Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

July 5th, 2015:

Weekend link dump for July 5

“This column looks back at Jaws and another shark attack movie that disappeared from U.S. theaters after lawyers sank their teeth into it.”

Wait, Ann Coulter is still a thing? Who knew?

And sadly, she’s just as horrible as always.

Uber is now operating a water taxi service in Istanbul.

Please dispose of unwanted goldfish in an environmentally safe manner. Don’t contribute to the invasive species problem.

“After Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling, there’s no longer any doubt: Barack Obama is one of the most consequential presidents in American history — and he will be a particularly towering figure in the history of American progressivism.”

RIP, Chris Squire, founder of and bass player for the band Yes.

“Your mom is not a threat to America, if she happens to be gay or bisexual. Nor is your dad. Nor your sibling, or your best friend, or Doug from Accounting or Jillian down the street or Ellen DeGeneres. Who are you going to choose to stand with? Your sister, or some dude at a pulpit demanding we believe the bowels of Hell will empty if she marries her girlfriend? Your sister’s girlfriend is awesome! That guy is a jerk!”

Don’t Let The Chief Justice Drive The Bus and other #Scalia4Kids jiggery-pokery.

The asteroid problem no one wants to deal with.

“If you’re a NFL fan who isn’t cool with state capitols proudly hoisting a banner synonymous with slavery, segregation, lynchings and hate, you shouldn’t be cool with Washington’s racist nickname. No matter how much you love the team.”

The only thing funnier than these #AskBobbyJindal questions is the fact that the hashtag was a super PAC’s idea.

“You get the distinct sense that we are being told by Green and other Christian Right folk that we must choose between letting them have their own country where they will be free to teach what they want at public expense and discriminate against anyone they wish—or shutting down Christianity altogether.”

“With concerns raised over Backpage.com’s role in facilitating sex trafficking, Mastercard and Visa have stopped doing business with the classified ad site and users will no longer be able to use the credit cards to place ads.”

“The Bible, in its writing, content, and canonization, is wonderfully complex and we do not do it justice, nor are we always able to discern God’s will, simply by quoting a handful of verses. If it worked this way we’d still embrace slavery, polygamy, and concubinage. Victims of rape would still be forced to wed their rapists.”

RIP, Nicholas Winton, the “British Schindler”, savior of over 650 Jewish children.

Tiffany and I visited Athens in 2000, when the city was busy building Olympic venues, among other things. Those venues stand abandoned and derelict today, a sad metaphor for Greece’s economic situation and a dire warning for any city (*cough* *cough* Boston *cough* *cough*) that would consider hosting the Games these days.

Happy 30th birthday, Back to the Future.

Best wishes for a happy retirement to Sonia Manzano, better known as Maria from Sesame Street.

What’s a guy got to do to get on the (very) long list of things that Mike Huckabee has denounced?

Becky Hammon will coach the Spurs during the NBA Summer League.

Mark Evanier writes about Glen Campbell.

Paxton takes the culture-warrior lead

Well, at least he’s found his calling in life.

Ken Paxton

In the six months before Ken Paxton won election as Texas attorney general last fall, he stayed largely out of sight. Under an ethical cloud amid claims of financial fraud, he avoided public events and rarely spoke to reporters, coasting to victory as part of new Republican leadership including Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

Lacking Patrick’s knack for political theater, and yet to display the lawyerly intellect of Abbott, his predecessor as the state’s top attorney, the 52-year-old former legislator struggled to emerge from their shadows during his first several months in office.

But now, even as his personal legal troubles resurface, Paxton is poised to claim his place in the sun as the state’s top culture warrior.

Two days after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Texas’ long-standing same-sex marriage ban, Paxton issued an opinion telling county clerks with religious objections that pro bono lawyers were standing by to help defend them against legal challenges if they denied licenses to same-sex couples.

“Our religious liberties find protection in state and federal constitutions and statutes,” he said. “While they are indisputably our first freedom, we should not let them be our last.”

