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Fifth Circuit gets set to put the final nail in SB8 legal challenges

The fix was always in.

In a contentious hearing Friday, a federal appeals court indicated it is likely to send Texas’ restrictive abortion law to the state supreme court, a move that could add months or longer before the case is resolved.

Since Sept. 1, abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy have been banned in Texas through a novel law that empowers private citizens to sue anyone who “aids or abets” in a prohibited procedure. The law explicitly removes enforcement authority from state officials, making it extremely difficult to challenge in court.

In December, the U.S. Supreme Court threw out most challenges to the law and left only state medical licensing officials as possible lawsuit targets because they can revoke a doctor, nurse or pharmacist’s license if they violated the law.

On Friday, a three-judge panel from the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments about where the case goes next. Judges Edith H. Jones and Stuart Kyle Duncan indicated they believe there are state law questions that must first be resolved by the Texas Supreme Court, while Judge Stephen A. Higginson strongly disagreed, arguing the case should be remanded to federal district court.

In a move that surprised court watchers, Jones also raised the idea of taking no action on the case for months, until the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled on a Mississippi abortion case that could overturn the constitutional protection for the procedure.

Lawyers for the abortion providers believe the federal district court route is the best hope to getting the law, originally passed as Senate Bill 8, struck down. If the case is sent to the Texas Supreme Court, it could take months to return to the federal level, leaving the law in effect.

This is exactly what abortion opponents are hoping for.

See here and here for the background. There’s nothing I can say that I haven’t already said. The only way forward is winning more elections, both to change the laws in Texas and to get some court reform at the federal level. I wish I had something more hopeful, but this is all I’ve got. The 19th and the Chron have more.

SB8 plaintiffs want their lawsuit moved back to district court

As is usually the case, the lawless Fifth Circuit is the problem, with a generous assist from SCOTUS.

With the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals set to hear arguments about Texas’ restrictive new abortion law Friday, abortion providers have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to again intervene and instead send the case to a lower court.

Abortion providers filed the request Monday, along with a motion to expedite the high court’s ruling on the matter ahead of Friday’s hearing. Lawyers for the providers argue that the 5th Circuit should send the case to district court, which in October temporarily blocked enforcement of the law.

[…]

In December, the Supreme Court threw out most of the providers’ challenges to the law and allowed only one narrow challenge, against medical licensing officials, to proceed. The court also allowed the restrictions on the procedure to remain in place.

Then, in an additional blow to abortion providers, the Supreme Court sent that one remaining challenge to be reargued before the 5th Circuit, considered one of the most politically conservative circuit courts in the nation. Providers had been expecting it to be sent to the district court, which was seen as a more favorable venue. They argued in Monday’s filing that district court is the proper venue for the case to proceed.

“It’s unconscionable that the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals is defying the Supreme Court’s ruling last month by refusing to send our case back to the district court so that we can continue fighting Texas’ six-week abortion ban,” Brigitte Amiri, deputy director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, said in a statement. “The Supreme Court must step in to prevent the appeals court from needlessly delaying our lawsuit against Texas’ bounty-hunting scheme and compounding the harm this ban has already inflicted on Texans.”

Rather than remanding the case to the district court, though, the 5th Circuit decided in a split decision to hear arguments in the case on Friday and will consider whether the case should be sent to the Texas Supreme Court to proceed. Legal experts say certifying a case to the state supreme court can extend the appeals process by months, if not years.

Circuit Judge Stephen A. Higginson dissented from the majority, arguing that the Supreme Court’s ruling does not require reargument before the 5th Circuit and should not be sent to the Texas Supreme Court. Higginson also wrote that he believes the Supreme Court ruling indicates that the medical licensing officials should be blocked from enforcing the law.

But Higginson noted that he had been “unpersuasive,” and unless the Supreme Court weighs in before Friday, the case is likely to proceed at the 5th Circuit. Abortion providers argue that this delay is harming women seeking abortions.

See here for the background. The plaintiffs had also asked the Fifth Circuit to just send this back to the district court, but they declined and instead scheduled this hearing, which is not a thing that appellate courts normally do. It’s clear that the purpose of this is to just flat-out delay if not deny sending the case back to the district court judge, who will surely enjoin it for the duration of the lawsuit, and wait for SCOTUS to officially throw out Roe v Wade in the Mississippi case. The Fifth Circuit is rogue and lawless and needs to be gutted. Simply calling it some variation of “very conservative” does not accurately describe it. The news media needs to wake up and get with the program. The 19th has more.

What does “race blind” redistricting even mean?

Good question.

In states like Texas and North Carolina, Republican lawmakers in charge of redrawing the political maps for the next decade say that the new plans are “race blind.” Their opponents in court say that the claim is implausible and one that, in some situations, is at odds with the Voting Rights Act.

Several lawsuits, including from the Justice Department, allege that the maps drawn after the 2020 census discriminate against voters of color.

Between a 2013 Supreme Court decision that scaled back the federal government’s role in monitoring redistricting and a 2019 ruling that said partisan gerrymanders could not be challenged in federal court, voting rights advocates have been left with fewer tools to address what they say are unfair and illegal redistricting plans.

Meanwhile, lawmakers in the states where the redistricting legal fights have been most pitched have adopted an approach that claims that racial data played no role as they drew the maps for the next 10 years. Legislators say they’re avoiding the use of race data after decades of litigation where they’ve been accused of unconstitutionally relying on race to gerrymander.

“I don’t view this as a serious legal defense, but more of a PR defense,” said Thomas Saenz, the president and general counsel of Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which is suing Texas lawmakers over their new maps.

Challengers to the maps say that such an assertion of “race blind” maps is dubious as well as a betrayal of states’ obligations under the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits racial discrimination in redistricting. The law requires that in some circumstances, map-makers must draw plans in a way that creates minority-majority districts where voters can elect the candidates of their choice. In lawsuits alleging a failure to comply with the law, states like Texas have been accused of drawing maps that instead dilute the votes of communities of color.

Legislators may be trying to “immunize” themselves from most of the claims that are used in court to strike down redistricting maps, according to Nate Persily, a Stanford Law School professor and redistricting expert.

