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Mississippi

Not many states are honoring that “give us your voter data” request

Glad to hear it.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Forty-four states and the District of Columbia have refused to provide certain types of voter information to the Trump administration’s election integrity commission, according to a CNN inquiry to all 50 states.

State leaders and voting boards across the country have responded to the letter with varying degrees of cooperation — from altogether rejecting the request to expressing eagerness to supply information that is public.

[…]

But the commission, which is chaired by Vice President Mike Pence, seemed to misunderstand voter privacy laws nationwide. Every state that responded to the commission’s letter said it could not provide Social Security numbers, for example. Others said they consider information such as birth dates and party affiliations to be private.

What’s more, Kobach asked states to supply the information through an online portal. Many states have rejected this specific request, noting that the commission should file a voter information request through established state websites, as any other party would.

As of Tuesday afternoon, two states — Florida and Nebraska — are still reviewing the commission’s request. Another two states — Hawaii and New Jersey — have not returned CNN’s request for comment. And while six states are still awaiting a letter from the commission, four of them — New Mexico, Michigan, South Carolina and West Virginia — have already pledged not to provide voters’ private information. The other two of those six states, Arkansas and Illinois, have not released statements ahead of receiving the letter.

Just three states — Colorado, Missouri and Tennessee — commended Kobach’s attempt to investigate voter fraud in their respective statements.

See here for the background. You can see a list of how each state responded at the bottom of the article. In the meantime, the DMN has the details about how Texas will respond.

Texas will release voters’ full names, addresses, dates of birth, voter history dating back to 2006 and a person’s voting status, according to the list that the office provided to The Dallas Morning News. Officials said the federal commission’s request is being treated as a public records request.

The secretary of state’s list did not quell concerns about how the information will be used. Justin Levitt, an election expert at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said the information is protected against commercial use by state law.

But it will be publicly available once the state hands it over to the commission, which could lead to people sidestepping Texas law to gain access to voter information for commercial gains.

“If I’m someone that can really use this data to sell you something, I may not be able to get it from Texas, but I can turn around and go to the federal commission and get it from them,” Levitt said.

[…]

Levitt said Texas could deny the request on the grounds that the commission is violating federal laws, including the Privacy Act of 1974. Under that law, the federal government has to inform Congress that it is collecting information on individuals and explain why. It would also need to tell the public it was collecting the information and lay out guidelines for protecting it.

The law rarely allows for such information collection with few exceptions, Levitt said.

“Some of the information that Kobach has requested and the secretary of state has said he would release, like voter history and political party, seems squarely in the prohibitions the federal government isn’t supposed to collect,” Levitt said.

“There is absolutely no connection between political party and whether you can vote or not,” he added. “I cannot see a legitimate reason why they want it.”

Sounds like an opportunity for a lawsuit to me. If Mississippi can tell the Trump commission to go jump in the Gulf of Mexico, I don’t see why Texas ought to be handing this data over without at least a cursory inquiry as to who will have access to it and how it will be safeguarded. And if you find yourself getting more junk mail afterwards, you will know who to thank for it. Slate has more.

Miller avoids charges for his questionable trips

Can’t catch ’em all.

Sid Miller

Travis County prosecutors will not press criminal charges against Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller for tapping taxpayer funds for two trips that involved personal activities — including an appearance in a Mississippi rodeo and the receipt of a medical injection in Oklahoma called the “Jesus Shot.”

“We have decided to close our file and not pursue criminal charges against Commissioner Miller on these allegations,” Assistant District Attorney Susan Oswalt wrote in a memo to the Texas Department of Public Safety dated Sept. 8 first reported by The Houston Chronicle. “Our office has determined that criminal intent would be difficult to prove in this case.”

Travis County was reviewing an investigation that the Texas Rangers launched after the liberal advocacy group Progress Texas filed complaints about the Stephenville Republican’s February 2015 trips.

Those complaints followed media reports indicating that Miller personally benefitted from the state-funded trips.

A statement posted Tuesday to Miller’s Facebook account said the commissioner was “pleased this process is now complete and that he has been cleared of any wrongdoing.” The statement also thanked the Travis County District Attorney’s office and the Texas Rangers for their “professionalism.”

[…]

In her memo, Oswalt wrote “it is clear that Commissioner Miller used campaign and state funds to pay for the two trips,” but noted that he had fully repaid the state.

“Additionally, the total amount spent on the trips was relatively small, the state has been refunded all the money it expended on these trips, and the facts have been made known publicly so that Commissioner Miller is likely to be more careful in the future,” the memo said.

See here for the background. Let’s be clear, this isn’t a vindication of any kind, and Miller clearly wasn’t innocent. ADA Oswalt basically says as much in the memo – he did it, we all know it, but the amount involved was small, he paid it back, proving “intent” will be nigh impossible, so it just isn’t worth our time and limited resources to pursue. Miller will claim vindication anyway, and because the story ends here and we all have short memories, he’ll mostly get it. But we know what happened. The Chron and the Current have more.

Rangers hand off Miller case to Travis County DA

Here we go.

Sid Miller

The Travis County District Attorney’s Office has begun reviewing the findings of a criminal investigation into Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller’s travel, a top prosecutor said Friday.

“We received the investigation (from the Texas Department of Public Safety) earlier this week,” said the prosecutor, Gregg Cox, the head of Travis County’s Public Integrity Unit. “It is under review.”

The review can take awhile, meaning that it may be another few weeks, or more, before Miller learns whether he will face charges for allegedly using taxpayer money for personal travel, including a trip to Oklahoma on which he may have received a pain-curing injection known as “The Jesus Shot.”

Still, the news means that there has been progress in the probe into Miller, which began in April following a series of Houston Chronicle stories about his travel.

So to recap, there were two complaints filed against Miller, one for the Jesus Shot trip and one for the Mississippi Rodeo trip. The key to each complaint is the allegation that Miller used taxpayer funds for personal travel, which is a no-no. Miller has told ridiculous lies and made clumsy attempts to cover his tracks, to the point where his spokesperson bailed the hell out because it was just too embarrassing. Now, none of this means that an actual crime was committed, and if we’ve learned one thing from the scandals of recent years it’s that often the laws cited in the charges for these crimes are ill-fitted to the facts, making the indictments broad targets for skilled defense attorneys. We’re likely a few weeks away from a decision on whether or not to file charges, and if charges are filed we’re anywhere from months to years away from a resolution. So settle in and get comfortable, this could take awhile.

More opposition to North Carolina’s HB2

The Justice Department seeks to halt implementation of North Carolina’s viciously anti-LGBT law.

RedEquality

The billowing legal fight over North Carolina’s House Bill 2 continued to grow this week with the U.S. Department of Justice asking a federal judge to suspend the law pending the outcome of a trial.

The federal agency sued the state over HB2 on May 9. Late Tuesday night, saying the law is causing ongoing damage to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals, a team of Justice Department lawyers asked U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder to set aside the law.

The motion for a preliminary injunction is the second filed in Schroeder’s court against HB2. The American Civil Liberties Union sought a similar court order on May 16 as part of its own legal challenge against the state.

Legal experts give differing estimates on when Schroeder might act. For now, the mounds of paper being filed in the dispute continue to grow, and HB2 shows signs of remaining a pivotal statewide political issue through the November elections.

The law, which requires transgender people in government facilities to use the restroom that matches the gender on their birth certificates, has spawned at least five lawsuits – pro and con – in two federal courts.

The Justice Department’s 70-page legal brief attempts to establish the urgency for Schroeder to act. As with the earlier ACLU argument, government lawyers claim HB2 violates federal anti-discrimination statutes and is causing “ongoing and serious” harm to the state’s LGBT community.

