, and that would be the perception around the country that Texas is no longer a welcoming state,” Hammond responded.

Etymological question: If their genders had been reversed, we’d call what Sen. Huffman did with Bill Hammond “mansplaining”. What is the correct technical term for her condescending insistence that she knows better than he does – that in effect, she knows his business better than he does? I’m thinking no such word exists, so what should we call it? Senatorsplaining? There’s an essence to that exchange that I can’t quite isolate, and with it lies the key to identifying the trope. Any suggestions here would be appreciated.

Such questions aside, it’s clear we’re going to get a lot more of that next session. Dan Patrick and his acolytes know what they were elected to do, and “govern” isn’t really on their list. And in case Bill Hammond needs someone else pointing out his business to him, that exchange was with one of his group’s supposed friends. If only your enemies cared so little about your group’s goals and values, Bill.

The animus that drives HERO opposition

I have often spoken of my contempt for the leaders of the HERO opposition, for their lying and their willingness to demonize their fellow man. There are a number of people who deserve that scorn, but this guy belongs up at the top.

When conservative firebrand Dr. Steven Hotze unsheathed a sword in August while speaking at a conservative rally that doubled as a campaign launch against Houston’s nondiscrimination ordinance, even some politically aligned with the longtime anti-gay activist were taken aback.

In an incendiary, lengthy address, Hotze went on to link America’s war against Nazi Germany to the war on gay rights, urging all gay Houstonians to flee to San Francisco. The sword, he said, was meant to represent God’s word, the strongest weapon against the gay community.

“The homosexuals are hate-mongers,” Hotze said at the time. “They hate God, they hate God’s word, they hate Christ, they hate anything that’s good and wholesome and right. They want to pervert everything.”

But since the speech, which played out on Twitter and drew media attention, Hotze largely has dulled his rhetoric against gay rights, at least when it comes to the equal rights ordinance now before voters. Instead, Hotze quietly has bankrolled opponents and stuck to the campaign’s biggest talking point: that the law would allow men, including sexual predators, into women’s restrooms.

This message is notable for its stridency and for what ordinance supporters say is its fear-mongering inaccuracy, but also because it shunts aside Hotze’s decades-long war against gays and lesbians. The campaign instead aims only at transgender residents, and in particular transgender women, who were born male but identify as female.

Evidence suggests the strategy is a politically savvy one.

Despite recent social and legal victories for gays and lesbians – from growing public acceptance to earning the right last June to marry in any state – research and polling data show transgender residents are starting from nearly scratch. Supporters say that makes the protections extended to transgender residents under the law even more crucial.

“Transgender people are at least 20 years behind the larger gay and lesbian community in terms of public understanding and acceptance,” said Michael Silverman, director of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund. “The vast majority of Americans still report that they do not know anyone who is openly transgender. That lack of knowledge and lack of acceptance creates a gap that our opponents attempt to fill with misleading information designed to scare people.”

[…]

Opponents’ targeted approach is the one they must take, said ACLU of Texas director Terri Burke, having been forced by growing acceptance to abandon anti-gay rhetoric.

That Hotze has been relatively muted on the issue of sexual orientation in recent months is in stark contrast to his approach when City Council passed the law 11-6 last year. While opponents were gathering thousands of signatures in an effort to force a repeal referendum, Hotze emailed conservative Steven Baer and cast the law as part of a “tide of homosexual perversion sweeping over the country,” according to emails obtained by the Chronicle.

Hotze, through Woodfill, declined to be interviewed for this story.

“Let’s collaborate and join forces. Houston, Texas is ground zero on this issue,” he wrote. “We will repeal the pro-homosexual ordinance here and breath fire into the hearts of our brethren across Texas and the nation.”

See also this story, which looks at this from the perspective of being transgender. People who oppose HERO have a variety of reasons for doing so. I don’t find any of those reasons meritorious, but some of them are more respectable than others. But whatever one’s reason may be for opposing HERO, this is what the rest of the country will hear and internalize if HERO is defeated. I don’t know about you, but if I opposed HERO for some technical reason that had nothing to do with Steve Hotze’s seething hatred, the fact that I was nonetheless on the same side as Steve Hotze would make me awfully uncomfortable. You may say that it’s not fair for you and your reasonable objections to HERO to be lumped with a raving maniac like Hotze. Well, last I checked life wasn’t fair, and so unless you’re out there publicly denouncing the likes of Hotze and his hate, how is anyone who doesn’t know you to tell the difference? I guarantee you, there are only two possible post-referendum narratives that will appear in the media. One is that Houston beat back an effort to repeal its equal rights ordinance. The other is that anti-gay groups prevailed in their effort to repeal said ordinance, with the likes of Hotze and Jared Woodfill and Dave Wilson out there in the spotlight getting the attention and becoming for at least a little while the public face of our town. If you don’t like that idea, then the one thing you can do about it is not be on their side when you go vote. Because if you are on their side when you vote, your own reasons for doing so won’t matter. No one’s going to hear you when you try to explain.

