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October 8th, 2021:

Federal judge blocks SB8

Some justice for now, but we’ll see how long it lasts.

A federal judge temporarily blocked Texas’ near-total abortion ban Wednesday as part of a lawsuit the Biden administration launched against the state over its new law that bars abortions as early as six weeks of pregnancy.

But it’s unclear how U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman’s order may affect access to abortions in the state — or if it will at all. The state of Texas quickly filed a notice of appeal and will almost definitely seek an emergency stay of Pitman’s order in the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which is known as perhaps the nation’s most conservative appellate court.

In a press release, the ACLU of Texas pointed to the uncertainty on how Wednesday’s order and the state’s appeal will affect procedures in the state.

“Though the court’s ruling offers a sigh of relief, the threat of Texas’ abortion ban still looms over the state as cases continue to move through the courts. We already know the politicians behind this law will stop at nothing until they’ve banned abortion entirely,” Brigitte Amiri, deputy director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project said in a statement. “This fight is far from over, and we’re ready to do everything we can to make sure every person can get the abortion care they need regardless of where they live or how much they make.”

Until Pitman’s order, Texas’ new law successfully flouted the constitutional right to have an abortion before fetal viability established by Roe v. Wade in 1973 and subsequent rulings. That’s because it leaves enforcement of the new restrictions not to state officials but instead to private citizens filing lawsuits through the civil court system.

The order from Pitman — a 2014 Obama nominee — forbids state court judges and court clerks from accepting lawsuits that the law allows. Pitman ordered the state to publish his order on all “public-facing court websites with a visible, easy-to-understand instruction to the public that S.B. 8 lawsuits will not be accepted by Texas courts.”

He called the case “exceptional” and ordered that the state and “any other persons or entities acting on its behalf” be blocked from enforcing the statute. He acknowledged that his order could be appealed in another court and added: “this Court will not sanction one more day of this offensive deprivation of such an important right.”

[…]

Pitman gave a scathing response to Texas’ request that the court allow it to seek an appeal prior to blocking the law’s enforcement.

“The State has forfeited the right to any such accommodation by pursuing an unprecedented and aggressive scheme to deprive its citizens of a significant and well-established constitutional right,” Pitman wrote in his order. “From the moment S.B. 8 went into effect, women have been unlawfully prevented from exercising control over their lives in ways that are protected by the Constitution.”

Despite the threat of retroactive lawsuits, the Center for Reproductive Rights said the clinics and doctors it represents “hope to resume full abortion services as soon as they are able.” The organization acknowledged that the order is temporary and expected the state would appeal — but called the ruling a “critical first step.”

“For 36 days, patients have been living in a state of panic, not knowing where or when they’d be able to get abortion care,” Nancy Northup, president & CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement Wednesday. “The cruelty of this law is endless.”

Whole Woman’s Health said it was making plans “as soon as possible” to resume abortions outlawed under Texas’ law.

“This is AMAZING. It’s the justice we have been seeking for weeks,” Amy Hagstrom Miller, CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, said in a statement.

See here for the previous update. We didn’t have to wait long for this ruling, but it will be likely even less time before the rogue Fifth Circuit steps in and does its damage. After that, we’ll see if SCOTUS still claims to be confused by this issue, or if they have decided to care about the constitution.

Slate provides some highlights from Judge Pitman’s opinion.

The DOJ’s bet that agents of the state could be subject to suit paid off, particularly in the face of mounting evidence that pregnant Texans had been materially harmed as a result of the law. Pitman’s decision has moments of powerful rhetoric, but it is largely devoted to the “complex and novel” threshold issues the majority of the Supreme Court was too exhausted to probe when they allowed the law to stand. “There can be no doubt that S.B. 8 was a deliberate attempt by lawmakers,” he wrote, to “preclude review by federal courts that have the obligation to safeguard the very rights the statute likely violates.” This effort failed, he noted, because the United States has standing to represent its citizens in their effort “to vindicate federal rights.” On behalf of these citizens, it also has authority to enforce the 14th Amendment against a state attempting to “supersede” it. As Pitman put it, “when the machinations of the state effectively cut off private access to the federal courts,” the scheme warrants “equitable action by the United States.”