Brian Clarke, a faculty member at the Charlotte School of Law, says it’s highly possible Schroeder has been waiting for the federal government to follow suit so he can rule on both motions at the same time.

“I would be surprised if Judge Schroeder lets this ride for very long,” Clarke said. “Even though the courts don’t have an official clock ticking, a judge does not want an injunctive motion sitting there for months. The legal standard is that irreparable damage is happening now.”

[…]

The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, which holds legal sway over the Carolinas and three other states, ruled in April that a Virginia transgender student could sue his school for forcing him to use a special bathroom – in essence upholding the federal government’s right to include gender identity under federal protection.

Wallace says the appeals court ruling did not deal with the “competing privacy interests” of other students and “does not help the ACLU case as much as the ACLU thinks it does.”

Clarke, however, said the decision leaves the North Carolina federal courts little leeway.

“Ultimately, Judge Schroeder will grant the injunction,” he said. “I don’t think he has a choice.”

I think the first lesson to take from this is to be mistrustful of bills called HB2. I’m not saying that any HB2 is automatically bad, but I’m not not saying it, either.

The Justice Department is not alone in attacking North Carolina’s HB2.

Airlines, hotels and tech leaders are among the 68 leading companies that on Friday filed a friend-of-the-Court brief opposing North Carolina’s law that requires individuals to use the bathroom that corresponds to their sex at birth.

Written by conservative legal dynamo Ted Olson, a veteran of Republican George W. Bush’s Administration, the filing urges the courts to strike down the North Carolina law as discriminatory and denies the legitimacy of transgender residents. The businesses assert that the bathroom provision runs counter to many of their non-discrimination policy and pro-diversity statements. Plus, they’re just bad for business and alienate LGBT customers and employees.

Among the companies signing the measure are American and United Airlines, Hilton and Marriott hotels, and tech leaders Apple, Cisco, Dropbox, eBay, IBM and Microsoft. Big business has been vocal in opposition to such laws, and many firms have been successful in applying political pressure in places like Indiana and Alabama. But, to this point, they have been running into a wall against North Carolina’s law, known as House Bill 2, or HB2.

“HB2 is a law that forces transgender persons to deny, disclaim and conceal their gender identity, particularly whenever they wish to use single-sex restroom facilities on state or local government property,” said Olson, who represented Bush’s 2000 recount case and then his Justice Department before the Supreme Court. “In so doing, it forces transgender people to deny a fundamental feature of their character and personhood in the name of safety concerns that are wholly illusory and a slap in the face to all transgender persons who are simply trying to live their lives consistent with who they really are.”

That argument is key to the 44-page filing. “H.B. 2 discriminates against the roughly 44,000 transgender people in North Carolina by denying them access to single-sex facilities that accord with their gender identity but not their biological sex whenever they set foot in a facility owned or operated by any agency or arm of the State or a local government. In so doing, H.B. 2 sends a resounding message to the public that transgender persons—people simply trying to live their lives consistent with who they are—are ‘other’ and outcasts whose gender identity and human dignity are undeserving of recognition and respect on government property,” the companies write. “It is no accident that H.B. 2’s anti-transgender message and effects have prompted some commentators to coin it the most anti-LGBT legislation in the country.”

There are two points to note here. One is that laws like this are hugely divisive and really unpopular in the business community, which is normally quite friendly to Republican interests. Two is that between Mississippi, whose own anti-LGBT law was recently struck down, and North Carolina where theirs seemingly will be, is that passing such laws is ultimately an exercise in futility. They are expensive, divisive, damaging failures. Unfortunately, it seems clear that the culture warriors in this state will learn nothing from any of it. The only lesson they will take seriously is one delivered at the ballot box. I continue to believe that the opportunity is there for Democrats to pry the business community loose from the GOP grip, on the grounds that only they are willing to take on issues that business people say are important to them, like immigration reform, school finance, investing in infrastructure, and generally maintaining a business climate that isn’t hostile to a significant fraction of the workforce and marketplace. Julian Castro could be the candidate to do that if he’s in a position to run for Governor in 2018. I’ve no idea what Plan B is if he isn’t in a position to run, but the opportunity will still exist if someone wants to take it. Perhaps a good showing in the 2016 elections will help spur someone on.

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.

Mississippi anti-LGBT law struck down

This definitely has consequences for Texas.

RedEquality

A federal judge stopped Mississippi’s controversial “religious freedom” law Thursday night, minutes before it was set to take effect.

In a opinion that cited scripture and Mississippi’s segregationist past, U.S. District Court Judge Carlton Reeves said House Bill 1523, signed by Gov. Phil Bryant in April, was another unfortunate example of Mississippi trying to write discrimination into its laws.

“Religious freedom was one of the building blocks of this great nation, and after the nation was torn apart, the guarantee of equal protection under law was used to stitch it back together. But HB 1523 does not honor that tradition of religion freedom, nor does it respect the equal dignity of all of Mississippi’s citizens,” Reeves wrote in his opinion.

For opponents of the law, Reeves’s ruling was a triumph over a bill that they believe used religion as a Trojan horse to sneak discrimination into state law.

“Our state legislature has no business passing a law that gives protections to one set of religious beliefs over another. When there is no separation of church and state, there is no freedom of religion,” Carol Burnett, a United Methodist minister in Biloxi and plaintiff in one of the lawsuits, said in a statement released after Judge Reeves’s opinion.

[…]

Attorney General Jim Hood, the only Democrat holding statewide office, said he will appeal Reeves’s decision earlier this week saying circuit clerk’s cannot recuse themselves from issuing marriage licenses to gays because, as Hood noted, the clerks were never parties to the suit.

But Hood said he’s undecided about whether he will appeal the decision handed down Thursday night. He said he he has major reservations about the merits of the lawsuit — and the origins of the law.

“I can’t pick my clients, but I can speak for myself as a named defendant in this lawsuit. The fact is that the churchgoing public was duped into believing that HB 1523 protected religious freedoms,” Hood said in a statement.

“Our state leaders attempted to mislead pastors into believing that if this bill were not passed, they would have to preside over gay wedding ceremonies. No court case has ever said a pastor did not have discretion to refuse to marry any couple for any reason. I hate to see politicians continue to prey on people who pray, go to church, follow the law and help their fellow man.”

House Bill 1523 singles out three “sincerely held” religious beliefs as worthy of protection: that marriage is between one man and one woman; that people should not have sex outside such marriages; and that a person’s gender is set at birth. The law protects from litigation anyone who speaks out against gay marriage or transgender individuals because of these beliefs.

It was the second time Reeves ruled against HB 1523 this week. In a separate decision Monday, Reeves indicated that he would invalidate the part that allowed clerks to recuse themselves from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. But that ruling didn’t address any other aspects of the law, which was set to go into effect July 1. Private business owners, such as caterers, and other state officials, such as public school counselors, were still allowed to refuse marriage-related services to gay, lesbian and transgender Mississippians.

Thursday’s ruling, however, invalidates every facet of House Bill 1523. The two lawsuits it addresses, Barber v. Bryant and Campaign for Southern Equality v. Bryant III, took aim at the whole law by arguing it violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. These prohibit government from favoring one religion over another and one group of citizens over another, respectively.

“(House Bill 1523) said that those three religious beliefs and no others get preeminence in Mississippi, and if you share one or more of them then you essentially get a free pass to do whatever the hell you want, no matter how discriminatory or offensive it is to your gay and lesbian neighbors,” said Roberta Kaplan, lead attorney on the Campaign for Southern Equality lawsuits.