Dan Patrick buys airtime for anti-HERO ads

Of course he does.

HoustonUnites

With the start of early voting Monday, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick began lending his voice and his pocketbook to radio and TV ads urging Houston voters to reject the city’s embattled equal rights ordinance.

At a news conference Monday in Houston, Patrick echoed the chief criticism of equal rights ordinance opponents – that the law would allow men to enter women’s restrooms – and he blasted Mayor Annise Parker, saying she “ought to be embarrassed” by the ordinance.

In Patrick’s TV ad, set to begin Tuesday airing on cable and network stations, he tells voters that “no woman should have to share a public restroom or locker room with a man.”

The radio and TV ads totaling about $70,000 were paid for by Texans for Dan Patrick. The former Republican state senator from Houston defended his decision to wade into a local issue.

“I think this is an extraordinary circumstance,” Patrick said. “This is absurd. Years ago, a decade ago, we would laugh at even thinking about that the people would cast a vote to keep men out of ladies rooms.”

Thanks for supplying another example of the shameless lying that the leaders of the anti-HERO effort have been engaging in, Dan. If you were a Catholic, I’d tell you to get yourself to confession ASAP. Be that as it may, I doubt this makes much difference. I mean, if you’re the kind of person who can be persuaded by Dan Patrick to vote a given way, you probably weren’t on our side in the first place. He may get a few people who were otherwise going to sit it out to get out and vote, but being Dan Patrick there’s a good chance some of them will be people going out to vote against whatever it is he’s advocating. More likely, he’s laying some groundwork for a 2017 legislative assault on LGBT rights, couched as always in the guise of “religious freedom”, as a commenter from yesterday suggested. You should click that last link to get an idea of the scope of bad policy that could be on its way, because some if not most of it is likely to get enacted. And I guarantee you, just as it was with Indiana and Arkansas, all of this will generate negative national attention for Texas, just as the anti-HERO effort that Patrick is now abetting is generating for Houston.

In the meantime, this press release hit my mailbox yesterday morning:

Joint Press Release from the Texas Freedom Network and the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas

CIVIL LIBERTIES GROUPS WARN AGAINST ‘RELIGIOUS REFUSAL’ LAWS

TFN, ACLU of Texas Announce Effort to Track Instances of Religious Refusals

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 20, 2015
Contacts: Dan Quinn, TFN, 512.322.0545; Tom Hargis, ACLU of Texas, 713.325.7006

Two leading civil and religious liberties organizations in Texas are warning against efforts by elected officials to misuse religion to defend discrimination in the state. The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas and the Texas Freedom Network announced today an effort to track instances of religious refusals by government officials and businesses. Individuals can report such instances at www.texansequalunderlaw.com/story.

Efforts to carve out special religious exemptions to state and local laws designed to protect the common good – especially nondiscrimination measures – distort the true meaning of religious liberty and put all Texans at risk, said Rebecca Marques, policy and advocacy strategist for the ACLU of Texas.

“Religious freedom is one of our fundamental rights as Americans,” Marques said. “That’s why we protect it in our Constitution. But religious freedom doesn’t give anyone the right to refuse to obey laws that everyone else must obey or to discriminate against or harm others.”

Earlier this month Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick asked state senators to recommend allowing government officials and employees, other individuals and businesses to refuse to obey laws to which they object because of their personal religious beliefs.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton also sent letters to legislative leaders supporting such “religious refusal” policies. Paxton specifically supported the right of government employees and businesses to refuse to recognize or provide services for the marriages of gay and lesbian couples. He also called for changes in state law that would limit the ability of local governments to adopt protections against discrimination.

Religious freedom doesn’t give government officials and employers the right to impose their religious beliefs on others or to pick and choose which laws they will obey, said Rabbi Neal Katz of Tyler, a board member for the Texas Freedom Network.

“One of our most important values is treating others the way we want to be treated, and we all have the right to equal treatment under the law,” Katz said. “Nobody should be turned away from a business or government office, refused service, or evicted from their home simply because they don’t share another person’s religious beliefs or because of who they are or whom they love. That discrimination distorts the real meaning of religious liberty.”

Obergfell may be settled, but the fight is far from over. Don’t sleep on this.

30 day finance reports: Pro- and anti-HERO

Some good news here.

HoustonUnites

Supporters of Houston’s contentious equal rights ordinance raked in $1.26 million during seven weeks of official fundraising, more than doubling opponents’ efforts and fueling a fierce and frenzied media campaign to court voters before the law hits the November ballot.