“By saying race was not in the minds of the people who drew the lines, you potentially get out of those constitutional causes action that you are intentionally diluting the vote of racial minorities or that race was the predominant factor in the construction of a district,” Persily told CNN, adding that such an approach doesn’t shield map-drawers from cases alleging Voting Rights Act violations.

Lawmakers’ description of maps as “race blind” is both “political rhetoric” and “test case rhetoric,” said Ben Ginsberg, a former Republican redistricting lawyer who is not involved in the current lawsuits. “But still, the standard is you can’t dilute minority voting power and minority opportunity to vote for their candidates of choice. And by not using race data they run the risk of being found to have diluted minority voting strength from what’s in the current map.”

[…]

In tension with legislators’ obligations under the Voting Rights Act are the limits the Constitution — under Supreme Court precedent — put on the use of race in redistricting.

The Supreme Court has said, via the 1993 decision in Shaw v. Reno, that use of race as a sole factor in drawing districts unconstitutional in most circumstances. However, the Voting Rights Act presents the sort of compelling government interest that allows for race to be considered.

Jason Torchinsky — a Republican election lawyer who has defended North Carolina legislators in redistricting cases in the past, but is not involved in the current cases in North Carolina or Texas– told CNN that map-drawers have to walk the line between their VRA obligations and not running afoul of the Constitution.

“Legislatures have to use very localized data to determine if they are required to draw [Voting Rights Act] Section 2 districts,” Torchinsky said. “If they are, then they have to consider race in those parts of the states because they’re required to under the Voting Rights Act.” But when states aren’t required to draw VRA districts, Torchinsky said, the use of race could pose a potential Constitutional problem.

I mean, if SCOTUS hadn’t killed preclearance back in 2013, we wouldn’t be having most of this debate right now, because none of these extreme maps would have seen the light of day. The claim at the time that we didn’t need preclearance any more because racial discrimination was a thing of the past was ludicrous then and is beyond obscene now. The 2019 ruling that said SCOTUS was unable to deal with partisan gerrymandering claims, even as the lower courts had no trouble adjudicating them, was cowardly and shameful. Of course, we do have what could be a pretty good answer to all that sitting on the Senate agenda, if we can somehow manage to convince two loathsome Senators that American democracy is a bigger concern than arcane and anti-democratic Senate rules. Until then, the only thing you can count on is that something is legal if SCOTUS says it is, no more and no less. And down the rabbit hole we go.

SCOTUS finds another way to screw abortion rights

Surely you’re not surprised.

The Supreme Court has formally returned a lawsuit over Texas’ six-week abortion ban to a federal appeals court that has twice allowed the law to stay in effect, rather than to a district judge who sought to block it.

Justice Neil Gorsuch on Thursday signed the court’s order that granted the request of abortion clinics for the court to act speedily. But the clinics wanted the case sent directly to U.S. Judge Robert Pitman, who had previously though briefly blocked enforcement of the Texas abortion ban known as S.B. 8.

When Pitman ordered the law blocked in early October, the appeals court countermanded his order two days later.

Texas has said it will seek to keep the case bottled up at the appeals court for the foreseeable future.

Marc Hearron, the Center for Reproductive Rights lawyer who represented the clinics at the high court, said, “The Supreme Court left only a small sliver of our case intact, and it’s clear that this part of the case will not block vigilante lawsuits from being filed. It’s also clear that Texas is determined to stop the plaintiffs from getting any relief in even the sliver of the case that is left.”

[…]

In last week’s majority opinion written by Gorsuch, the Supreme Court limited who can be sued by the clinics in their effort to win a court order preventing the law’s enforcement and allowing them to resume providing abortions without severe financial risks.

The court held that only state licensing officials can be sued, an outcome the clinics said would not stave off the filing of lawsuits against providers if abortions were to resume.

Gorsuch wrote that “it appears” the licensing officials can be sued. “Of course, Texas courts and not this one are the final arbiters of the meaning of state statutory directions,” he wrote.

The state told the justices it plans to ask the appeals court to, in turn, seek a definitive ruling from the Texas Supreme Court over the role the licensing officials play in enforcing the abortion ban.

The appeals court would decide whether to involve the state high court, which would put the case on hold.

See here for the background. I’m going to outsource the commentary, as it’s hard for me to form the right words here.

I suppose it’s possible that the Fifth Circuit will do the right thing and hand this back to the district court so the process can play out. And I suppose that if they try to hand it to SCOTx that they will refuse to take it, on the grounds that they don’t like having to deal with messy political questions. Or either the Fifth Circuit and/or SCOTx just sits on the ball until SCOTUS officially drives a spike through Roe v Wade and moots the whole thing. I’m going to go scream into a pillow now. The Trib has more.

Biden employer vaccine mandate back on

For now, at least.

A federal appeals court panel on Friday allowed President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for larger private employers to move ahead, reversing a previous decision on a requirement that could affect some 84 million U.S workers.

The 2-1 decision by a panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati overrules a decision by a federal judge in a separate court that had paused the mandate nationwide.

The mandate from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration was to take effect Jan. 4. With Friday’s ruling, it’s not clear when the requirement might be put in place, but the White House said in a statement that it will protect workers: “Especially as the U.S. faces the highly transmissible Omicron variant, it’s critical we move forward with vaccination requirements and protections for workers with the urgency needed in this moment.”

[…]

“Given OSHA’s clear and exercised authority to regulate viruses, OSHA necessarily has the authority to regulate infectious diseases that are not unique to the workplace,” Judge Julia Smith Gibbons, who was nominated to the court by former President George W. Bush, a Republican, wrote in her majority opinion.

“Vaccination and medical examinations are both tools that OSHA historically employed to contain illness in the workplace,” she wrote.

Gibbons noted that the agency’s authority extends beyond just regulating “hard hats and safety goggles.” She said the vaccine requirement “is not a novel expansion of OSHA’s power; it is an existing application of authority to a novel and dangerous worldwide pandemic.”

She was joined in the majority decision by Judge Jane Branstetter Stranch, an appointee of former President Barrack Obama, a Democrat.

The case was consolidated in the 6th circuit, which is dominated by Republican-appointed judges. Earlier this week, the circuit’s active judges rejected a move to have the entire panel consider the case, on an 8-8 vote.