“And because it has those elements, it is clearly, in our view and Judge Reeves’s view, a violation of this fundamental principle, one of the principles our country really was founded on,” Kaplan said. “It can’t preference one religion over another, it can’t take sides in religious debate, it needs to stay neutral. And that’s exactly what this statute does, it’s kind of a classic establishment clause violation.”

You can see a copy of the ruling here. As Mark Joseph Stern writes in Slate, this is such a bad loss for anti-LGBT activists that it calls into question their entire post-Obergefell strategy. And that is relevant to Texas because as we know those forces have big plans for the next legislative session. I doubt this will make them seriously reconsider anything – as we well know, objective reality is not their strong suit – but it draws a clear roadmap for the plaintiffs and attorneys that will line up to challenge their efforts in court. If this does get appealed, that goes to the Fifth Circuit, so if they uphold Judge Reeves’ decision, it would apply to Texas as well. All in all, a very good thing. Link via Daily Kos.

Being Sid Miller

It’s complicated, especially when your stories keep changing.

Sid Miller

The Texas Rangers are currently investigating whether Miller broke the law when he took those out-of-state, taxpayer-funded trips in February 2015.

The first was to Oklahoma, where internal emails from the Department of Agriculture indicated he planned the trip solely to obtain the Jesus Shot, which some believe cures all pain for life. Miller, who claimed the trip’s intent was to meet with Oklahoma lawmakers, said he would repay the state for the trip out of an “abundance of caution” after it was revealed in March by the Houston Chronicle that he missed a meeting with the state agriculture commissioner, Jim Reese.

“There was an official purpose for him to be in Oklahoma, and that was to meet with the commissioner of the state of Oklahoma,” insisted Todd Smith, Miller’s political consultant of 17 years, on Thursday. Smith attributed the missed meeting to a “comedy of errors.” He could not answer why those issues were not discussed at a conference both Reese and Miller attended just days before the so-called Jesus Shot trip.

Miller also traveled to Mississippi on the state’s dime, where he participated in the National Dixie Rodeo. When asked about the trip, the Department of Agriculture provided more than one version of how it came to pass, and late Thursday, Smith offered a much different account than his boss.

Initially, the Houston Chronicle reported that Miller took the state-paid trip to Mississippi to participate in the National Dixie Rodeo but sometime after that tried to set up a work meeting with the Magnolia State’s agriculture officials, making it a legitimate state-covered business trip. Miller said after those meetings fell through, he repaid the state for the trip with campaign funds because he also met with donors and advisers.

More than a week before the Chronicle story, Miller’s then-communications director Lucy Nashed told The Texas Tribune that the Mississippi trip — which was always designed to be a personal trip — was mistakenly booked by a staffer as a business trip. Once the staffer realized the trip was personal, Nashed said, Miller repaid the state for the trip out of campaign funds and $16.79 from his nursery’s business account. Earlier this month, Nashed resigned, saying there was a “tremendous lack of communication” at the department.

Miller has told the Tribune there was “absolutely no validity” to the complaints from liberal advocacy group Progress Texas that led to the Rangers investigation, calling them “harassment.”

“There’s nothing absolutely illegal or wrong with either of those trips,” he said.

But on Thursday, Miller’s political consultant told the Tribune a new version of the Mississippi trip. He said it was always supposed to be a business trip to meet with Agriculture Commissioner Cindy Hyde-Smith and that those meetings did occur, contrary to what his boss has previously said.

“I think there was some discrepancy about whether or not he had a meeting with her on that trip,” Smith said. “He met with her multiple times. He went to the rodeo with her.”

Tribune attempts to confirm whether Mississippi officials met with Miller have been unsuccessful.

As for Miller’s rodeo-ing while on a state-paid trip, Smith said there was nothing wrong with it and compared it to buying souvenirs while on a business trip.

“He can’t flip a switch and say, ‘I’m no longer the agriculture commissioner here, and I’m the agricultural commissioner now,’” Smith said.

Well, when most of us buy souvenirs on business trips, we pay for them with our own money. We don’t put them on the company card and then claim that we intended he purchase to be for business purposes when the accounting department asks us to explain the expenditure. And I for one can’t wait to hear what Commissioner Hyde-Smith has to say.

Actually, as it turns out, we don’t have to wait.

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller has met with his Mississippi counterpart multiple times since being elected, but there are no records indicating any meeting during Miller’s trip to the Magnolia State to compete in a rodeo in February 2015.

Mississippi Agriculture Commissioner Cindy Hyde-Smith traveled to Austin to meet with Miller in December 2014, and the two also spoke during conferences in February and June of 2015, according to emails and budget records released by the State of Mississippi. No documents exist about a meeting during Miller’s trip, however.

Texas officials also said they have no records of any meeting during the trip.

The absence of records appear to undercut statements made by Miller and his political consultant, Todd Smith.

I’m sure you can imagine my reaction to this, but just in case you can’t:

It’s like one big Meghan Trainor video up in here. What really boggle my mind is that there was no real reason to make up another explanation. Miller’s previous excuse, however risible, was at least consistent. Why would you go to the trouble of offering a new, easily fact-checked reason and thus keep this part of the story in the news? Like Dogbert once said, sometimes no sarcastic remark seems adequate.

Now you may be asking yourself, what happens if Miller finally does resign? Who would be best suited to step in for him? Well, don’t you worry, never fear, Jim Hogan stands ready to be called to service.

A criminal investigation into Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller has just begun, and while it is far too early to speculate about its result, one candidate is putting his name forward for any opening necessitated by a resignation: Jim Hogan, the Cleburne farmer who opted not to campaign when the Democratic Party nominated him to run against Miller in 2014.

Hogan said in an interview that he has been closely following the news about Miller and believes it could end in him being appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott to fill the position.

“Well, of course,” Hogan said. “If you had a tournament and the first guy was disqualified, wouldn’t you pick the guy that got second? Why would you pick someone who got out in the quarterfinals?”

[…]

For Hogan, the spending is troubling, but he said he also was disturbed by another aspect that had not gotten very much attention — the fact that both trips took place during work days.

“I’m just different,” Hogan said. “If I wanted to go to a rodeo, I guess I’d find one on a Saturday.”

Well, you can’t argue with that. I just wonder, did Jim Hogan call reporter Brian Rosenthal to tell him what he thought about this situation, or did Rosenthal call him out of a sincere desire to know what Jim Hogan was thinking about this? In ether case, I’m sure someone will advise Greg Abbott of Hogan’s readiness. Paradise in Hell has more.

Why North Carolina and not Houston?

John Nova Lomax asks why Houston has not suffered the same backlash as North Carolina after the repeal of HERO last November.

HoustonUnites

In the aftermath of the repeal of Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance in November, the bill’s proponents predicted dire economic consequences. Then-Mayor Annise Parker predicted a “direct, economic backlash” for the Bayou City. A #boycotthouston campaign erupted on Twitter. Greater Houston Partnership President Bob Harvey fretted about possible consequences for the city’s convention and tourism business, plus the future of corporate relocations. Some HERO supporters hoped that one or both of the organizers of the men’s 2016 Final Four and the 2017 Super Bowl would choose to move those events in retaliation.

None of that has happened. To be sure, by the time the polls closed, it was probably too late for the NCAA or Roger Goodell to take such a drastic step. Yanking a Final Four or a Super Bowl from one city and dropping it the lap of another on such short notice is a recipe for logistical chaos and red ink. But thus far, Houston has suffered no other consequences—nothing, nada, zilch—thus emboldening the Houston anti-HERO leadership to lend both their support and their tactics to legislators in Mississippi and North Carolina.