In campaign finance reports filed Monday that reflect late summer totals, both sides spent more than $550,000, largely on dueling TV and radio ads. But the more than $521,000 that supporters of the law still had left in campaign coffers as of Sept. 25 dwarfed the $58,000 that opponents reported in cash-on-hand.

[…]

In the battle over the city’s equal rights ordinance, Jared Woodfill, spokesman for opponents, said the campaign is unfazed by supporters’ significant fundraising totals.

Opponents reported a $100,000 donation from conservative developer Al Hartman, $25,000 from Harris County Commissioner Jack Cagle and $5,000 from Houston state Rep. Gary Elkins, among others. Longtime anti-gay activist Steve Hotze also loaned the campaign $50,000.

“We’re absolutely not intimidated at this point,” Woodfill said. “I believe the momentum is in our favor and clearly this is an ordinance that the people in Houston don’t want.”

In a news release, the Houston Unites campaign said it expected to spend $2 million before the November election.

The campaign said 80 percent of its nearly 700 donors are Houston residents.

But its efforts were also fueled by big-ticket contributions from national groups and figures.

The Washington, D.C.- based Human Rights Campaign contributed more than $200,000, and New York philanthropist Jon Stryker, a frequent donor to LGBT causes, pitched in $100,000. Colorado’s Gill Action and New York-based American Unity Fund, both LGBT advocacy groups, donated a combined $200,000.

Campaign manager Richard Carlbom, in a written statement, said the group had “certainly done well on the money front so far.”

“But, there is a great sense of urgency around fundraising this week and next,” Carlbom said. “We know from past ballot campaigns that equal rights opponents spend significant dollars in the final weeks. We must remain competitive with them in what will, no doubt, be a close election.”

The story has some highlights of candidate finance reports as well. Those can be found here, same place as the July reports. Reports for PACs can be found on the usual city finance webpage – here’s the Advanced Search link; select either the “Specific-Purpose Political Committee” or “Both” radio button, then click the “Search” button next to the “Candidate/Committee” name boxes. Latest results are on the last pages, so go to page 4; the only relevant result on page 3 is for Brenda Stardig’s campaign PAC.

There are three PACs of interest regarding HERO. Two are pro-HERO: the Houston Unites Against Discrimination PAC and the Human Rights Campaign Houston Equal Rights PAC. One is anti-HERO, the Campaign for Houston PAC. There is a “No on Houston Prop 1” PAC that shows up in the search results, but it reports no funds raised or spent.

Here’s a summary of the reports for the three active PACs mentioned above:

PAC name Raised Spent Loans On Hand ============================================================== Houston Unites 1,262,893 597,299 0 521,462 Human Rights Campaign 218,480 205,810 0 11,503 Campaign for Houston 274,785 492,231 50,000 18,494

Houston Unites had $901K in cash contributions and $359K in kind. It also reports $6,800 in loans on summary page 3, though I didn’t see any explanation of that. Some of their big donors are as follows:

Human Rights Campaign 205,810 Gill Action LLC 100,000 American Unity Fund 100,000 ACLU of Texas 95,000 Freedom For All Americans 50,000 Wes Milliken 50,000 Texas Freedom Network 25,000 Equality Texas 12,500 Annise Parker campaign 5,000 Robert Gallegos campaign 1,000

So basically, the HRC PAC was a passthrough, as all the funds they raised ($200K of which came from themselves) went to the Houston Unites PAC. A lot of these same big donors were also the main suppliers of in kind contributions, which mostly amounted to staff time and office space:

ACLU Texas 137,187 Freedom for All Americans 124,017 Human Rights Campaign 50,144 ACLU (national office) 16,750 Texas Freedom Network 15,139 Equality Texas 10,625

The expenses listed were fairly straightforward. About $360K was allocated for advertising. Some $158K was for consulting to a group called Block by Block; there were some smaller consultant expenses as well. There was about $37K for printing, and $5K for polling.

And here are the big donors for Campaign for Houston:

Allen R Hartman 100,000 Jack Cagle PAC 25,000 Ralph Schmidt 25,000 Mickey Ellis 20,000 Texans for Family Values PAC 10,000 Mac Haik Ford 10,000 Law Office of Melanie Flowers 10,000 Ryan Sitton 10,000 Anthony McCorvey 10,000 Johnny Baker 10,000 Edd Hendee 5,000 Paul Pressler 5,000 Dan Huberty 5,000 William Carl 5,000 Jay E. Mincks 5,000 Malcolm Morris 5,000 Gary Elkins 5,000 Dwayne Bohac 1,000 Jodie L. Jiles 1,000 Norman Adams 1,000

That’s $268K of the $275K they reported raising. Grassroots, they ain’t. There are some familiar names in this list. Jack Cagle is County Commissioner in Precinct 4. Ryan Sitton is a Railroad Commissioner. Dan Huberty, Gary Elkins, and Dwayne Bohac are all State Reps. Texans for Family Values is the main source of anti-gay wingnuttery at a state level. Edd Hendee is (was? I don’t listen to AM radio) a talk radio host and the owner of the Taste of Texas restaurant. I don’t recognize a lot of the other names, but I’m glad I’ve never bought a car from Mac Haik or sought legal services from Melanie Flowers.