The dissent in Friday’s ruling came from Judge Joan Larsen, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, who said Congress did not authorize OSHA to make this sort of rule and that it did not qualify as a necessity to use the emergency procedures the agency followed to put it in place.

Larsen also argued that vaccinated workers “do not face ‘grave danger’ from working with those who are not vaccinated.”

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, a Republican, said she would ask the U.S. Supreme Court to block the order. At least two conservative advocacy groups said they had already appealed to the nation’s highest court.

“The Sixth Circuit’s decision is extremely disappointing for Arkansans because it will force them to get the shot or lose their jobs,” Rutledge said.

See here, here, and here for the background. Who even knew that it was possible to get a decent result from an appeals court? It appears the Sixth Circuit, or at least the two justices in the majority opinion, were perhaps not all that impressed by the ruling handed down by their Fifth Circuit colleagues.

Spicy. As noted, in the story, the death eaters among the Attorneys General, including our own, will be appealing to SCOTUS, so keep a firm grip on your expectations. For now at least, there’s a bit of sanity. Happy holidays and all that. Slate has more.

FDA lifts restrictions on medical abortion

Long overdue

The Biden administration on Thursday ended a long-standing restriction on a medication used to terminate early stage pregnancies, even as politicians across the United States intensified efforts that represent the most serious challenge to abortion rights in decades.

The elimination of the rule by the Food and Drug Administration means abortion pills can be prescribed through telehealth consultations with providers and mailed to patients in states where permitted by law. Previously, the pills could not be mailed, though that regulation had been temporarily suspended by the FDA.

In large swaths of the nation, however, strict state rules will dampen the impact. Several states ban sending abortion pills by mail and impose other restrictions.

The medication, mifepristone, was approved by the FDA in 2000 for what’s known as medication abortion. It is used with a second drug, misoprostol. The FDA required patients to pick up mifepristone in person at a hospital, clinic or medical office. There is no FDA requirement that the medication, also known as RU-486, be taken in a clinical setting, and most patients take it at home.

In April, the FDA waived the in-person dispensing requirement during the pandemic, saying research showed the action did not raise “serious safety concerns.” It then launched a scientific review to see whether restrictions on mifepristone should be lifted permanently, with Thursday as the deadline.

The agency, writing to a medical group that had sued the FDA over the rule, said it was dropping the in-person dispensing requirement “to minimize the burden on the health care delivery system” and “to ensure that the benefits of the drug outweigh the risks.” The FDA did not give an effective date for the change.

[…]

Loosening the federal restrictions will not change abortion access in many states with stricter regulations on the pills. Nineteen states have banned receiving the drugs through telehealth appointments, making the relaxed FDA rules irrelevant in places including Alabama, Arizona and Missouri. Some states impose other limitations on medication abortion, including allowing only physicians to prescribe the drug and mandating that patients take the pills under a doctor’s supervision rather than at home.

As federal officials have moved to ease restrictions on the drug, many states have tightened access. At least 16 states have proposed new restrictions on medication abortions this year, said Elizabeth Nash, state policy analyst for the Guttmacher Institute.

“State legislatures have been watching very carefully what happens at the federal level,” Nash said.

The highest-profile limitations were enacted in Texas, where lawmakers made it a felony to provide abortion pills after seven weeks of pregnancy and outlawed sending the drugs through the mail. Texas also banned nearly all abortion within the state by making any form of abortion illegal after about six weeks of pregnancy, though that law is being challenged in the courts.

The differing rules have the potential to widen disparities in abortion access, Nash said.

“Access looks very different depending on where you live,” Nash said. “Abortion access will continue to be very limited in states in the South, in the Plains and in the Midwest, and more accessible in states along the West Coast and the Northeast. … That’s problematic in and of itself, and could become an even bigger divide.”

Yeah, it sure is an issue here in Texas. The main question I have is how effectively will Texas be able to enforce its restrictions. It seems to me that there will be a lot of effort put into avoidance, and as such the only way to really make that law work as intended is to be pretty darned invasive. I don’t know how that will work.

Restrictive state laws are spurring an increase in some areas of what’s known as “self-managed abortions” in which patients buy illegal medication on the Internet and terminate pregnancies without interacting with the health-care system.

While some see this as a dangerous trend, others say the situation is sharply improved from decades earlier — because of the abortion pills.

Abigail Aiken, assistant professor of public affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, said she is often asked whether the country is headed to “back-alley abortions and infections” if Roe v. Wade is struck down.

“One of the things we have that we didn’t have in the ’60s and ’70s is access to abortion pills that are very safe, very effective if you have the right instructions,” Aiken said. “Self management is a safety net. And it’s also an ability to take your health care into your own hands when the state legislature is trying to block access.”

That sounds logical to me. And it should be known, this way around the law has been in use for some time. Again, the question to me is how vigorously Texas will try to crack down on that, and how heavy-handed such enforcement will be. I feel very confident saying that the zealots who pushed the bounty hunter law will not be satisfied by anything other than an all-out crackdown, whatever the consequences. If you think I’m being alarmist, look at where we are now and tell me honestly it’s not far worse than you thought it would be. The 19th and Mother Jones have more.

SCOTUS allows providers’ lawsuit against SB8 to proceed

There’s a lot to unpack here.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday ruled that the legal challenge brought forward by abortion providers against Texas’ abortion restriction law may continue, bringing new life into what has become the most significant effort to overturn the statute so far.

The court allowed the suit to continue on an 8-1 decision but did not stop the law’s enforcement. Instead, the suit will continue in a lower federal court where abortion providers will resume seeking to block the law, commonly referred to as Senate Bill 8.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor agreed with allowing the suit to continue but condemned the high court’s decision to leave the law in effect, saying it has had “catastrophic consequences for women seeking to exercise their constitutional right to an abortion in Texas.”

“The Court should have put an end to this madness months ago, before S. B. 8 first went into effect,” she wrote. “It failed to do so then, and it fails again today.”

In a separate decision, the court dismissed a separate challenge from the Biden administration.

The justices also allowed the abortion providers to sue some state licensing officials, but not state court clerks, citing difficulties surrounding sovereign immunity. This could make it difficult for providers to get the law’s enforcement blocked overall in court.