Earlier this month, Dave Welch, president of the Texas Pastors Council, wrote an open letter to Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant claiming that threats of economic consequences stemming from anti-HERO-type legislation were hollow:

As you know, the Final Four of the NCAA was just held in Houston and the radical LGBT movement’s threat to get this event, the Super Bowl, conferences and corporate bases out of Houston was shown to be a paper tiger and the raw use of intimidation. The churches and concerned citizens by the thousands refused to bow to the god of political correctness, the terrible ordinance was defeated overwhelmingly by the people and Houston continues to grow.

In other words, “We got away with it, and you can too.”

Or maybe not. At least not in North Carolina, where last month the state legislature enacted a law banning cities and counties from establishing their own anti-discriminatory policies based on gender identity, thus nullifying a recently-approved HERO-type ordinance in Charlotte and others elsewhere in the state.

[…]

The fact that HERO was defeated in a referendum rather than the legislature is one reason Houston has not been subjected to the same ire as North Carolina, according to Jessica Shortall, managing director of Texas Competes, a group advocating LGBT equality on business grounds.

“In Georgia the business response was to prompt a veto from Nathan Deal,” she tells Texas Monthly. “There was a recourse. And in North Carolina there is pressure on the governor and the legislature to rethink and repeal, but in Houston, it wasn’t the decision of a governor, mayor or state legislature or city council. It was the voice of voters. And that’s a very different decision for businesses, having to punish voters.”

Southall believes that the Houston vote was an anomaly, one that took place in an odd “bubble in time” just a few months ago, when public awareness about transgender people—whose bathroom privileges formed the crux of the Houston vote—was still very low.

“We have all been going to the bathroom with transgender people this whole time and nothing has happened,” Southall says. “This is a solution in search of a problem. I think the calculation on their part was, ‘This is an easy wedge issue, because nobody’s gonna stand for transgender people. Nobody even knows a transgender person.’ And that’s turning out not to be true anymore.”

Netflix hit Transparent, Caitlyn Jenner, and Orange Is The New Black‘s Laverne Cox are all raising awareness about transgender issues, Southall believes, and the process is taking mere months rather than years. “People got to know gay people through popular culture,” she says. “Will & Grace mattered. Glee mattered. Maybe they didn’t know a gay person up to then, but then they start to know gay people in their lives and then that person is not the ‘other’ anymore, it’s my friend or my relative or whatever. And now that’s happening with transgender people too, and it’s happening so fast, I think people on both sides of the issue are surprised.”

Even so, the fact that Houston skated away from any kind of meaningful backlash is surprising. Residents of Charlotte are being punished because of the actions of their governor and state legislature, but the people of Houston are not being singled out for their own vote.

And where was the Houston business community on this score? Yes, pro-business groups like the Greater Houston Partnership (Houston’s chamber of commerce) spoke out in favor of HERO, but the actual components of Houston’s business community were silent in both the run-up to and the aftermath of HERO’s defeat.

Of the 26 Fortune 500 companies headquartered in the Bayou City, all but three are in oil and gas. That industry has thus far been content to maintain a stony silence on LGBT equality, at least in Texas. According to their web site, exactly none of the Houston-based O&G behemoths have signed on as Texas Competes supporters, though 34 Fortune 500 companies (and scores of smaller ones) have. Houston voters were neither advised how to vote by the CEOs of Phillips 66, Halliburton and Baker Hughes nor did those same captains of industry urge voters to reconsider or express regret after last year’s referendum.

Perhaps they feared a backlash from their customers or their employees. O&G is not known as the most socially liberal of fields. But neither is pro-sports, but that has not stood in the way of teams outside of Texas. Each of Atlanta’s four pro-sports teams urged Deal to veto the Georgia measure. That was not the case in Houston, where the Astros and Rockets made no statement on the vote, and Texans owner Bob McNair actually went the other way, for a time, at least, pledging (and then quickly rescinding) a $10,000 donation to opponents of HERO. Of the eight “Big Four” pro-sports teams in Texas, only the Dallas Mavericks are supporters of Texas Competes.

So there are two claims that Lomax examines, and two more that I can think of that I’ll discuss after those.

1. Lack of advocacy from the business community. Businesses have been heavily involved in the fight in North Carolina (and in Georgia, and in Mississippi), but were johnny-come-latelys in Houston. There’s been a lot of focus on the businesses that have canceled planned expansions or other future work, like the filming of a movie. Some of this, I think, is just fortunate timing: These projects had to be in the queue, but not so far along that canceling them would be logistically difficult or expensive. If there was anything like this in Houston similar to the PayPal and Deutsche Bank projects, I don’t know what they were. People here fixated mostly on the Super Bowl and Final Four, but these were never likely to be in doubt – they would have been prohibitively costly to relocate, and there was a serious risk that any substitute city could not provide the same level of experience. You will note that despite the calls to the NBA to take next year’s All Star Game out of Charlotte, they have declined to do so. Maybe if there had been a PayPal or a Deutsche Bank for Houston at the time, and a credible threat to not go through with it, things would be different.

2. The “bubble in time” theory, which says that Houston’s repeal occurred at a time when people hadn’t yet given much thought about transgender people or issues. There may be something to that, but remember that Houston was not the first city to repeal a civil rights ordinance, and like Houston those cities suffered no blowback. Again, something to this, and something to #1, but I think there are other reasons why Houston was different.

3. I believe a basic difference between North Carolina (and other states that have taken or come close to taking similar action) and Houston is that NC represents a step backwards, while Houston was a return to a previously existing status quo. It’s not a good status quo, of course – it’s one that absolutely needed changing, a long time ago – but it’s how things were as recently as 2014. North Carolina didn’t just undo Charlotte’s version of HERO. They took away the right of any other city to pass their own HERO, and they took away the remedy of suing in state court for any LGBT person who wanted to pursue a claim of discrimination, among other things. It was these extra, punitive steps, as well as the clear singling out of the LGBT community, that made what North Carolina did worse, at least in the public eye.

4. Elections matter. The biggest difference between Houston and North Carolina, in my opinion, was briefly touched on but not explored in Lomax’s article. HERO was repealed by a vote of the people. HERO’s supporters deplored this vote and the lies and hatred that led to it, but we accepted it as legitimate and moved on with a vow to try again, learn from our mistakes, and win the next fight. (Having the pro-HERO Mayoral candidate win the December runoff against his anti-HERO opponent probably helped mitigate things a little, too.) By contrast, North Carolina’s law was passed in a one-day special session of their legislature, called hastily after Charlotte passed its non-discrimination ordinance. There were no hearings or testimony on the bill – most legislators never even had a chance to see it before they voted on it – and in the end Democrats in North Carolina’s State Senate walked out on the vote to protest its non-legitimacy. The game was rigged from the beginning, and a part of the protest has been about the scurrilous way the law was passed, with the process being entirely about haste and avoiding scrutiny. The surprise of what happened in North Carolina, especially when no one had a chance to put up a fight about it, has magnified the pernicious and discriminatory effect of the law, and thus produced a louder and more visible outcry.

So yes, I do believe there were substantial differences between Houston’s HERO repeal and North Carolina’s broadside on LGBT equality, and that these differences contribute to why Houston escaped any significant loss of business post-HERO. I suspect that a part of Lomax’s point in this article is to suggest that Houston should have suffered more for repealing HERO, and on that I agree. I believe it’s clear that the lack of consequences to that vote have emboldened the bad guys and led to laws like those that were passed in North Carolina and Mississippi and vetoed in Georgia. Perhaps that will change now that we have seen what NC and MS have gone through, but don’t be too optimistic about that. I’m afraid the fight is once again just beginning.

