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December 1st, 2021:

SCOTUS hears Mississippi abortion case today

Could be the beginning of the end for Roe v Wade, or it could be the beginning of a massive upheaval in the anti-abortion industry.

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments on Wednesday in a Mississippi abortion case that has the potential to overturn Roe v. Wade. While the case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, stems from a challenge to a Mississippi law banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, the high court’s ruling could have seismic impacts for Texas.

Texas legislators have ensured the state is ready if Roe v. Wade is overturned by this case or any future ruling. Last June, Texas joined 11 other states by enacting a measure that automatically bans abortion after Roe is overturned without having to call a special legislative session.

[…]

This Supreme Court hearing comes at a precarious moment for abortion access in Texas, as the state and abortion providers await a ruling from the same court on Texas’ most recent efforts to limit abortion. Women have been unable to obtain abortions in Texas after about six weeks of pregnancy since Sept. 1, when the controversial abortion ban went into effect.

Texas’ law, known originally as Senate Bill 8, is unique in that private citizens, not state officials, can enforce it by suing anyone who “aids or abets” an abortion. This civil method of enforcing the law is intended to evade judicial review and is at the crux of the case that the Supreme Court was asked to consider.

Many experts expected the Supreme Court to rule on the Texas case ahead of the hearing in Dobbs v. Jackson, but a decision has not yet been issued.

Yeah, a lot of people thought that, didn’t they? SCOTUS gonna SCOTUS. Look, this is likely going to be Very Bad, but SCOTUS has surprised us before, and if they do so here, expect there to be a huge, world-shattering tantrum from the forced birth crowd. Which is not to say that any “compromise” ruling from SCOTUS would be a thing of beauty, but it could at least mean that abortion remains mostly available. We’ll see. The 19th and Jill Filipovic have more.

Jolanda Jones enters the HD147 race

We have a strong contender for the most interesting local primary.

Rep. Garnet Coleman

At least four candidates have announced they are running for state Rep. Garnet Coleman’s seat, less than two weeks after the longtime Houston Democrat announced he would not seek re-election next year.

The field, made up entirely of Democrats so far, includes Jolanda Jones, a former Houston ISD trustee and at-large city council member, and Reagan Flowers, a Houston Community College trustee. Jones announced her candidacy Monday morning, days after Flowers’ announcement last week.

[…]

In a statement announcing her candidacy, Jones said she would be “a champion for affordable health care, better jobs, safer streets and stronger schools” if elected to the seat. She rolled out an initial list of endorsements from elected officials and community leaders, including state Sen. Royce West of Dallas.

“Representative Garnet Coleman raised the bar for public servants in Texas,” Jones said. “He cannot be replaced, but I will do my best to carry the torch for the residents of District 147.”

Following a stint on Houston City Council from 2008 to 2012, Jones served on the Houston ISD board from 2016 to 2020, where she was known to openly criticize state education officials and her fellow trustees. She opted not to seek re-election, and mounted an unsuccessful challenge to Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Ann Harris Bennett in last year’s Democratic primary.

Flowers, an education nonprofit executive and former science teacher at Jack Yates High School, ran for Jones’ open seat on the HISD board in 2019, narrowly missing a runoff. She was appointed to the HCC board the following year, replacing Carolyn Evans-Shabazz, who was elected to Houston City Council.

In a video announcing her candidacy, Flowers called herself a “proven, progressive Democrat” and said she had a “proven track record of working collaboratively with the numerous institutions within House District 147.” She also bashed Republican state leaders for their approach to health care and education funding.

“Texas schools and colleges should be the best in the world, but state leadership has failed to provide the funding to achieve that goal,” Flowers said.

Also running for Coleman’s seat are Houston realtor Danielle Keys Bess and 23-year-old high school math teacher Namrata “Nam” Subramanian. The only candidate to file before Coleman announced his retirement, Subramanian says on her campaign website that “every person deserves human rights and to be treated equitably in our society.”

See here and here for the background. I know people here will have Feelings about Jolanda Jones. You’re entitled to them, but I will say this: the Lege is a good fit for her. There’s just a lot more room there for her style. No guarantees about anything, but she enters this race as the best known and highest-profile candidate, and that makes her the favorite.

But she still has to make her case to the voters, and Reagan Flowers is a strong candidate as well. I don’t know anything more about Nam Subramanian than what I learned for the last post, and I know nothing about Danielle Bess. Here’s Jolanda Jones’ website. You can expect me to do interviews for this one. Like I said, this will be – already is – an interesting race.

Social media censorship lawsuit has its day in court

It’s a very dumb law that will hopefully be stopped before it takes effect tomorrow.