The missive launched him into the national consciousness, earning comparisons to George Wallace, the former Alabama governor who fought desperately to preserve racial segregation in the 1960s. Blasting Paxton for encouraging state officials to violate the law, a Democratic lawmaker has since asked the U.S. Justice Department to monitor the implementation of the Supreme Court’s decision.

The nonbinding opinion amounted to more of a statement of moral support than legal defiance. But to social conservatives — some beginning to feel abandoned by a governor who has declined their requests to call a special legislative session to address the issue of same-sex marriage — it bolstered the McKinney Republican’s standing as one of the last guardians of religious liberty.

“Texas often tries to bill itself as the most conservative state in the union, which isn’t very often the case actually. We have a reputation that we don’t live up to. But I think that Ken Paxton is living up to it,” said Julie McCarty, president of the NE Tarrant Tea Party, which wields considerable influence in Republican primaries. “I haven’t heard anything from our governor, which is not surprising, but again disappointing.”

Even Patrick, who came to power with the backing of the conservative movement, has not avoided the perception that he failed to do enough as the Senate’s presiding officer to protect traditional marriage this session.

“There’s a lot of other things that should have been passed, that the rest of the Republican leadership caved into the homosexual demands — that would be Abbott and Patrick and [Speaker] Straus,” said Steve Hotze, a Houston doctor who operates the powerful Conservative Republicans of Texas political action committee.

Paxton’s office was “very instrumental” in pushing lawmakers to pass legislation affirming religious officials’ rights to refuse to perform same-sex marriages known as the Pastor Protection Act, said Hotze, whose group distributes mailers and scorecards to a vast network of GOP voters.

“Most people don’t understand, but Ken Paxton does understand the direction of this movement, and he is speaking out,” he said. “Abbott has been AWOL on the issue.”

[…]

Based on the questions about Paxton’s ethical compass, former Railroad Commissioner Barry Smitherman, the candidate who came in third in the primary, later endorsed Paxton opponent Dan Branch in the runoff.

But concerns about Paxton’s business matters did not dissuade conservatives in 2014, and don’t seem to have gained traction among them recently.

McCarty said Thursday she was not aware that Paxton could face a felony charge, but said it did not affect her support for him.

“This is how politics goes. People are always pressing charges and making frivolous suits just to smear someone’s name,” she said. “The general public doesn’t follow it closely enough to know when everything’s been cleared and that it was all trumped up for nothing. Until we have a conclusion, I would definitely side with Paxton and give him the benefit of the doubt because I just know that’s how these games are played.”

So this is where we stand. And just to add a little gasoline to the fire, there’s this:

As if Attorney General Ken Paxton didn’t have enough troubles with a potential felony indictment, now he’ll be fighting off an ethics complaint over his opinion on same-sex marriage.

[…]

Now long-time Travis County Democratic mainstay Glen Maxey has savaged that opinion as nothing more than political cant, and filed a complaint with the Texas State Bar Association against Paxton. In it, the Texas Democratic Party county affairs director alleges multiple violations by Paxton of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct, including that Paxton made a false statement of law that is “flatly inconsistent with the United States Constitution”, as well as violating the statutes defining his official duties, the oath of office as attorney general, and the terms of his license to practice law in the state of Texas.

In a statement Maxey, who was Texas’ first openly gay state representative, writes, ““It’s irresponsible for an elected official – and a lawyer – to tell other elected officials to break the law. He’s misleading county and state officials based on a false premise that they can discriminate against same-sex couples.”

You can see a copy of the complaint here. It’s not the first time someone has complained to the State Bar about Paxton. I’m not a lawyer and will pass on evaluating the merits of Maxey’s complaint. If that’s in your wheelhouse, by all means please chime in.