Second complaint filed against Miller

You do the crime

Sid Miller

A liberal advocacy group has filed another complaint against Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, who found himself in hot water recently over possible misuse of state and campaign funds.

The complaint, filed Wednesday by Progress Texas,asks the Texas Rangers to investigate Miller for using campaign funds to pay for a flight to Mississippi, where he won money in a rodeo competition. Miller, who said he met with donors while in Mississippi, has said he has done nothing wrong.

The group also has filed a complaint with the Texas Ethics Commission.

Miller’s trip was revealed by a Houston Chroniclestory last week. Earlier this year, the Chronicle also reported that Miller may have used state funds to take a trip to Oklahoma for a controversial medical treatment. Miller reimbursed the state for that trip.

“This isn’t Sid Miller’s first rodeo,” said Lucy Stein, advocacy director of Progress Texas. “Miller has yet again demonstrated a pattern of abusing his office by misusing taxpayer and campaign funds.”

See here for the background. As with the previous complaint, the Texas Rangers would do the up front investigation before handing anything off to a District Attorney. The Rangers have now agreed to do their part, and Miller is totes sad that everybody is picking on him.

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller on Wednesday called complaints filed against him over questions surrounding two taxpayer-funded out-of-state trips “harassment.”

The complaints were “filed by a very liberal left-wing organization, Progress Texas. They are just harassing me,” the Stephenville Republican said in a phone interview. “There’s nothing absolutely illegal or wrong with either of those trips … There is absolutely no validity to the complaint.”

[…]

One of the trips Miller took was to Oklahoma, where he received a controversial injection known as “the Jesus Shot” that is supposed to cure all pain for life.

When asked by the Houston Chronicle about the trip, Miller said he made it so he could tour the Oklahoma National Stockyards and meet with Oklahoma officials. But when those officials were contacted by the Chronicle, they said they had no plans to meet him in their state that day. Internal emails from the Agriculture Department later indicated that Miller had planned the trip around receiving the shot. After details about the trip became public, Miller said he would repay the state for the trip out of an “abundance of caution.”

Miller also traveled to Mississippi in February on the state’s dime. While there, Miller, who is a calf roper, participated in the National Dixie Rodeo. When asked about the trip, the Agriculture Department gave contradictory reports to media outlets.

I mean, come on, y’all. Why do there have to be all these rules and things taking all the joy out of life? Why can’t Sid Miller just be the Ag Commissioner he was always meant to be, without these professional busybodies poking their noses into his business? It’s just not fair, I tell you. The Trib and the Chron, which quotes a DPS spokesperson saying that the Travis County DA’s office will get this hot potato if there’s anything to it, have more.

The Rodeo had an extra clown this year

OK, it was a rodeo in Mississippi, but I wasn’t going to ruin a good headline. The point is, that clown’s name was Sid Miller.

Sid Miller

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller used a combination of taxpayer money and campaign funds to fly to Mississippi last year to compete in a rodeo for prize money, according to newly obtained records.

Miller spent nearly $2,000 in state and campaign cash on the three-day trip to Jackson, Miss., in February 2015, in the middle of last year’s legislative session, records show. He used an agriculture department credit card for the airplane flights and a campaign account card for a hotel room and a rental car.

Weeks later, he wrote a check from his campaign account to reimburse the state for the flights, according to department records.

During the trip, Miller spent two days competing in calf-roping events at the horse show at the Dixie National Rodeo, according to the Mississippi Quarter Horse Association. He won $880.

Miller did not have any scheduled meetings or events other than the horse show, according to his calendar.

“It was a personal trip so he could compete in a rodeo,” Texas Department of Agriculture spokeswoman Lucy Nashed said.

State law prohibits officeholders from using state money or campaign funds for travel that is primarily personal in nature.

Miller said the trip did not violate the law.

The agriculture commissioner acknowledged that he decided to go to Mississippi so he could compete in the horse show but said that after making that plan, he tried to set up a work meeting. He said he paid for the airplane flights with state money because he thought the meeting would happen but acknowledged it never actually was scheduled.

It was still a justifiable campaign expense, Miller said, because while at the horse show he spoke with the Mississippi agriculture commissioner and several rodeo participants and vendors who had donated to his campaign.

[…]

Ethics experts said the trip would be problematic if Miller benefited personally from state money or campaign donations.

Ross Fischer, a former Texas Ethics Commission chairman, pointed to a 1996 commission ruling that politicians cannot use even campaign money “if the primary purpose of the trip is personal.”

Buck Wood, a former state elections official, said “the fact that he ran into some people at the rodeo does not change the fact that the purpose of the trip was to compete in a rodeo.”

As noted later in the story, Miller’s office did not initially release emails relating to this trip, just as they did not originally release emails relating to his illicit trip to Oklahoma, for which a complaint has been filed. It was only later, when a more specific request that included references to the Mississippi rodeo was filed that they coughed up these emails. At this point, we have to conclude that there is a pattern of behavior here, and that Miller just can’t help himself. He’s a grifter, he’s using this office to live his best life, and what are you going to do about it? It would be nice if someone were to ask Greg Abbott, Dan Patrick, and Ken Paxton that question, and it would be even nicer if one of them deigned to reply. Trail Blazers has more.

Paxton asks judge to block EPA water rules in Texas

The basic story:

Texas has asked a federal judge to block enforcement of a new rule that expands authority over which water bodies the U.S. government can regulate.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton made the request Tuesday in an 88-page court document. The request comes in the wake of a federal court ruling in North Dakota that blocked enforcement of the rule in 13 states that filed suit in that court. Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers in a federal court in Houston and aren’t affected by the North Dakota ruling last week.

The May rule would greatly expand federal authority under the Clean Water Act over the bodies of water the EPA can legally regulate, restoring protections to tributaries and wetlands.

That federal ruling was issued two weeks ago, but does not apply to Texas, which is to say that the EPA rule is still in effect here. Texas, along with Louisiana and Mississippi, filed its lawsuit against the new rules a couple of months ago, but there has been no ruling in that case yet. Here’s the AG’s press release on the filing, with other information about that case, if you’re curious. You never know what a judge will do, so we’ll see what happens. WOAI and ThinkProgress have more.

Injunction against immigration executive order stays in place

Not a surprise, I guess.

JustSayNo

A Brownsville-based federal judge on Tuesday denied the Obama administration’s request to let a controversial immigration program proceed while the issue plays out in the courts.

United States District Judge Andrew Hanen ruled that his initial decision to halt the president’s November executive action — which seeks to grant deportation relief and a work permit to up to 5 million undocumented immigrants, including a portion of the 1.6 million currently living in Texas — was the right one.

Hanen initially ruled that the White House violated the Administrative Procedure Act, which governs the way federal policies are crafted and how much input the public gets.

[…]

Hanen blocked the measure in February and the Obama administration immediately requested that the judge delay his own order. But on Tuesday, Hanen reiterated that wasn’t going to happen.

“Having considered the positions of all parties and the applicable law, this court remains convinced that its original findings and rulings in the Order of Temporary Injunction and Memorandum Opinion and Order issued on Feb. 16, 2015 … were correct,” he wrote in a 15-page opinion.

See here and here for the background. The Obama administration has filed an appeal to the Fifth Circuit, which will hear oral arguments on April 17. How long they take from there is anyone’s guess. There is some good news for the Obama administration – as Vox reported, the Fifth Circuit just threw out a different lawsuit, filed by Mississippi, over its earlier immigration actions. It’s not an exact parallel, but there’s evidence in their ruling to suggest they might disagree with Judge Hanen. Check it out.