Lawyers for two large tech industry groups appeared Monday in federal court in Austin to argue that Texas’ new social media law — inspired by Republican complaints that conservatives are ill-treated on Twitter, Facebook and other large platforms — should be blocked as unconstitutional.

Known as House Bill 20, the law lets social media users sue if they are blocked or their posts are removed based on the user’s viewpoint. It also gives companies two days to respond to user complaints about content removal and two weeks to handle appeals if users disagree with the action.

But lawyer Scott Keller argued that the law should be blocked from taking effect Thursday because it violates the First Amendment free speech right of social media companies to monitor, screen and delete content published on their platforms.

Instead, Keller said, the law requires platforms to continue publishing posts that violate their terms of service, including those that glorify Nazis or spread medical misinformation.

“This is a striking assertion of government power,” he told U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman during a two-hour in-person hearing Monday in downtown Austin. “The First Amendment protects editorial discretion.”

HB 20 also creates an onerous set of regulations on complaints and appeals that would be impossible to meet, Keller argued, noting that in a three-month period earlier this year, YouTube removed 9.5 million videos and 1.16 billion comments for violating decency and other standards.

But Assistant Attorney General Courtney Corbello argued that the law does not stop social media companies from prohibiting certain types of content.

“HB 20 says continue to have your policies, continue to prohibit the content the way you want to, just don’t discriminate against people,” she said. “HB 20 prohibits viewpoint discrimination. It does not prohibit content moderation.”

Corbello also disputed claims that the law is onerous, noting that Facebook and YouTube already inform users when content is removed and have an appeals process in place to resolve disagreements.

See here for the background. I may have been wrong about the timing of the slapdown on this dumb law, but I don’t think I’m wrong about the outcome. This time I can point to someone with fancy law credentials who also thinks this law is trash and the lawsuit will succeed – see here for the analysis of HB20, and here for his thoughts on the filings. There are other analyses of the law and similar ones in equally ridiculous states like Florida, which you should read, and there’s this resource page from NetChoice, one of the plaintiffs, if you really want to go deep. As I said, this and other laws from the special session go into effect tomorrow, so expect there to be something in short order.

Travis Scott’s legal team

Some heavy hitters here.

Prominent Los Angeles trial lawyer Daniel Petrocelli sent an electronic letter late last Wednesday to lawyers for the plaintiffs in the Astroworld Festival tragedy announcing that he now represents rapper Travis Scott and offering to pay the funeral costs of those who died at the Nov. 5 concert in Houston.

“Your client’s offer is declined,” Corpus Christi attorney Bob Hilliard, who represents the family of 9-year-old Ezra Blount, who died at the concert, said in an email response to Petrocelli.

The Thanksgiving Eve email exchange answered the question of who Scott, who was born Jacques Bermon Webster II, would select as his lead lawyer to defend him against more than 120 civil wrongful death, personal injury and premises liability lawsuits filed in the three weeks since the Astroworld event.

Petrocelli, who is head of litigation for the global corporate law firm O’Melveny & Myers, is known for representing high-profile clients.

In 2002, Dallas rocker Don Henley hired Petrocelli to successfully fend off wrongful firing charges levied by Eagles’ guitarist Don Felder. Two years later, Petrocelli defended Enron CFO Jeff Skilling against criminal fraud and insider trading charges. Skilling was convicted. And in 2018, Petrocelli served as the lead trial lawyer for Dallas-based AT&T and Time Warner in the federal government’s antitrust lawsuit seeking stop their merger. AT&T won.

Petrocelli burst into the national spotlight in 1997 when he represented the father of Ron Goldman suing O.J. Simpson for his son’s wrongful death. A jury awarded his client $8.5 million.

“Dan is an absolutely superb, elite trial lawyer,” said Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher partner Rob Walters, who was co-counsel with Petrocelli in the AT&T litigation. “Dan has an uncanny ability of establishing the moral high ground, which resonates well with factfinders.”

“Dan and Neal will be a formidable team in court in this litigation,” said Walters, referring to Susman Godfrey partner Neal Manne, who has been hired by Astroworld festival promotor Live Nation.

Well, when you’ve got a couple of billion dollars’ worth of lawsuits filed against you, you’re probably not going to skimp on the legal defense. It will be very interesting to see how Petrocelli directs the defense, which also includes criminal defense attorney Kent Schaffer, whom you may know as one of the Ken Paxton special prosecutors. Neal Manne, the Live Nation lawyer, was the lead on the misdemeanor bail lawsuit against Harris County. Like I said, heavy hitters.