Tag Archives: Texas

Texas Redux

I know that Texas isn’t the only state where lawmakers are intent on returning to the 1800s (preferably prior to the Civil War and Emancipation…). Florida’s GOP is right up there with them, and Indiana isn’t all that far behind. Still, I have a strange “soft spot” for Texan idiocy–even before the last few years, when moronic policy proposals became a dime a dozen,  I could always count on Texas for an excellent example to use in my Law and Policy classes…

You may have read that–when Texas Republicans held their convention some weeks back–they adopted a stunningly retrograde platform. The item that got the most media attention was a call to hold a statewide vote on whether to secede. (As Dana Milbank memorably noted in the Washington Post,“If at first you don’t secede, try, try again.”)

Milbank’s reaction mirrored my own: let’s offer Texas a severance package, and throw in Oklahoma for good measure. The U.S. would come out ahead.

Of course, protections would have to be negotiated for parts of Texas that wish to remain on Team Normal. Dallas, Houston, Austin, San Antonio and parts of South Texas would remain in the United States, and they will need guaranteed safe passage to New Orleans or Santa Fe, along with regular airlifts of sustainable produce, accurate textbooks and contraceptives.

But consider the benefits to the rest of the country: Two fewer Republican senators, two dozen fewer Republican members of the House, annual savings of $83 billion in defense funds that Texas gets. And the best reason? The Texas GOP has so little regard for the Constitution that it is calling for a “Convention of the States” to effectively rewrite it — and so little regard for the United States that it wishes to leave.
 
In democracy’s place, the Republican Party, which enjoys one-party rule in Texas, is effectively proposing a church state. If you liked Crusader states and Muslim caliphates, you’ll love the Confederate Theocracy of Texas.

Milbank illustrated his “Crusader” conclusion with references to the rest of that stunningly theocratic platform:

Texas would officially declare that “homosexuality is an abnormal lifestyle choice.” It would redefine marriage as a “covenant only between one biological man and one biological woman,” and it would “nullify” any court rulings to the contrary. (The gay Log Cabin Republicans were banned from setting up a booth at the convention.) It would fill schools with “prayer, the Bible, and the Ten Commandments” but ban “the teaching of sex education.” It would abolish all abortions and require students to “learn about the Humanity of the Preborn Child.”

There was–as you might imagine–much more. The state would abolish the Voting Rights Act, do away with the Income Tax and Estate Tax, and deep-six property taxes. Texas would withdraw from the United Nations.

I’m not sure where the state would get funds to do even the very few things the platform considered governmental responsibilities, since the areas that generate most of those despised taxes are the urban centers that wouldn’t secede.

There’s more, but it gets depressing to delve more deeply into contemporary GOP fever dreams.

If you wonder where these crackpot ideas get their staying power, Thomas Edsall recently published a column on the roots of the stubborn conspiracy theories widely accepted by today’s Republicans. ( He too referred to the Texas GOP platform, which he notes was hardly a minority effort–it was adopted by  5,000 delegates to the convention.)

“We reject the certified results of the 2020 presidential election, and we hold that acting President Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. was not legitimately elected by the people of the United States.”

Unfortunately, that particular evidence of mental impairment is not limited to Texas Republicans. Polling suggests that the stolen election conspiracy theory is currently embraced by 71 percent of Republicans — roughly 52 million voters. Edsall writes that the belief in a stolen election has ” become the adhesive holding the dominant Trump wing of the party in lock-step.” 

The Texas GOP platform is a good gauge of the other preoccupations/fantasies of those 52 million voters. As Milbank reports, It invoked “God” or the “Creator” 18 times and “sovereignty” or sovereign power 24 times. And the word “democracy”? Only once — in reference to China.”

This all raises what we old folks used to call the Sixty-Four Thousand Dollar Question.”

As the January 6th Committee methodically releases evidence–actual, verifiable evidence–how many of the fact-resistant voters who are clinging to preposterous explanations for their perceived loss of social dominance will grudgingly recognize that they live in 2022, not 1822?

 

Republicans Do Have An Agenda

A number of pundits have focused on the apparent lack of a GOP agenda going into the midterm campaign season.  They’ve noted that Mitch McConnell (aka “Dr. Evil”) has all but disavowed the list of unpopular proposals that Rick Scott produced earlier this year, and the lack of any other Republican platform.

So there’s no GOP agenda? Texas Republicans beg to differ.

As Heather Cox Richardson recently reported, Texas Republicans have put everything we suspected “out there” for all to see.  And if that platform, that agenda, that fever dream, doesn’t make chills run down your spine, there’s something wrong with you.