Because the DOJ clears these hurdles, Pitman wrote, it had properly challenged S.B. 8. And on the merits, there is no question as to foundational facts: Texas’ law plainly violates Roe because it outlaws abortions well before fetal viability. In order to block the law, Pitman crafted an injunction to “halt existing S.B. lawsuits and prevent new suits from being maintained by the state judiciary.” He forbade state judges and clerks from “accepting or docketing” these cases, and, for good measure, barred “private individuals who act on behalf of the state” from filing them. Finally, he ordered Texas to “publish this preliminary injunction on all of its public-facing court websites with a visible, easy-to-understand instruction to the public that S.B. 8 lawsuits will not be accepted by Texas courts.”

Notably, Pitman denied Texas’ request for an immediate stay of his decision. “The State has forfeited the right to any such accommodation by pursuing an unprecedented and aggressive scheme to deprive its citizens of a significant and well-established constitutional right,” he explained. To be clear, this hardly means Texas clinics will begin providing constitutionally protected abortions services tomorrow. If Pitman’s decision is eventually overturned, doctors who perform abortions in the interim can still be sued. But at least for now, the playing field tilts against the states too-clever-by-half effort to harm women while skirting judicial review.

I’ll be shocked if the Fifth Circuit allows this to stand going into the weekend, but for now we’re in a better place. Daily Kos, The 19th, the Chron, and the Trib have more.

More proof that vaccine mandates work

In the end, most people just get the damn shots. The rest is sound and fury.

Protests, lawsuits and national media coverage surrounded Houston Methodist Hospital in June when it became the country’s first major health system to require a COVID-19 vaccine as a condition of employment.

Now, as other Houston healthcare providers begin to enforce similar mandates, the drama has faded into the background. Hospitals are not facing the same pushback, officials say, and only a small portion of employees are holding out on the vaccine.

“There is a lot of noise around (mandates), and the anti-vaxx movement has been vociferous, but this is more of an outcry from the community rather than when it comes down to the brass tacks in facilities,” said Carrie Kroll, vice president of advocacy, quality and public health at the Texas Hospital Association.

Texas Children’s Hospital and Baylor College of Medicine were the first to reach their vaccine mandate deadlines following Methodist.

Baylor required its roughly 9,000 faculty and staff members to be fully vaccinated by Sept. 15. Those who did not attest to receiving their vaccine were subject to “progressive discipline,” which includes a series of warnings that ends in firing, according to a statement. The vast majority of employees complied, while about 3 percent were granted an exemption, according to numbers provided by the school.

One employee resigned. Another five will be fired after facing warnings.

[…]

Texas Children’s Hospital also passed its first-dose deadline on Sept. 21. Its doctors are employed by Baylor and already covered by the school’s mandate. In a statement, the hospital said “a very small number of employees did not receive the vaccine and therefore chose to leave the organization.”

Texas Children’s spokesperson Natasha Barrett said the hospital could not disclose a specific number of people who left or whether any exemptions were granted.

See here, here, and here for some background. A lawsuit by the (very small number of) fired Methodist employees was dismissed, though it is being appealed. There’s growing evidence from around the country that this is what happens pretty much everywhere that there’s a vaccine mandate – lots of loud whining and complaining and threats to quit, followed by near-universal compliance. This is why I’m happy for the San Antonio ISD vaccine mandate fight to move slowly through the courts, because regardless of outcome it’s going to cause people to get the damn vaccine. And don’t anyone tell Greg Abbott, but Southwest Airlines is doing a mandate now, too. The more, the very much better.

House committee advances anti-trans sports bill

They finally found a path to pass it. They sure put plenty of energy into it.

A Texas bill prohibiting transgender student athletes from joining school sports teams aligned with their gender identity is heading to the full Texas House, where it is likely to pass, following a House committee’s approval Wednesday.