“By blessing significant portions of the law’s effort to evade review, the Court comes far short of meeting the moment,” Sotomayor said. “By foreclosing suit against state court officials and the state attorney general, the Court clears the way for States to reprise and perfect Texas’ scheme in the future to target the exercise of any right recognized by this Court with which they disagree. This is no hypothetical. New permutations of S. B. 8 are coming.”

[…]

The providers’ suit returns to U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman, who previously blocked enforcement of the law for two days. It was resumed by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which is known as perhaps the nation’s most conservative appellate court.

The suit could now follow a similar trajectory as before: If Pitman blocks the law again, abortion opponents will likely appeal to the 5th Circuit as well — and then the case could land before the Supreme Court once more.

[…]

Katherine Franke, a professor of law at Columbia University and director of the university’s Center of Gender and Sexuality Law, said she was pleased that the Supreme Court allowed the provider’s lawsuit to continue — but the court continues to make concessions over a person’s right to an abortion.

“What the [Supreme Court] has done is reiterate what their earlier ruling was, which is that a majority does not see a constitutional emergency in this case, even though SB 8 clearly and intentionally violates established Supreme Court law,” she said.

Franke said allowing the law to stay in effect while court proceedings continue proves that abortion rights are in jeopardy more than something like religious freedom. Although Friday’s decision allows the fight against Texas’ law to continue, she said more should have been done to protect abortion rights.

“The decision could have been much worse than it was … but this decision takes place within a larger legal landscape where the underlying right that’s at stake — that the court has not even addressed yet — could very well be eliminated and overruled,” she said. “It’s not a complete loss. I wouldn’t say it’s a partial victory, but it’s not a complete loss.”

See here for the previous entry, here for this ruling, and here for the dismissal of the Justice Department lawsuit. I’d like to see some more commentary on that ruling, because I don’t like it at all. The most thorough analysis I’ve seen of the main ruling so far comes from Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern.

The upshot of Friday’s decisions is this: Abortion providers can now ask U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman to block S.B. 8. Pitman will swiftly grant their request by issuing an injunction against “executive licensing officials” tasked with enforcing the law, a decision that should stand in the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Texas’ clinics will presumably begin providing abortions again, though they are not fully protected from civil suits.

In the meantime, all parties will await the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, due by June, which may overturn Roe v. Wade and permit Texas to implement a more straightforward abortion ban. And other states may still pass S.B. 8–style laws that empower vigilantes to sue abortion providers, as long as they tweak the language to comply with Friday’s decision.

[…]

Now the court has issued the narrowest possible decision to let the providers’ suit proceed. Justice Neil Gorsuch’s opinion for the court rejected their primary theory: that providers could sue state court judges and clerks to prevent the docketing of S.B. 8 cases. Gorsuch held that these agents of the state enjoy “sovereign immunity,” the doctrine that states are generally immune from private lawsuits. There is an exception from this rule called Ex parte Young that permits individuals to sue state officials, but Gorsuch held that it does not apply to state court judges and clerks. “Usually, those individuals do not enforce state laws as executive officials might,” he wrote; “instead, they work to resolve disputes between parties.”

Gorsuch identified other roadblocks, asserting that there is “no case or controversy” between providers and state courts and no remedy that “permits clerks to pass on the substance of the filings they docket—let alone refuse a party’s complaint based on an assessment of its merits.” He also rejected the plaintiffs’ attempt to sue Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, writing that Paxton has no authority to enforce S.B. 8. And even if Paxton did have such power, Gorsuch concluded, federal courts cannot “parlay” an injunction against an attorney general “into an injunction against any and all unnamed private persons who might seek to bring their own S.B. 8 suits.”

This part of Gorsuch’s ruling is a victory for providers—albeit an extremely limited one, for two reasons. First, it’s not clear that an injunction against licensing officials would stop bounty hunters from filing lawsuits under S.B. 8; it would only restrict the state’s ability to punish those clinics found liable under the law. Similarly, an injunction against licensing officials may not stop citizens from suing “abettors” who facilitate an abortion. Second, Texas and other states can easily work around Friday’s decision. Wary of that outcome, Chief Justice John Roberts—along with Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor—dissented from Gorsuch’s refusal to let providers sue state court clerks and the Texas attorney general. Roberts and Sotomayor wrote separate dissents, both focusing on Texas’ flagrant attempt to “nullify” rights protected by the federal Constitution.

Gorsuch did, however, identify one slim route around S.B. 8’s blockades: He allowed providers to sue the “executive licensing officials” who “may or must take enforcement actions against the petitioners if they violate” the law. These officials implement state law in a traditional manner, Gorsuch explained, and thus cannot claim sovereign immunity. They fall squarely into the Ex parte Young exception. And so there are no constitutional barriers stopping clinics from naming these parties as defendants in their federal lawsuit to freeze S.B. 8. Every justice except Clarence Thomas joined this part of Gorsuch’s decision; Thomas, alone, would have foreclosed all avenues of relief. So there are five votes to shield state court judges and clerks from federal suit, five votes to shield the attorney general from suit, and eight votes to let the suit against “executive licensing officials” proceed.

“Texas has employed an array of stratagems designed to shield its unconstitutional law from judicial review,” the chief justice wrote. “The clear purpose and actual effect of S.B. 8 has been to nullify this Court’s rulings.” And if legislatures can “annul the judgments of the courts of the United States,” then “the constitution itself becomes a solemn mockery.” He asserted that state court clerks and Paxton were “proper defendants” because both play a role in imposing “burdens on those sued under S.B. 8.” An injunction against such defendants, Roberts acknowledged, may be “novel.” But “any novelty in this remedy is a direct result of the novelty of Texas’s scheme.”

Sotomayor’s dissent was substantially fierier. She criticized the majority for failing to “put an end to this madness months ago, before S.B. 8 first went into effect.” By allowing for such limited relief, Sotomayor wrote, the majority “effectively invites other States to refine S. B. 8’s model for nullifying federal rights,” betraying “not only the citizens of Texas, but also our constitutional system of government.”