Delegates to a convention of the Texas Republican Party approved platform planks rejecting “the certified results of the 2020 Presidential election, and [holding] that acting President Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. was not legitimately elected by the people of the United States”; requiring students “to learn about the dignity of the preborn human,” including that life begins at fertilization; treating homosexuality as “an abnormal lifestyle choice”; locking the number of Supreme Court justices at 9; getting rid of the constitutional power to levy income taxes; abolishing the Federal Reserve; rejecting the Equal Rights Amendment; returning Christianity to schools and government; ending all gun safety measures; abolishing the Department of Education; arming teachers; requiring colleges to teach “free-market liberty principles”; defending capital punishment; dictating the ways in which the events at the Alamo are remembered; protecting Confederate monuments; ending gay marriage; withdrawing from the United Nations and the World Health Organization; and calling for a vote “for the people of Texas to determine whether or not the State of Texas should reassert its status as an independent nation.”

If this autocratic, theocratic and incredibly stupid wish list appeals to even a significant minority of Texans, I hope they will “assert Texas’ status as an independent nation” and secede.  Rational human beings–not to mention people who believe in the rule of law and the clear meaning of the Constitution and Bill of Rights–won’t miss them.

If Americans needed any further evidence of just how far the GOP has deviated from its former beliefs–not to mention sanity–Texans have just provided it.

Unfortunately, the GOP lurch off the radical cliff isn’t limited to Texas.

Here in Indiana, we’ve long had Republican legislators who are looney-tunes–the gun nuts who want everyone to be able to pack heat with no license or background check; the religious warriors who want to define religious liberty as the (limited) right of every American to live in accordance with the warriors’ own religious doctrines; the anti-intellectuals who fear new ideas and want to dictate educational curricula (or just replace the public schools with vouchers to be used primarily at religious schools); and of course, a hearty sprinkling of garden-variety homophobes and racists– but generally, saner heads within the super-majority have somewhat dampened their influence.

We’ve also been lucky that pious Pence was replaced by Eric Holcomb. While I have disagreed with Governor Holcomb on specific issues (sending back $ to taxpayers rather than using those dollars to address Indiana’s myriad deficits, for example), he has mostly been a reasonable and thoughtful official, out of the mold of former Republicans.

The Indiana GOP rejected Holcomb and the so-called Republican “establishment” this week in favor of the cult members and the Big Lie. Diego Morales defeated incumbent Holli Sullivan for the nomination to secretary of state in Indiana — an office documents show once fired him .

Sullivan’s loss is a major blow to the so-called establishment wing of the party, and yet another sign that Gov. Eric Holcomb’s influence is dwindling in his second term. Holcomb had appointed Sullivan in March 2021 after then-Secretary of State Connie Lawson announced her retirement.

As WFYI reported,

Morales’s bid was viewed by many as a challenge to the governor and the so-called Republican “establishment.”

Morales, whose family immigrated to Indiana from Guatemala, has previously pushed the Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump. He’s criticized Indiana’s election security, arguing the state needs to do more to prevent non-citizens from voting. And he wants to cut in half the number of early voting days before each election, from 28 days to 14.

“First of all, we are going to be efficient,” Morales said. “Number two, we are going to save some taxpayers money.”

After his win, Morales preached unity among his party. During the convention, many of his supporters booed and heckled current Secretary of State Sullivan.

In red states across the country, very much including Indiana, the inmates are running the asylum. I don’t know where that asylum is located, but it isn’t in the America I inhabit.

 

Ve-e-ery Interesting!

Younger readers of this blog–assuming there are some–probably don’t remember Laugh-In, a comedy skit show by Rowan and Martin that was considered edgy for its time. One of the regulars on that show was a comic named Arte Johnson, who would pop up after a segment (often in a pith helmet) and intone (in what I recall as a faux German accent) “Veeery interesting!”

A recent article from Bloomberg elicited a similar reaction from me. It reported on an unanticipated outcome of the dangerous Texas law establishing bounties on people who help women obtain abortions. It was–in Johnson’s memorable phrase–“veeery interesting.”

The article reported on the response of the corporate community to the Texas’s law –an  approach that has triggered passage of similar and increasingly restrictive abortion laws in other states. Named the “heartbeat bill” (a medically-inaccurate characterization), it bans abortions after six-weeks and deputizes private citizens to bring civil lawsuits against anyone they suspect or know helped a woman obtain one. The measure has prompted passage of a similar bill in Idaho, and Florida’s retrograde legislature has approved a ban on abortions after 15 weeks– with no exceptions for rape or incest. Other Red states are following.

 As the Bloomberg article reminded readers, the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to rule on a Mississippi case that its newly conservative majority will likely use to significantly weaken if not overrule Roe v. Wade. When that occurs–and it would be shocking if it didn’t, given the current makeup of the Court–  26 states are certain or likely to largely outlaw abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

In a surprising reaction, corporate America is responding to the threat.