Same sex marriage will have to wait for the Fifth Circuit

Bummer.

RedEquality

A federal judge has refused to permit immediate same-sex marriages in Texas, saying he expects they will be allowed some day but he doesn’t want to act precipitously.

U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia on Friday rebuffed a request by same-sex couples Mark Phariss and Victor Holmes of Plano and Cleopatra De Leon and Nicole Dimetman of Austin that he allow gay marriages to begin taking place immediately.

Although Garcia last February ruled that Texas’ gay marriage ban violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection, he held his ruling in abeyance so higher-ranking federal jurists could rule in similar cases from other states that were further along.

On Friday, he noted that the Texas plaintiffs will square off against the office of state Attorney General Greg Abbott, who is defending Texas’ ban, at a hearing before the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans on Jan. 9. Garcia also emphasized that members of the New Orleans appellate court recently declined to let gay marriages begin in Mississippi, despite a similar ruling by a trial court judge there that a state ban is unconstitutional. Garcia noted the appellate judges in that case said a full examination of the dispute “is warranted before a disruption of a long standing status quo.”

Quoting the circuit judges, Garcia said avoiding confusion is important. He repeated his Feb. 26 prediction that the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately will decide the issue.

As for lifting his own stay, Garcia wrote that “such action would only be temporary, with confusion and doubt to follow. The day for finality and legal certainty in the long and difficult journey for equality is closer than ever before.”

See here and here for the background. Clearly, Judge Garcia thinks that the Fifth Circuit would reimpose the stay on appeal, and I daresay he suspects they may reverse his original ruling. Otherwise, there’d be little to fear of disruption. Disappointing as this is, it’s hard to argue with that logic. We’ll have a better idea of what the Fifth Circuit will do soon enough. The Trib has more.

Latest HB2 trial wraps up

And so we await a ruling, followed by whatever the Fifth Circuit will pull out of its posterior.

Stefanie Toti, representing the Center for Reproductive Rights, said the requirements imposed by the ambulatory surgical center rules single out abortion providers, as three-fourths of other ASCs in the state are exempt from the costly building code requirements – effectively amounting to a multi-million dollar tax on abortion providers.

The state provided no medical evidence to show the law is necessary or promotes the health and safety of women, said Toti. As few as seven abortion clinics would survive the law, creating a “substantial obstacle” for women who do not live in one of the five metro areas (Austin, Houston, Forth Worth, Dallas and San Antonio) where remaining providers exist. These women would need to travel 150 to up to 500 miles for abortion care.

“Would we allow that to stand for someone receiving an appendectomy or a sprained ankle? I have a problem believing it’s okay to send someone 150 miles away for care when they could get it closer,” commented Judge Lee Yeakel, perhaps offering a glimpse of his upcoming ruling. “I don’t think we would let this stand for any other minor medical procedure.”

In her concluding remarks, Toti said the state is trying to do indirectly what it cannot do directly since Roe v. Wade– eliminate abortion service from huge regions of the state.

State Solicitor General Jonathan Mitchell relied heavily on the previous ruling by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which had found in favor of HB 2. While the definition of undue burden to women is not necessarily clear, the impact of the law would not “come close” to even a minimal standard of burden, said Mitchell, as 83% of Texas women will live within 150 miles of an abortion clinics. Plaintiffs failed to show that any patient would not be able to obtain abortion services as result of HB 2, said Mitchell.

The state also sought to defend as common practice anti-abortion advocate Vincent Rue’s paid consultant work for the Attorney General – including extensive editing and drafting of defendant testimony. But Judge Yeakel slammed the AG’s office, saying the “state effectively tried to hide Rue’s involvement,” and he described the evidence as “very disturbing” in the eyes of the court.

See here and here for some background. The AusChron’s daily coverage has been great, as has RH Reality Check‘s – go click those links and proceed to their full slate of stories. The Trib homes in on the Big Question that will need to be addressed.

“Is Texas to be treated exactly like Rhode Island?” Yeakel said, adding that proving whether the regulation imposed an undue burden is the “crux” of this case. Yeakel’s decision, expected to be made before the ASC requirement goes into effect, is likely to be immediately appealed by the losing party. Yeakel acknowledged during Wednesday’s hearing that the case could eventually reach the U.S. Supreme Court.

When the ASC requirement goes into effect, only six existing abortion facilities in Texas that meet the ASC standards — all of them in major cities — will remain open to provide abortions, with an additional Planned Parenthood facility scheduled to open in Dallas before September.

But the requirement would leave women living west or south of San Antonio anywhere from 150 to 500 miles away from a Texas abortion facility.

Yeakel interrupted the attorneys several times during their closing arguments, asking whether the law presented “equal protection problems” for women who live in remote areas of large states like Texas. He also questioned whether the standard of an undue burden in abortion cases, which could make it permissible to force a woman to travel an entire day to obtain an abortion, would be applied differently to other medical procedures.

“I have a problem believing that it is reasonable to require someone to travel 150 miles to obtain a procedure they could get” nearby, Yeakel said. “Would we stand for that if you had a sprained ankle or needed an appendectomy? I don’t believe we would stand for this for any other medical procedure.”

Yeakel’s questions provided some insight into what his ruling in the case could determine. But he could be limited by a decision made by a three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in March that ruled that traveling 150 miles to a facility was not an “undue burden.”

“I’m bound by the 5th Circuit, but I may disagree with them,” Yeakel said.

In other words, What Will The Fifth Circuit Do? They have not acted on the request for an en banc hearing of their ruling on the first HB2 appeal, which leads to the speculation that they’re waiting for this case so they can address it all at once. Their recent ruling in the Mississippi case, which has since been appealed, offers a slim amount of hope, but as the Fifth Circuit is where hope and progress go to die, I wouldn’t get too giddy. The Statesman and Mother Jones have more.

Next lawsuit against HB2 is underway

We’ll see if the result this time is any better.

Texas abortion providers’ next attempt to block strict abortion regulations that the Republican-led Legislature passed last year begins Monday in Austin, where a federal court is considering whether to block a provision of the law that could shutter all but a handful of abortion clinics.

The lawsuit, brought by the Center for Reproductive Rights on behalf of several abortion providers, seeks to prevent the state from requiring abortion facilities to meet the same regulations as ambulatory surgical centers, or ASCs. Abortion providers are asking the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas to block the provision, which they say will leave fewer than 10 facilities operating in the state — and no abortion providers south or west of San Antonio.

The clinics argue that the measure will create an unconstitutional barrier for women seeking access to abortion. State attorneys contend that there isn’t enough evidence that the rules create an “undue burden” for the majority of women seeking abortion services.

The ASC requirement takes effect Sept. 1 and mandates that clinics have specific room and doorway sizes, along with locker rooms and infrastructure such as pipelines for general anesthesia. It’s the last remaining provision to be implemented after the passage last year of House Bill 2, which began to take effect in October.

[…]

Abortion providers say regulations that have been implemented since HB 2 took effect have already caused about a dozen abortion clinics to close. The provisions include a ban on abortions after 20 weeks of gestation and a requirement that all doctors who perform abortion procedures have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of an abortion clinic. The law also requires doctors to follow the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s protocol for drug-induced abortions, rather than evidence-based protocol.

As of April, there were 24 active abortion clinics in Texas, down from 40 before the bill took effect. Several more clinics have shuttered since then, and more are expected to close when the ASC requirements provision goes into effect.