[…]

There is a vast chasm between the two blocs in this case. The five most conservative justices appear to view S.B. 8 as a one-off, a desperate attempt to evade a decision (Roe v. Wade) that they themselves probably view as illegitimate. The four other justices see S.B. 8 as a direct threat to the Supreme Court’s authority to “say what the law is” by shielding constitutional liberties from state infringement. It seems the majority is troubled just enough to carve a path around some of S.B. 8’s blockades—but its solution is a ticket good for one ride only. Texas can pass nearly identical legislation that eliminates the powers of “executive licensing officials” and, apparently, lock providers out of federal court once again. Copycat bills have already cropped up in four other states, and Gorsuch has given legislators a road map to ensure that they can fully insulate their legislation from federal court review. He and his hard-right colleagues appear to believe that blue states won’t have the spine to deploy these tricks against rights favored by conservatives, like the right to bear arms.

Not much I can add to that, though you should read Dahlia Lithwick’s companion piece about the pile of failure that is John Roberts as well. The state lawsuit has drawn some boundaries, and if we get another injunction from Judge Pitman that survives the chainsaw massacre of the Fifth Circuit, we’ll be in a somewhat better place than we are right now. But the damage has been done to the clinics, and even without the looming threat of the Dobbs ruling, they may never recover. Mother Jones, The 19th, The Nation, and the Observer have more.

State judge rules SB8 is unconstitutional

Sounds a little better than it actually is, but it’s still pretty good.

Right there with them

A Texas judge on Thursday ruled that the state’s controversial law restricting abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy violates the Texas Constitution, saying it should not be enforced in court.

Although Thursday’s ruling is a win for abortion rights advocates, the order only has direct consequences for the 14 lawsuits in the case that the judge oversaw. The judge did not issue an injunction to block cases from being filed, though experts say it would likely be used as precedent in those cases.

Jackie Dillworth, communications director at Whole Woman’s Health, said the group’s four clinics across the state will not resume full services but would be “eager” to do so if an injunction were issued.

“We are so grateful to Judge Peeples for his ruling today,” said Dillworth. “[The law is] depriving Texans of their rights, autonomy, quality of life, and health.”

[…]

State District Judge David Peeples’ ruling Thursday emphasized that he wasn’t ruling on abortion rights, but rather on the enforcement method that the law employs.

“This case is not about abortion; it is about civil procedure,” he wrote in his order.

Peeples echoed concerns on how a similar form of enforcement could be used to infringe on other constitutional rights, a view expressed by members of the U.S. Supreme Court during oral arguments last month in two other challenges to the law.

“In sum, if SB 8’s civil procedures are constitutional, a new and creative series of statutes could appear year after year, to be enforced by eager ideological claimants, who could bring suit in their home counties, where the judges would do their constitutional duty and enforce the law,” Peeples said in his order. “Pandora’s Box has already been opened a bit, and time will tell.”

[…]

The judge ruled that Texas Right to Life cannot file lawsuits against the 14 plaintiffs for helping others get an abortion disallowed by the Texas law. The plaintiffs include doctors, nonprofit organizations and Planned Parenthood. However, other parties or individuals can still sue the plaintiffs under the abortion law.

“This ruling is limited to the named parties. It does not apply to all other potential plaintiffs and defendants. John Doe could file suit tomorrow, without regard to this ruling,” Josh Blackman, a law professor at South Texas College of Law Houston, said in an email.

Blackman added that Peeples can only rule on the 14 cases before him — not on any other cases or the law overall.

“A judge can’t declare a statute unconstitutional in all contexts. Courts can only issue rulings with regard to particular parties in a particular case. But other courts can choose to treat this ruling as precedential (and likely would),” he said.

But even if Thursday’s ruling had stopped the law from being enforced, SB 8 is written with an unusual restriction that allows someone to later be sued if that ruling is overturned on appeal.

Joanna Grossman, a professor at SMU Dedman School of Law, said that means providers may not be comfortable resuming procedures until all the court battles are waged.

“It was just another thing to stack the deck against providers so that it just wasn’t possible for them to manage their risk,” she said. “I assume they’re all having conversations with their lawyers right now about [whether] this actually gives them any ability to reopen.”

See here for the background, and here for a copy of the judge’s order. The ruling will be appealed – since this was heard in Travis County, that means that the Third Court of Appeals will get it next, unless there’s some mechanism to have it go straight to the Supreme Court. There is of course the still-pending case before SCOTUS, which could generate a ruling as soon as today or sometime later or maybe never, who even knows. I suppose with the violence they plan to do to reproductive rights in the Mississippi case, the assassins on the high court could make a cynical nod towards “moderation” by putting the kibosh on Texas’ law. But again, who knows what they’ll do. In the meantime, now we wait for the next steps in this case. It’s a start.

By the way, medical abortion is now more tightly restricted in Texas, too

Another piece of crap from the special session.

Misoprostol

A new law limiting the use of abortion-inducing medication in Texas goes into effect Thursday.

The law makes it a felony to provide the medication after seven weeks of pregnancy, putting Texas at odds with federal regulations. It also makes it a crime to send the medication through the mail.

Medical abortion is the most common way women in Texas terminate their pregnancies, according to state data.

These new restrictions reflect a growing concern among abortion opponents about the rise of “self-managed” abortions, in which pregnant people obtain the medications from out-of-state or international providers, with or without a prescription.

There’s evidence that more women turn to self-managed abortions when legal abortion is restricted. Texans have been unable to access abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy since Sept. 1, when a controversial new ban went into effect.

“Texas is looking at the ways that people are navigating around restrictions and trying to essentially make that as unsafe and as frightening for people as possible in order to deter them,” said Farah Diaz-Tello, senior legal counsel for If/When/How, a reproductive justice legal group.

Diaz-Tello and other advocates worry that the new criminal penalties may make pregnant Texans fearful of seeking medical care after a self-managed abortion.

[…]

Texas’ new law also specifies that no one may provide abortion medication “by courier, delivery or mail service.”

Texas already required the medication to be provided by a physician in person. But this specific clause addresses a growing concern among abortion opponents that patients are trying to circumvent the required doctor visit by getting the drugs by mail, especially with the state’s new restrictions that bans abortions after around six weeks.

Called a “self-managed abortion,” this usually entails ordering abortion-inducing drugs online, with or without a prescription, from doctors, pharmacies and other providers out of state or overseas.

The FDA has attempted to crack down on some providers, including AidAccess, a group founded in 2018 by Dr. Rebecca Gomperts, a European doctor. AidAccess provides abortion-inducing medications to women in areas that have restricted access to the procedure.