The roar of anti-abortion laws sweeping through U.S. state houses is echoing loudly in human resources offices.

Companies that have offered to help cover travel costs for employees who have to go out of state for abortions are trying to figure out how to go about it. Large corporations like Citigroup Inc., Apple Inc., Bumble Inc., Levi Strauss & Co. and Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co. are now offering such benefits for reproductive-care services not available in an employee’s home state.

The report notes that most health insurance plans cover the costs of abortions, but in the  Red states with abortion bans, companies need to create a mechanism to ensure  that their employees have access to safe and medically appropriate terminations. They are exploring how to protect their workers’ privacy and especially how to fend off legal actions that might be brought by states looking to block such workarounds.

Laura Spiekerman, co-founder of New York-based startup Alloy, told Bloomberg News that reimbursing workers for abortion-related travel is the “low bar” of what companies should do. “I’m surprised and disappointed more companies aren’t doing it,” she said.

The company — which has a handful of employees in states with restrictive abortion laws like Florida, Arizona and Mississippi — in January said that it would pay up to $1,500 toward travel expenses for employees or their partners needing to travel out of state for abortions. Alloy also said it would cover 50% of legal costs up to $5,000 if any employee or their partner had to deal with legal issues due to anti-abortion laws.

The numbers are significant: some 40 million women of reproductive age live in states that are hostile to abortion rights. Those states passed more than 100 anti-abortion laws in 2021, “the highest number in the nearly half a century since Roe v. Wade, according to Guttmacher.”

The article highlights some creative responses.  

Dallas-based Match Group Inc. is partnering with a third party for a similar benefit to Alloy’s. Any Match employee in Texas can call a toll-free number dedicated to the program to reach Planned Parenthood Los Angeles, which will arrange travel and lodging paid for by a fund Match Chief Executive Officer Shar Dubey created last year to cover such costs for staffers and dependents, according to a company spokesperson. Eligibility would be determined through a third-party employment verification vendor.

Meanwhile, the hard-right turn of several states is becoming a negative factor in business location decisions. When Texas  passed its abortion law in September, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff said the company would help staffers relocate from the state. Solugen Inc., a Texas chemicals company, said the state’s social policies were making it difficult to attract talent so it was planning to open another facility elsewhere.

State-level abortion restrictions cost those economies $105 billion annually by cutting labor force participation and earnings, and increasing turnover and time off from work, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. And women who want an abortion but don’t get one are four times more likely to live below the federal poverty level.

I guess when you are a political party dominated by religious crusaders, economic repercussions are irrelevant…

 

 

 

 

 

Why Judges Matter

I was astonished when I read this report in The Washington Post, mostly because the judge was so obviously, incredibly wrong about both the law and the facts.

U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor found that the pandemic “provides the government with no license to abrogate” the freedoms that any American has, and that the service members had a right to avoid getting a vaccination on religious grounds.

“This Court does not make light of COVID-19′s impact on the military. Collectively, our armed forces have lost over 80 lives to COVID-19 over the course of the pandemic,” O’Connor wrote Monday in a 26-page order.

But the judge added that the “loss of religious liberties outweighs any forthcoming harm to the Navy” and that “even the direst circumstances cannot justify the loss of constitutional rights.”

A first-year law student would know that “religious freedom” does not give citizens the right to harm others. I used to explain to my students that your sincere belief that God wants you to sacrifice your newborn does not trump laws prohibiting you from doing so.  As “originalist” Justice Scalia wrote in Employment Division, Department of Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith, general laws prohibiting drug use take precedence over the plaintiffs’ right to participate in tribal religious observances that included smoking peyote.  

Smoking peyote during a religious ceremony didn’t harm anyone. A requirement that military personnel be vaccinated  protects others against a very dangerous disease. It would clearly be constitutional even if vaccine denial posed a genuine religious concern.

But it doesn’t.

The fact is that no religion  (with the possible exception of Jehovah’s Witnesses and Christian Scientists, who don’t believe in any medical science) teaches vaccine denial. If I simply invent a “religious” precept that is not grounded in the actual doctrine of my faith, I can hardly demand that American courts respect my “religious” beliefs.

I was sufficiently incensed by this ridiculous ruling that I decided to Google the judge, who–unsurprisingly–is a high-profile member of the Federalist Society.

Here’s what the Texas Tribune had to say about him when he ruled that Obamacare was unconstitutional. (Remember that?)

In 2015, it was an Obama administration effort to extend family leave benefits to gay couples. In 2016, it was an Obama administration guideline allowing transgender children to use school bathrooms that align with their gender identity. And on Friday, it was the entirety of Obamacare that U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor struck down as unconstitutional after a Texas-led coalition of 20 states sued this year to kill it.