Abortion providers previously unsuccessfully challenged the law’s admitting privileges provision. In March, a three-judge panel decided that abortion providers had not proven that the requirement for doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals would create an “undue burden.”

The panel’s ruling overturned a decision by U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel that had temporarily blocked the law last October. Yeakel will preside over this week’s trial, which is scheduled to last through Thursday.

Lawyers for the abortion providers said it should be easier to prove that the ASC requirement imposes an undue burden because the effect of the provision will be immediately felt when most of the remaining clinics shutter.

“This is a little different, because we’re talking about building facilities that cost millions of dollars. Either they already exist, or they’re not going to magically appear on Sept. 1,” said Esha Bhandari, an attorney representing the abortion providers.

See here for the background. I was, as you might expect, not exactly overflowing with optimism when this lawsuit was filed, given the past history and the looming specter of the Fifth Circuit. However, since then the Fifth Circuit refused to allow a similar law in Mississippi to close the last clinic in that state. They didn’t overturn the law, because of course they didn’t, but they did that much, even if all told it’s not saying much. I don’t know what that might mean in this case, but at least there’s some hope that it might be a little better than the usual sharp stick in the eye. TPM, Trail Blazers, the Current, and RH Reality Check have more.

Same-sex divorce in other states

Texas isn’t the only state where this is playing out.

RedEquality

Lauren Beth Czekala-Chatham wants to force Mississippi, one of the America’s most conservative states, to recognize her same-sex marriage. She hopes to do so by getting a divorce.

She and Dana Ann Melancon traveled from Mississippi to San Francisco to get married in 2008. The wedding was all Czekala-Chatham hoped it would be, the Golden Gate Bridge in the background, dreams for a promising future. She wrote the vows herself.

The couple bought a house together in Walls, a town of about 1,100 in northern Mississippi’s DeSoto County in June 2009. But the marriage was tumultuous and, like so many others, it didn’t last.

Czekala-Chatham, a 51-year-old credit analyst and mother of two teenage sons from an earlier straight marriage, filed for divorce in chancery court in September. She wants to force Mississippi to recognize the same-sex marriage for the purpose of granting the divorce.

“It’s humiliating to know that you spend that money, that time to be in a committed relationship and for it to end. I mean, that hurts. But then to be in a state that doesn’t recognize you as a human being, or recognize you for who you are, for who you love, it’s hard,” Czekala-Chatham said during an interview at her current home in Hernando. “I’m not treated like the neighbors next door. I’m treated like a second-class citizen.”

She has plenty of company among gay and lesbian couples in other conservative states, although thus far only a few have pursued divorce cases in the courts.

[…]

“The idea you can’t go to your local courthouse and file for divorce is very disruptive,” said Peter Zupcofska, a Boston lawyer who has represented many gay and lesbian clients in marriage and divorce cases. “It’s an enormous waste of effort and time.”

The right to divorce isn’t as upbeat a topic as the right to marry, but gay-rights lawyers and activists say it’s equally important.

“The marriage system is a way we recognize and protect the commitments people make to their partner,” said James Esseks, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Project at the American Civil Liberties Union.

“Part of that system is creating a predictable, regularized way of dealing with the reality that relationships sometimes end,” he said. “Those are the times people are the worst to each other, and that’s why we have divorce courts. There’s got to be an adult in the room.”

[…]

The Mississippi Attorney General’s office filed a motion to intervene on Nov. 15 that said the divorce petition should be dismissed.

Mississippi “has no obligation to give effect to California laws that are contrary to Mississippi’s expressly stated public policy,” the motion argues. “That legitimate policy choice precludes recognition of other States’ same sex marriages for any reason, including granting a divorce.”

Legal experts say getting Mississippi to recognize the marriage for any purpose is a longshot. Lawmakers amended state law in 1997 to say any same-sex marriage “is prohibited and null and void from the beginning. Any marriage between persons of the same gender that is valid in another jurisdiction does not constitute a legal or valid marriage in Mississippi.”

In 2004, 86 percent of Mississippi voters approved an amendment placing a ban on same-sex marriage in the state constitution.

In his arguments for a divorce, Czekala-Chatham’s lawyer, Wesley Hisaw, cites a recent ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that struck down parts of the federal Defense of Marriage Act and ordered the U.S. government to recognize legal same-sex marriages. That has created a situation where same-sex couples “are married lawfully under the laws of the United States, but not under Mississippi law,” Hisaw contends.

He also argues that bigamous and incestuous marriages are considered “void” in Mississippi, just like same-sex marriages, but bigamy and incest are also grounds for divorce.

“There can be no legitimate state purpose in allowing bigamous or incestuous couples to divorce and not allowing the same remedy to same-sex couples,” he wrote.

[…]

A similar case has just commenced in Kentucky, where two women married in Massachusetts are seeking a divorce.

At least one same-sex couple has been able to get a divorce in a state that doesn’t officially recognize same-sex unions. In 2011, the Wyoming Supreme Court ruled that two women married in Canada could get a divorce in the state, reversing a ruling by a district judge.

So the situation elsewhere is much like it is here in Texas, where just like in Texas the state’s argument is that gay people need to check their rights at the border because their state exists in a special little bubble. Obviously, at some point the Supreme Court is going to have to sort this all out. That’s likely still a few years away, so in the meantime all these folks that are going through this will need to spend more and suffer longer to arrive at a less definitive outcome than anyone else could get. Why we have to do this the hard way I don’t know, but that’s the way we’re going to do it.

The states that are making life harder for their National Guard members

It’s not just Texas.

RedEquality

While a majority of states ban same-sex marriages, most are not fighting the new policy. But Pentagon officials say that in addition to Texas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma and West Virginia have balked. Each has cited a conflict with state laws that do not recognize same-sex marriages. (A West Virginia official said, however, that the state intended to follow the directive.) While the president has the power to call National Guard units into federal service — and nearly all Guard funding comes from the federal government — the states say the units are state agencies that must abide by state laws.

Requiring same-sex Guard spouses to go to federally owned bases “protects the integrity of our state Constitution and sends a message to the federal government that they cannot simply ignore our laws or the will of the people,” Gov. Mary Fallin of Oklahoma said last week.

But the six states are violating federal law, Mr. Hagel told an audience recently. “It causes division among the ranks, and it furthers prejudice,” he said. Mr. Hagel has demanded full compliance, but Pentagon officials have not said what steps they would take with states that do not fall in line.

Though the government does not keep official figures on same-sex marriages in the military, the American Military Partner Association, which advocates for gay service members, estimates that the number could be 1,000 or more of the nearly half-million National Guard members nationwide, said Chris Rowzee, a spokeswoman for the group.

The military grants a range of significant benefits to the spouses of active-duty guardsmen, including the right to enroll in the military’s health insurance program and to obtain a higher monthly housing allowance. Spouse IDs allow unescorted access to bases with their lower-priced commissaries.

Officials in the six states say they are not preventing same-sex spouses from getting benefits, because those couples can register and receive IDs through federal bases. But those officials conceded that many couples would have to travel hours round trip to the nearest federal installation. Advocates for gay service members, though, fear that some benefits offered on bases, like support services for relatives of deployed service members, could still be blocked.

Moreover, gay spouses say that in an age that saw the scrapping of the military’s ban on openly gay service members, it is discriminatory — and humiliating — to have to jump through extra hoops to receive benefits.

See here, here, and here for the background. I’m still waiting for the threatened lawsuit to be filed. Note that even among the states that banned same-sex marriage, Texas and these others are a minority. There’s no public policy purpose being served here, just disrespect for people who have done nothing to deserve it. One way or another, these states need to be made to do the right thing and do right by their National Guard members.