Gomperts has said she will continue prescribing to patients in Texas. She told CBS News in September that she believes she is on solid legal ground since it is legal to prescribe this medication where she is based.

See here for the backgroun; I didn’t blog it at the time for whatever the reason. A bit more than half of all abortions in Texas are medical abortions, which the FDA says are safe up to ten weeks. I suspect Dr. Gomperts and others like her if they exist will get more business now, despite the prohibition on sending the medication via mail. It’s really a matter of enforcement, and it’s not clear to me how Texas will be able to do that. That FDA action against her was from 2019, by the way. It would be nice for the current FDA to maybe revisit that now. I don’t have anything positive to end with. This is where we are right now.

It’s not looking good for Roe v Wade

Yesterday, it seemed like there was the possibility of a chance that SCOTUS could so something other than eviscerate abortion rights nationally. Today, not so much. I don’t have the energy to write a real post about it, so I’m just going to point you to coverage at The 19th, Slate (twice), TPM, Mother Jones, and Daily Kos. Or you could have spent five minutes on Twitter, or you could be like me and get a billion campaign/action/fundraising emails from a multitude of organizations, all with the same message.

Lots of people think that this will change the political dynamics, and indeed maybe it will. Anger is a strong motivator, and this has already made a lot of folks on my side angry. But winning is a big motivator, too, and the people that have been pushing for forced births for decades are within sight of getting what they want. Whatever happens with the politics, the real world effects of this are going to be very bad, very harmful, and not at all easy to undo. The one thing we can’t do is stop fighting, because the other guys sure aren’t going to.

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.

Redistricting litigation update

Reform Austin shows that the state’s legal defense strategy against the various redistricting lawsuits is “You can’t sue us!”

Because of the clear racial gerrymandering, multiple groups are launching legal challenges under the Voting Rights Act. The state has now responded to the one being brought by the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), Mi Familia Vota, the Mexican American Bar Association, and others, asking for a dismissal. Among many other claims, the state alleges that private citizens do not have standing to sue under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

“The Supreme Court has never decided whether Section 2 contains an implied private cause of action,” reads the filing.

Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act makes it illegal to gerrymander a district for the purpose of suppressing voting power based on race. Strictly political gerrymandering was deemed acceptable in a 2019 Supreme Court case, but the two intentions are often intermingled. The majority of minorities tend to vote Democrat, making any political gerrymandering also racial almost by definition.

The filing by the state does admit that some legal opinions have implied that Section 2 does give private citizens standing to sue but says that these implications are inconsistent with other Supreme Court decisions. The case specifically cited is Alexander vs. Sandoval, which found that regulations enacted under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 did not confer the right to legal action in a case of non-intentional discrimination. The filing also claims that the Voting Rights Act did not actually create a right to vote in spite of the discrimination, and therefor there is no right to be contested under its statute.

Not a whole lot to say here, as Texas has employed a variation on that strategy in a whole host of lawsuit defenses lately. I don’t know what the district and appeals courts will make of that, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see it get a warm welcome at SCOTUS. Hey, have I mentioned lately that a new and updated federal voting rights law would be a good idea? Just checking.

Reading that article made me go Google news hunting for anything else I could find on redistricting litigation, since not all developments make their way into the sources I read regularly. In doing so I found that all but one of the existing federal cases against the redistricting maps have been consolidated into one, the LULAC v Texas case, as it was the first one filed. You can see all of the filings related to this omnibus case here. When I read the order combining the cases, the motion for which had been partially opposed, I learned that there were two other lawsuits that I had missed the first time around. Let me sum up here. The cases that I knew about that are now under this banner: The LULAC/MALDEF suit, the Voto Latino suit, the federal MALC suit, the Senator Powell lawsuit over SD10, and the Fair Maps Texas Action Committee lawsuit.

The cases that I missed the first time around: The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, representing the Texas State Conference of the NAACP, and Damon James Wilson, formerly an inmate in Dallas County, representing himself as he was counted in one Congressional district while incarcerated but intends to return to his actual domicile in another CD when released, and says he should have been counted in that district.

The one federal case that remains separate from the others is the Gutierrez/Eckhardt suit, which the court rejected for consolidation on the grounds that about whether the Lege was allowed to draw maps at all, and not about the composition of the new maps.

So, for those of you keeping score at home, we now have two federal lawsuits challenging different aspects of Texas redistricting, and one state lawsuit that focuses on the county line rule and how it was allegedly violated in Cameron County in the drawing on HDs 35 and 37. You’ll be quizzed on this at a later date, so please make sure you take good notes.

Biden tries again on the employer vaccine mandate

Different appeals court this time.

The Biden administration is asking the 6th US Circuit Court of Appeals to wipe away an order from another appeals court blocking its Occupational Safety and Health Administration vaccine mandate.

Several lawsuits were brought challenging the OSHA mandate, and last week the cases were consolidated in the 6th Circuit, an appeals court that leans right, as 10 of its 16 active judges are Republican appointees.

But, before the cases were consolidated, the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals — perhaps the most conservative appeals court in the country — issued its order blocking the mandate.

In its filing overnight Tuesday, the Biden administration said the 5th Circuit erred in how its interpretation of the Occupational Safety and Health Act limited the law’s reach, while also arguing that the 5th Circuit had not taken into proper account the public health interest in letting the mandate go into effect.

“Simply put, delaying the Standard would likely cost many lives per day, in addition to large numbers of hospitalizations, other serious health effects, and tremendous expenses,” the administration said in the new filing. “That is a confluence of harms of the highest order.”

[…]

The administration told the 6th Circuit that if it does not lift the order blocking the mandate, it should at least modify the 5th Circuit order “so that the masking-and-testing requirement can remain in effect during the pendency of this litigation.”

See here for the previous update. The 6th Circuit is also pretty damn “conservative”, but it’s at least another shot. I have no idea what to expect, though I figure it’s best to not get one’s hopes up. I do hope they don’t take too long. Bloomberg Law has more.

Still waiting on SCOTUS

They’re in no rush.

More than two weeks have passed since the Supreme Court’s extraordinarily rushed arguments over Texas’ unique abortion law without any word from the justices.