As for the larger issue with Paxton, all this raises the stakes on the grand jury/special prosecutor investigation against him. He can complain all he wants about being made a target, but he’s not being tried in Travis County and may have a hard time making that charge sound believable to anyone outside of Ms. McCarty’s circle. If he gets no-billed or manages to beat the charges one way or another, he’ll be in a very strong position politically. If he goes down, there could be collateral damage. At some point, Abbott and Patrick and the rest are going to have to decide if they want to stand by Ken Paxton or let him sink or swim on his own. I imagine there have been a few very off the record back-room discussions about how to play things if it all goes to hell for the state Republican brand. Trail Blazers and the Trib have more.

Supreme Court to hear school finance appeal in September

Mark your calendars.

The Texas Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Sept. 1 in the long-running case challenging the state’s school-finance system.

“We are very pleased that the court is moving so expeditiously,” attorney David Thompson, representing the Houston Independent School District, Fort Bend ISD and dozens of others, said Friday. “We think it’s a recognition of how important this issue is to every community in the state.”

More than two-thirds of Texas districts sued the state in 2011 after lawmakers cut $5.4 billion from public education amid a budget crunch while raising academic standards. In the suit, hundreds of school districts argued that, despite warnings from the Texas Supreme Court over the years about school funding, “the State has fallen back on temporary fixes that ultimately fail to support the increasing expectations Texas has set for a student population that is rapidly growing and disadvantaged.”

In response, the suit argued, districts have had to respond “in what amounts to an unconstitutional state property tax.”

In addition, the suit also claimed the current system was inefficient and inadequate to fund districts at a constitutional and equitable level.

[…]

Then-Attorney General Greg Abbott, now governor, appealed the ruling directly to the state Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case in January.

“After nearly four years of successful litigation, the inequities in the current system remain critically excessive,” said Wayne Pierce, executive director of the Equity Center, which provided research and testimony for the Texas Taxpayer & Student Fairness Coalition representing the school districts in the suit.

He said the system has long been broken, with many districts underfunded while taxpayers are burdened with property taxes.

“It is not unusual at all for the poorest districts to receive 50, 60,000 dollars less per typical elementary classroom than what the state system routinely makes available in the wealthier districts,” added Pierce.

Just as a reminder, the original trial was held in 2012 with the first of the six suits being filed in October of 2011; the final verdict was rendered last August after a rehearing in June of 2013 to consider the effect of that year’s legislative session. Abbott appealed the latest ruling last September, and here we are. Depending on how things go, we could have a special session sometime next year, or the Lege could try to address any needed changes in the regular 2017 session. If Judge Dietz’s ruling is upheld and the Lege is going to have to pony up a few more billion dollars to the schools, it will make for a very interesting session, that’s for sure.

Clinics consider reopening

There’s a lot of uncertainty in the decisionmaking process, that’s for sure.

Abortion providers cheered a move by the U.S. Supreme Court to temporarily block part of a Texas law that would have closed more than half the state’s 19 remaining abortion clinics. Now they are studying whether it could also allow them to reopen some previously shuttered facilities and whether that would even be feasible.

“We may have gotten more than we even asked for,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, chief executive of Whole Woman’s Health, which sued to overturn the law. But she cautioned that reopening clinics would be expensive and difficult, not just “a turn of the key and turn on the lights.”

Meanwhile, anti-abortion advocates insisted Monday’s ruling, while at least a short-term victory for abortion providers, isn’t as sweeping as those groups hope.

Both sides agree the two-paragraph order blocks a requirement that would mandate abortion facilities be constructed like surgical centers. It was the final major component of the 2013 law set to take effect.

Abortion providers also said they were analyzing whether the order goes further and temporarily wipes out an additional requirement that abortion doctors have admitting privileges at local hospitals.

[…]

Without the Monday ruling, the state would have had no clinic west of San Antonio. Only one would have been able to operate on a limited basis in McAllen in the Rio Grande Valley.

Stephanie Toti, a lawyer for the Center for Reproductive Rights who is representing the clinics, said some clinics that had previously closed might be able to reopen.

“We are hopeful,” Toti said. “But some of those clinics have been closed for so long.”