The expense side of their report is weird. Two line items totaling $200,350.50 are to American Express for unitemized expenses. I mean, these are presumably credit card bills, so they could be for just about anything – office supplies, food, consulting expenses, strippers and porn downloads, who knows? It’s their responsibility – requirement, actually – to specify what these expenses are. My guess, if I were forced to make one, is that these are their line items for advertising costs, as there’s basically nothing else for that. But that’s just a guess, and I should note that while they listed $492,231 in total expenses on their summary page, the individual expense items only add up to $291,880. Is there an error in their form, or are there another $200K in expenditures they’re not reporting? Like I said, it’s on them to tell us. I for one will feel free to speculate wildly until they do so.

Those are the highlights for now. I am posting 30 day reports as I find them to the Election 2015 webpage. I’ll have a closer look at the reports for citywide candidates next week. Any questions about this, leave ’em in the comments.

Does your JP still do marriages?

Some do and some don’t.

RedEquality

Last Wednesday, Judge Dale Gorczynski, a justice of the peace in Harris County, heard 19 eviction cases, sent 147 traffic and misdemeanor cases to trial and presided over five weddings: Three for same-sex couples and two for heterosexual couples.

It was the first time gay couples outnumbered straight ones in his north Houston office. The judge estimated that during the two peak wedding season months since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage about 10 to 20 percent of the couples he has married are gay or lesbian.

But that trend is not playing out with at least three of the county’s 16 justices of the peace who previously performed weddings but no longer do. Judges Laryssa Korduba, Russ Ridgway and Jeff Williams, all Republicans who officiated weddings prior to the decision, are taking down their shingles, although they have done so gradually. These judges, who operate in Humble, near Bellaire and Addicks, still adjudicate criminal, civil and traffic proceedings, but despite phone prompts and online links at their offices that indicate otherwise, marrying couples is no longer among services they offer, staff members confirmed last week.

Korduba performed her last ceremony Aug. 7, according to the county clerk’s data through Aug. 20. That data shows that Ridgway last officiated Aug. 11; and Williams held his last wedding Aug. 14. The county clerk, Stan Stanart, said Tuesday these JPs performed weddings after the Supreme Court ruling, but in a limited capacity. Stanart said Ridgway told him, “I had these commitments beforehand.” The others made similar comments: “That’s what Laryssa [Korduba] told me, too, and Jeff [Williams]. They had commitments. They booked them up beforehand. But there are no new bookings. That’s what I’ve been told at this time,” Stanart said.

[…]

To be clear, these JPs will not be breaking the law or shirking their duties by halting weddings, legal experts say. In fact, they are opting to forego thousands of dollars of personal income, based on the rates they charged in recent months. Justices of the peace may keep this income. They have complete discretion to set their rates. Costs range from $50 to $400 per ceremony.

Although the Ohio Supreme Court issued an opinion this month stating judges may not refuse to perform marriages altogether based on personal, moral or religious objections to same sex marriage, officiating weddings in Texas is a choice.

In other words, all JPs in Texas may marry same-sex couples, but the law does not oblige them to marry anyone, according to Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan.

As far as turning away same-sex couples, Ryan said, “As long as they are not doing any weddings they can make that choice. If they do any marriages, they have to do all the marriages.”

Rebecca L. Robertson, legal and policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, agreed: If you choose to opt out of marrying all couples, that is perfectly legal. If you marry anyone, you may not discriminate, she said.

“If they feel this strongly, at least they’re being fair about it,” said Lane Lewis, chairman of the Harris County Democratic Party, adding he thought, “They are on the wrong side of history.”

Daniel Williams, spokesman for the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender rights group Texas Wins, said he applauded judges who abstained from marrying anyone if their personal beliefs guided them to pick and chose who to marry.

“To the JP who says, ‘In order to follow the law, I need to set aside the optional power of my office to perform weddings,’ Kudos.”

I agree. I’m glad that at least around here none of the JPs have tried to be jerks in the way that some county clerks were, to their detriment. I think they’re missing out – my dad was a judge for 14 years in New York, and he always says that performing marriages was the best part of the job – but it’s their choice. I sincerely hope some of them come to the realization that they’re no better off this way and get themselves back in the game. Everyone would benefit if they do.