They raised expectations of quick action by putting the case on a rarely used fast track. And yet, to date, the court’s silence means that women cannot get an abortion in Texas, the second-largest state, after about six weeks of pregnancy.

That’s before some women know they’re pregnant and long before high court rulings dating to 1973 that allow states to ban abortion.

There has been no signal on when the court might act and no formal timetable for reaching a decision.

The law has been in effect since Sept. 1 and the court has been unable to muster five votes to stop it, said Mary Ziegler, a legal historian at Florida State University’s law school. “While there is some sense of urgency, some justices had more of a sense of urgency than others,” Ziegler said.

[…]

The Texas law is doing what its authors intended. In its first month of operation, a study published by researchers at the University of Texas found that the number of abortions statewide fell by 50% compared with September 2020. The study was based on data from 19 of the state’s 24 abortion clinics, according to the Texas Policy Evaluation Project.

Texas residents who left the state seeking an abortion also have had to travel well beyond neighboring states, where clinics cannot keep up with the increase in patients from Texas, according to a separate study by the Guttmacher Institute.

The Supreme Court is weighing complex issues in two challenges brought by abortion providers in Texas and the Biden administration. Those issues include who, if anyone, can sue over the law in federal court, the typical route for challenges to abortion restrictions, and whom to target with a court order that ostensibly tries to block the law.

Under Supreme Court precedents, it’s not clear whether a federal court can restrain the actions of state court judges who would hear suits filed against abortion providers, court clerks who would be charged with accepting the filings or anyone who might some day want to sue.

People who sue typically have to target others who already have caused them harm, not those who might one day do so and not court officials who are just doing their jobs by docketing and adjudicating the cases.

The justices’ history with the Texas law goes back to early September when, by a 5-4 vote, they declined to stop it from taking effect.

At the time, five conservative justices, including the three appointees of President Donald Trump, voted to let the law take effect. Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court’s three liberals in dissent.

The abortion providers had brought the issue to the court on an emergency basis. After they were rebuffed, the Justice Department stepped in with a suit of its own.

U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman granted the Justice Department’s request for an order that put the law on hold. Pitman wrote in a 113-page ruling that the law denied women in Texas their constitutional right to an abortion and he rejected the state’s arguments that federal courts shouldn’t intervene.

But just two days later, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overrode Pitman and allowed the law to go back into effect.

The Justice Department made its own emergency appeal to the Supreme Court. Rather than rule on that appeal, the court decided to hear the two suits just 10 days later and without the benefit of an appellate court decision.

You know the story. It’s hard to see this as anything but deliberate foot-dragging at this point. It would have been completely normal at the beginning for SCOTUS to put the law on hold while the litigation played out, but they chose not to do so in the most obsequious way possible. That they still haven’t sure looks like a choice to me. And barring an unexpected holiday week order, this atrocity of a law will remain in place as the Mississippi challenge to Roe v Wade gets its hearing. Stay mad, y’all. The Chron and Daily Kos have more.

Texas sues over the health care workers vaccine mandate

It’s a trifecta.

In Texas’ latest legal challenge targeting federal vaccination mandates, Attorney General Ken Paxton is suing the Biden administration over its recent order requiring health workers to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

The Biden administration issued an emergency order, which went into effect Nov. 4, requiring eligible workers at health care facilities participating in the Medicare and Medicaid programs to get the first shot of a two-dose vaccine or a one-dose vaccine by Dec. 6.

Paxton called the mandate “an unprecedented federal vaccine decree” on health care workers.

“At a time when we need healthcare workers more than ever before, amid a harrowing worker shortage, the Biden Administration has prioritized this unlawful vaccine mandate over the healthcare of all Americans,” Paxton said Monday night in a statement. “We need healthcare workers, regardless of their vaccination status, and this decision puts us on track for an impending disaster within the healthcare industry.”

Texas joins 10 other states suing the Biden administration over the mandate.

This joins the federal contractors mandate lawsuit and the employer mandate lawsuit, which by the way will now go to the Sixth Circuit, which may not be an improvement. There’s no point in making arguments about public safety or any other merit-base claim. The Fifth Circuit is gonna do what the Fifth Circuit does, and then either SCOTUS will step in or they’ll wave their hands at the complex legal complexities of it all and hope it’s all moot by the time it gets back to them. If you want to do something about it, support the Democratic nominee for AG against Ken Paxton or one of the Ken Paxton wannabes in 2022. That’s the one fully clear thing in this mess.

Fifth Circuit extends hold on Biden employer vaccine mandate

The worst court in America keeps on keeping on.

A federal appeals court kept its block on the implementation on the Biden administration rule that requires large companies to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for employees or carry out weekly testing starting in January. The rule, which the court characterized as a “mandate,” goes “staggeringly overboard” and “grossly exceeds [the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s] statutory authority,” Judge Kurt Engelhardt wrote in the 22-page ruling that was joined by Judges Edith H. Jones and Stuart Kyle Duncan.

The three-judge panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in New Orleans, issued the ruling saying that the challenges to the rule were likely to be successful so it further prevented the government form moving forward with its implementation. The Fifth Circuit is largely considered one of the country’s most conservative appeals courts and the panel is made up of one judge appointed by President Ronald Reagan and two others appointed by President Donald Trump.

Dozens of lawsuits have been filed in numerous appeals courts against the rule by businesses, religious organizations, and states. Engelhardt said those who opposed the measure, including Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina, had standing to sue in the Fifth Circuit. “Rather than a delicately handled scalpel, the mandate is a one-size fits-all sledgehammer,” reads the ruling. The judges said the rule imposes a financial burden and could amount to a violation of the Constitution’s commerce clause. “The Mandate imposes a financial burden upon them by deputizing their participation in OSHA’s regulatory scheme, exposes them to severe financial risk if they refuse or fail to comply, and threatens to decimate their workforces (and business prospects) by forcing unwilling employees to take their shots, take their tests, or hit the road,” the judge wrote.

See here and here for the background. The Fifth Circuit never disappoints, do they? Completely predictable, regardless of the facts.

One small bit of potentially good news.

The ruling by the panel of the Fifth Circuit is unlikely to be the final word. Some challenges to the mandate are in other circuits, and the cases will be consolidated before a randomly chosen one of those jurisdictions. The Supreme Court is expected to eventually decide the matter.