See here for the background. Reopening a clinic that had been closed would require money, hiring or rehiring staff, and applying for a state license, among other things. This may be one of those other things.

Texas doctors performing abortions must still obtain admitting privileges at nearby hospitals despite a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, Carrie Williams, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of State Health Services, said on Thursday.

The department’s statement comes days after the Supreme Court put on hold an appellate court’s ruling that would have closed at least 10 abortion facilities. Abortion restrictions passed by the Texas Legislature in 2013 — and set to go into effect Wednesday — would have required Texas’ abortion facilities to meet hospital-like standards, including minimum sizes for rooms and doorways, pipelines for anesthesia and other modifications.

Attorneys for the abortion providers had said the high court’s order also blocked the state from enforcing a separate provision of the law that requires doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of an abortion clinic. The Supreme Court restored a lower court’s ruling striking down both provisions of the law statewide, the attorneys said.

But on Thursday, Williams said the Supreme Court’s intervention only suspended the provision requiring hospital-like standards. Only some doctors at two clinics — Whole Woman’s Health in McAllen and Reproductive Services in El Paso — are exempt from the admitting privileges requirement, Williams said. (The El Paso clinic has been closed for months.)

In light of the health department’s statement, Stephanie Toti with the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights, which brought the lawsuit on behalf of Texas abortion providers, said it is “studying the Supreme Court’s order to determine its impact.”

“We are hopeful that it may allow some of the clinics that had been previously closed due to the state’s admitting privileges requirements to reopen,” Toti said in a statement.

I have no clue what the effect of that may be. Beyond that, there’s no guarantee that the clinics would be able to stay open for more than a few months – while the expectation is that SCOTUS will hear the HB2 appeal, if they choose not to then the law goes into effect as soon as they make that decision, which would be in the fall. I don’t know what the licensing entails, but I doubt the state would feel any incentive to be very responsive about it. I don’t think fundraising to cover costs will be a problem, and I suspect there will be enough people dedicated to the cause to enable the clinics to be properly staffed, but these things take time as well. I hope they go forward, but I definitely understand if they are reluctant to do so. Daily Kos has more.

The wedding industry is rubbing its hands with glee

Nothing like having your market dramatically expanded overnight.

RedEquality

Within hours after the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in Texas and across the country, local wedding businesses and venues already began getting orders and bookings from same-sex couples. Those in the wedding industry said they expect a surge of gay couples who were hoping to marry in Texas.

“The gay wedding business will grow instantly,” said Mariana Lemesoff, owner of AvantGarden, which received three new wedding requests from gay couples on Friday.

One study estimated an economic boost of $181.6 million in Texas during the first three years of legalization through direct wedding spending and spending by out-of-state wedding guests.

Until the high court’s 5-4 ruling, Houston had been missing out on the gay wedding business, said Betsy Gelb, a marketing professor at the University of Houston’s C.T. Bauer College of Business.

Competing primarily with Austin, Houston will have an opportunity to attract same-sex wedding business from other Texas towns where people aren’t as comfortable with their union, Gelb said.

“We are, in a sense, behind the curve in cities realizing there is money to be made in LGBT weddings,” she said.

[…]

In some weddings both women wear dresses. Other couples want pantsuits. Either way, [Christine Nokta, public relations director for Impression Bridal] said, the bridal store is expecting an increase in business.

“Two dresses, that’s better than one as far as we’re concerned,” she said.

Indeed. And don’t forget the boon that county coffers will receive by issuing all those marriage licenses, as places like New York City have been doing for years. You may recall that the original anti-gay marriage bill that was taken up in the Lege this year, from Sen. Charles Perry and Rep. Cecil Bell, would have transferred the marriage license business to the Secretary of State’s office. County Clerks raised a huge fuss about that, since that would have been a real financial loss to them. That’s a small amount compared to what this boost in the wedding business will be, however. Just remember, the next time Greg Abbott claims credit for Texas’ economy, SCOTUS and marriage equality will be a part of that. The Huffington Post has more.