After more than eight hours of emotional testimony, the House Select Committee on Constitutional Rights and Remedies voted 8-4 along party lines to advance House Bill 25. The legislation, authored by state Rep. Valoree Swanson, R-Spring, would restrict student athletes at public schools to playing on sports teams that correspond with the sex listed on their birth certificate at or near their time of birth.

Lawmakers’ attempts to enshrine such restrictions into law have failed three previous times this year. But Wednesday’s committee vote helped the legislation clear a key hurdle that increases its likelihood of becoming law this time.

[…]

During multiple legislative sessions this year, the Texas Legislature has introduced other bills targeting transgender youth, such as legislation that would limit gender-affirming care for children and classifying the care as child abuse.

The legislation advanced Wednesday is similar to Senate Bill 3, which passed in the Senate. But the upper chamber’s bill was assigned to the House Public Education Committee, in which legislators have yet to hold a hearing on the bill.

During the regular legislative session, that education committee passed legislation targeting transgender youth participation in sports, but it died in the full House after it failed to meet a key deadline. In a subsequent special session, a Democratic walkout prevented the House from even taking up legislation. And during the second special session, state Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, chair of the House Public Education Committee, blocked legislation from moving to the House floor.

With HB 25 advanced by the Select Committee on Constitutional Rights and Remedies, it now heads to the full chamber. House Speaker Dade Phelan has said that the House would have enough votes to pass the legislation. More than half of House members have signed on as coauthors of similar legislation introduced in previous sessions. If the bill passes the lower chamber, it will then head to the Senate, which is likely to approve it.

[…]

Business leaders have also been critical of anti-LGBTQ legislation. René Lara, legislative director for Texas AFL-CIO, testified against HB 25, saying the legislature is not prioritizing more important matters such as labor shortage complaints stemming from the pandemic.

Texas Competes, a coalition of almost 1,500 business organizations, re-released an open letter this week saying that it was against legislation that targets the LGBTQ community. About 70 major employers signed on to the letter, including Amazon, Dell Technologies and Microsoft.

Jessica Shortall, managing director of Texas Competes, said some companies are concerned that legislation targeting LGBTQ Texans presents the state as unwelcoming to potential residents.

“We have folks that are really concerned about young talent — millennial and zoomer talent — who [are] overwhelmingly supportive, much more even than their older peers, of LGBTQ people,” Shortall said in an interview.

See here for the last update, and here for a long Twitter thread by Jessica Shortall, who was at the hearing. I’m old enough to remember when the NCAA threatened to pull sporting events from states like Texas that passed anti-trans legislation. I hope they can remember that far back, too. In the meantime, I don’t see anything that will stop this from passing. My heart is with all the children and their families who are being harmed by this legislative malevolence. The Chron has more.

No vax needed to see a Rockets game

No, thanks.

The Rockets will not have any entry or seating restrictions beyond those required by NBA health and safety rules this season, according to Rockets president of business operations Gretchen Sheirr. The team does provide an option for fans to purchase seats in sections with social distancing provided in a variety of areas in Toyota Center.

The NBA requires that all those within 15 feet of the court be able to show proof that they are fully vaccinated or can provide a negative test for COVID.

The Dallas Mavericks last week announced that all fans be fully vaccinated or provide a negative test, joining Chicago Bulls and Oklahoma City Thunder, along with teams in New York (the Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks) and in San Francisco (the Golden State Warriors) where local guidelines require it.

The Rockets’ policy for Toyota Center is in line with policies for Texans games at NRG Stadium and Astros games at Minute Maid Park.

But those are at least generally held outdoors, and even if the roof is closed on those stadia there’s still a lot more open space. The Rockets play in a much more enclosed space, and while they do have some limited “socially distanced” seating available, this sure seems like a recipe for transmission. It’s also quite different from last season, when face masks were required and attendance was capped at about 20% of capacity. I don’t begrudge them wanting to have fuller crowds – they gotta make money – but if the Mavericks can require proof of vaccination or a negative test in order to attend a game, I don’t see why the Rockets can’t. You can do better than that, y’all.