Voter ID trial starts today

Another big lawsuit in a year that’s seen plenty of them.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The decades-old legal battle between states’ rights and civil rights returns to a familiar venue – a federal courtroom – on Monday as lawyers for the state of Texas try to convince a panel of judges that the U.S. Justice Department has no legal authority to block the state from immediately implementing a voter ID law.

Civil rights groups contend that Texas’ 2011 law requiring voters to provide identification with a photo issued by the state or the military discriminates against minority citizens and violates the federal Voting Rights Act. They say it harkens back to state laws designed to disenfranchise minorities, such as poll taxes and literacy tests.

“The effort to suppress the vote is not a new thing,” said Leon W. Russell, vice chairman of the NAACP Board of Directors. “What we’ve seen in the last two years, though, is the most egregious effort to compound and collect every single method that anybody could think of that would discourage a person to vote and put it in a piece of legislation and inflict it on our community.”

[…]

Thirty-one states require voters to show identification at the polls, including 15 that require photo ID. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the right of states to require identification cards in a 2008 Indiana case, but the Justice Department has rebuffed laws in two states covered by the Voting Rights Act, Texas and South Carolina. New ID laws in Mississippi and Florida are awaiting Justice Department action.

While the National Conference of State Legislatures, which tracks voter ID laws, reports there is little evidence to bolster claims of voter fraud or discrimination, [Texas Attorney General Greg] Abbott cites 50 election fraud convictions in Texas and more than 100 defendants prosecuted by the Department of Justice in the past decade.

“I know for a fact that voter fraud is real, that it must be stopped, and that voter ID is one way to prevent cheating at the ballot box and ensure integrity in the electoral system,” Abbott said in an interview. “It’s time for politics to be put aside and allow the Texas voter ID law to be put into effect, just like similar laws that exist across the country.”

Even if you accept Abbott’s numbers as gospel, he’s talking about ten people prosecuted per year. That’s out of over 100 million votes cast in a year like this. There are industrial processes that have higher error rates than that. You’ll note that Abbott doesn’t mention how many of those federal prosecutions ended in convictions, nor does he say how many of either the federal or state cases involved the kind of in person fraud that voter ID is supposed to prevent. There’s a good reason for that. This is what happens when you base your case on a lie. What also happens is that you needlessly threaten the rights of a whole lot of people.

Despite perceptions, there are between 600,000 and 800,000 Texas voters — out of 13 million registered voters in the state — who cannot be found in the records of the Texas Department of Public Safety, meaning they could represent voters without valid licenses or ID cards, according to data from the secretary of state’s office.

Proponents of the law take exception to the numbers, saying that voter rolls are not purged often and many of the 600,000 to 800,000 voters are dead. Also, some of the people without DPS matches could still have DPS-issued driver’s licenses or IDs under abbreviated or maiden names, or there could be data entry mistakes, said Rich Parsons, a spokesman for the secretary of state’s office.

[…]

El Cenizo resident [José] Zuniga, who said he was originally from Big Spring in West Texas, epitomizes the bloc of voters who could be denied the right to cast a ballot at the polls: He’s elderly. He’s a minority, and he’s poor. He also lives in South Texas, where the voter ID law would have the greatest effect.

Eight of 10 of Texas’ counties with the highest percentage of registered voters without a DPS-issued identification are in South Texas or near the border, according to figures supplied to the Department of Justice by the secretary of state’s office.

For Zuniga, voting is something he is passionate about. When asked what he would do if he were turned away at the polls, Zuniga said something in Spanish that, if translated, could not appear in a daily newspaper.

Then, after falling silent for a moment, Zuniga displayed frustration at the idea that someone — once again — might be questioning his nationality.

“Soy Tejano. Cien por ciento,” Zuniga said curtly. (“I’m Texan. 100 percent.”)

It’s unlikely that Zuniga will get a valid and required form of ID — an American passport, military ID, Texas driver’s license, free or paid-for DPS personal identification card, U.S. citizenship certificate or state-issued concealed handgun license — before the next election. He’s frail, and getting around is too difficult. It would take two or three buses to get to the closest DPS office in Laredo, which is about 20 miles away but for Zuniga might as well be 200.

There’s a lot of people in this state like José Zuniga. Greg Abbott thinks they don’t exist, and even if they do he’s not bothered by telling him that his right to vote doesn’t matter. When do you suppose was the last time someone was in a position to tell Greg Abbott that he doesn’t matter?

You can see the list of witnesses here, a brief overview of the case here, and a press roundup here. Needless to say, Texas Redistricting will be an invaluable resource throughout this trial. And as big as this is, it’s sadly only one of many fronts in the war on voting rights, along with Mississippi, Pennsylvania, and a whole lot of other places. The Texas voter ID preclearance trial is a big deal, but it’s far from the only deal.

Election results elsewhere

Results of interest from elsewhere in Texas and the country…

– Three of the ten Constitutional amendments were defeated, with Prop 4 losing by nearly 20 points. It drew strong opposition from anti-toll road activists, and I daresay that was the reason for the lopsided loss. The other two, Props 7 and 8, were pretty innocuous, and I have no real idea for why they went down.

– There was one special legislative election, to replace Fred Brown in HD14. Republicans Bob Yancey and John Raney will advance to the runoff for that seat.

– In New Braunfels, the can ban was upheld, and it wasn’t close.

The container ban ordinance, which goes into effect Jan. 1, was approved by 58 percent of the vote.

Ban supporters hailed the win as vindication of their claim that residents want the river protected from rowdy tourists and their litter.

“This was a landslide that can be disputed by no one,” said Kathleen Krueger, spokeswoman for Support The Ban. “New Braunfels has spoken loud and clear that we want to protect our rivers for the next generation.”

The lead spokesman for the opposition said the real issue was government transparency and vowed to continue the fight.

“I’m not disappointed,” said Mark McGonigal. “I have an opinion and so do other people. I knew one side would prevail. But the legality of this has yet to be determined.”

A lawsuit challenging the ordinance as illegal under state law, filed by a group of local business owners, is pending in state district court.

Nearly 9000 votes were cast in that referendum.

– Elsewhere in the country, there were a number of good results for progressives. Voters in Maine restored same day registration, while voters in Ohio repealed a law that would have curtailed collective bargaining rights. Each was a defeat for the state’s elected-in-the-2010-landslide Republican Governor. Mississippi voters rejected a radical “personhood amendment” that could have had far-reaching negative effects on reproductive choice. And finally, Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce, the author of the anti-immigrant SB1070 and a notorious racist, was recalled by voters there. Small steps, but in the right direction.

New flash: We spend a lot on gas

No surprise, Texans are more vulnerable to gas price increases than people in most other states.

While most Americans felt the pinch of higher gasoline prices in 2008, drivers in Texas paid an especially heavy toll, according to a national study released Tuesday.

Texans on average spent 6.8 percent of their household income, or $2,622, on gasoline last year, the seventh-highest percentage of any state, said the study by the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group in Washington.

Yet Texas ranked near the bottom, at 37, in taking steps that could help reduce the state’s dependence on oil, like boosting public transit options or providing incentives to buy fuel-efficient hybrid cars.

The report highlights both the burden record oil prices last year had on U.S. consumers and what states are doing to make their citizens less vulnerable to such spikes.

The report gives us one more good reason to be thankful for the existence of Mississippi, whose residents spend over nine percent of their income at the pump, thus making us look not so bad by comparison. You can see an overview of the report here and the full report itself here.