Over the past four years, O’Connor has handed Texas major wins in several high-profile Texas v. United States lawsuits. And it doesn’t seem to be a coincidence that those cases landed in his court. The North Texas judge has emerged as something of a favorite for the Texas Attorney General’s Office, a notoriously litigious legal battalion known for challenging the federal government in cases and controversies across the country.

Since 2015, almost half of challenges to the federal government that Texas filed in district courts here landed in O’Connor’s courtroom, attorney general’s office records show. He is one of several dozen federal judges of his rank in the state.

The Obamacare decision, which was reversed by higher courts, was criticized by both conservative and liberal legal scholars as misguided and politically motivated.

The conservative legal scholar Jonathan Adler and the liberal legal scholar Abbe Gluck came together to write in The New York Times that the decision “makes a mockery of the rule of law and basic principles of democracy.

O’Connor is routinely described as a reactionary, and his vaccine decision is just the most recent evidence that he ignores legal precedents incompatible with his far-right politics. In 2015, he held a portion of the federal Gun Control Act of 1968 unconstitutional and enjoined the federal government’s definition of marriage in the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993.

In 2016, as previously noted, he struck down an Obama administration rule requiring that transgender students be allowed to use the bathroom corresponding to their gender identity. In 2018, he ruled that the Indian Child Welfare Act was unconstitutional. That 1978 law was passed in response to concerns over the high number of Indian children that were being removed from their families by public and private agencies and placed in non-Indian families. It gave tribal governments exclusive jurisdiction over children who reside on, or are domiciled on a reservation.

It goes on.

O’Connor’s rulings are frequently reversed, but the damage done goes far beyond the time and money wasted on appeals. The initial publicity garnered by his off-the-wall rulings gives an aura of legitimacy to arguments that have no legitimacy, and that are inconsistent with settled constitutional precedents.

Thanks to this decision, people will die. Unnecessarily.

Judges matter.

I Know It’s Tacky To Laugh…

I’ve seen several references to this…event…in Texas, but I think Juanita Jean–she of the World’s Most Dangerous Beauty Shop, Inc.–has the best description. She titles it “I Love Yew, Texas.”

Well see, the QAnon people are coming to Dallas because there’s gonna be a slamdinger of a show!

Some staunch believers of QAnon think that JFK Jr is in fact alive and well, and plans to make a return to public service and announce a tilt at the White House as vice president on the ticket of Mr Trump, who has not yet announced a 2024 run but is widely considered by many to be the favourite to win the Republican nomination if he does so.

And it’s not just JFK, Jr – it’s the entire Kennedy clan showing up. However, it’s not clear if it’s all of them or just the dead ones. Word is that they are meeting on the grassy knoll, except they spelled it grassy noel, which in Texas translates to Christmas in the wheat fields.

Her best line, though, invokes Indiana’s former embarrassing Governor.

And if you’re wondering who comes back from the dead to be vice president, you need only look as far as Mike Pence. So there ya are.

Actually, I’ve been mulling over the fact that, in January, Mike Pence actually did something admirable–he refused to take part in the coup attempt. He followed the law, and refused to refuse to certify ballots. (Granted, when it comes to Mike Pence, the bar for “admirable” is very low…) As long as I’ve known him (and that is ever since we were both Republican candidates for Congress in the 1980s, so a long time) it is the only admirable thing I’ve ever seen him do–and the irony is that in today’s GOP, doing the right thing and respecting the rule of law has probably been the kiss of death to his presidential ambitions. (Not that I think those ambitions were very realistic in any event, but then, who would have  thought anyone would vote for the pussy-grabber…?)

Democrats are constantly being criticized for “elitism,” for “looking down on” unsophisticated/uneducated /rural “real Americans.” I think this is largely a bum rap: I don’t know any liberals who sneer at people simply because they lack a degree or live in a rural  area or even because they vote Republican. I do know people (and I’ll admit to being one of them) who shake our heads and perhaps even snicker at folks who look for Hillary Clinton’s child trafficking headquarters in the (non-existent) basement of a pizza parlor, or who blame California wildfires on Jewish space lasers, or who ingest horse dewormer rather than listening to their doctors and getting vaccinated…Admittedly, the people who turn up at protests with grossly misspelled signs also get a chuckle .

And forgive me if I fail to take seriously the QAnon lunatics who traveled to the “grassy noel” to await the reincarnation or whatever of JFK, Jr.

Let’s be candid: Today’s GOP is profoundly unserious about governing. Its base is filled with crackpots of various kinds, and the party’s elected officials and political leaders are virtually all spineless panderers to those crackpots. Thanks to gerrymandering, vote suppression and weaponizing of the filibuster, they’ve managed to prevent Congress from engaging in anything resembling actual governing.

If we couldn’t laugh, we’d cry.