Dena Iverson, a Justice Department spokeswoman, said the Biden administration would defend the mandate through that process.

Maybe we can hope for a better outcome from a less corrupted court. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with this:

Further developments soon, we hope. CNBC and Reuters have more.

We wait on the Fifth Circuit

They have received briefs and held a hearing about whether to keep or lift their hold on the Biden COVID vaccine mandate for employers.

A coalition of businesses argued in federal court Tuesday that they would suffer “irreparable harm” if the court fails to permanently halt the Biden administration’s Covid-19 vaccine-or-test mandate for large businesses as the legal challenges make their way through the courts.

Several staffing companies, religious employers and other businesses said in a court filing that the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals should permanently block the standard “to protect Americans from being coerced to comply with the unconstitutional vaccine mandate during the pendency of this litigation,” after the court issued a temporary stay last weekend.

The Fifth Circuit challenge, led by Texas, is just one of at least a dozen lawsuits filed against the mandate by mostly Republican governors, conservative organizations and business groups, who say the mandate is an unconstitutional overreach of power by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Comparing the vaccine-or-test mandate to the Biden administration’s eviction moratorium, business groups suing over the vaccine rule pointed to the Supreme Court’s decision in August to knock down the eviction ban. Then, the high court found in the case of the eviction moratorium, that “our system does not permit agencies to act unlawfully even in pursuit of desirable ends” and that Congress must specifically authorize such policies.

“Just a few months ago, the Supreme Court explained that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) could not unilaterally grant itself control of the nation’s housing market,” the business groups wrote in a Tuesday court filing. “Sweeping authority must come, if at all, from Congress.”

The emergency rules released by the Department of Labor last week require private businesses with more than 100 employees to ensure their workers are vaccinated or have them submit to weekly testing by Jan. 4.

The Biden administration said in a court filing Monday that the mandate was well within OSHA’s authority and that a permanent stay “would likely cost dozens or even hundreds of lives per day.”

Attorneys for OSHA and the Labor Department told a panel of judges for the New Orleans-based Fifth Circuit Monday that the legal argument lodged by states and businesses conflicts with earlier court rulings and federal law, and is unlikely to succeed.

They also said businesses and states challenging the rule don’t have the grounds for “emergency” relief because the effects of the mandate won’t be in place for another month.

See here for the background. I find it best for my sanity to always expect the worst from the Fifth Circuit, so I’m just going to take some deep breaths and try to think about other things. You night appreciate this Twitter thread from Raffi Melkonian about the arguments some of the companies that oppose the Biden mandate are making, and this Twitter thread from Karen Vladeck about the procedural aspects of this case. I’ll have more when the court says something.

SB8’s day before SCOTUS

The good guys appear to have the upper hand in this case. It seems unlikely that will last for very long, however.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday grilled attorneys for abortion providers, the federal government and Texas over the state’s near-total abortion ban — and possibly hinted at support for allowing at least one legal challenge to the law to stand.

The majority of justices pushed back on the enforcement mechanism that has allowed the law to skirt judicial review so far but seemed skeptical of the federal government’s claims that it had a right to sue the state over the law.

The Supreme Court heard hearings over Texas’ abortion law, also known as Senate Bill 8, as part of two lawsuits — one lodged by abortion providers and the other by the U.S. Department of Justice. Both focused on procedural technicalities surrounding the law and the suits challenging it, not on abortion rights nor the constitutionality of the law itself.

Those questions centered on whether Texas’ enforcement strategy for the law is allowable — which empowers private citizens to sue those who perform or help someone get an abortion disallowed by the law — and whether the United States has the right to sue Texas over the statute.

Notably, conservative Justices Amy Coney Barrett and Brett Kavanaugh seemed to push back on Texas’ unique enforcement mechanism. Their line of questioning and comments suggested they might side with abortion providers in condemning the “loophole” that the law exploits to thwart judicial review. Kavanaugh and Barrett, along with three other conservative justices, voted against temporarily blocking the law on Sept. 1, when the law took effect.

Texas’ law, which blocks abortions at about six weeks into a pregnancy, skirts constitutional precedent by forbidding state officials from enforcing it and instead relying on private citizens to sue those in violation. Typically, in suits aiming to overturn laws considered unconstitutional, courts don’t block the laws themselves — they block their enforcement. This is the reason opponents have struggled to name the right defendants to block the law.

Much of the discussion Monday centered around how that enforcement mechanism could be replicated to cast a chilling effect other rights protected by the Constitution: not just abortion rights, but also gun ownership, freedom of the press and same-sex marriage.

See here for the details about what was to be argued in the case. The 19th goes into more depth about how Monday’s hearing went.

The significance of SB 8’s unusual structure and what that might mean for constitutional rights more broadly was a key focus. It is a point newly confirmed Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar honed in on during the second argument of the day.

“If the state can just take this simple mechanism of taking its enforcement authority and giving it to the general public, backed up with a bounty of $10,000 or $1 million, if they can do that, then no constitutional right is safe,” Prelogar argued. “No constitutional decision from this court is safe. That would be an intolerable state of affairs and it cannot be the law. Our constitutional guarantees cannot be that fragile, and the supremacy of federal law cannot be that easily subject to manipulation.”

Three of the court’s conservative justices — Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Brett Kavanaugh and Justice Amy Coney Barrett — indicated openness to the arguments made by Texas’ abortion providers, noting in particular that the law turns state officials into enforcement agents. Both Barrett and Kavanaugh previously voted the opposite way, joining the court’s conservative wing in a September 2 decision allowing SB 8 to take effect.

Barrett asked leading questions about the clinics’ inability to obtain constitutional relief in state court under SB 8, which reveals she might vote in the providers’ favor, said Joanna Grossman, a professor at Southern Methodist University’s Dedman School of Law.

Kavanaugh had already been deemed a likely swing vote. Kavanaugh showed particular skepticism of Texas’ argument and questioned whether the law could be used as a blueprint for other issues beyond abortion, such as restricting gun rights.

Those questions spoke to a deeper issue: Allowing the Texas law to stay in effect could weaken not only the federal government, but the Supreme Court’s overarching authority, by giving states a blueprint for writing laws that violate court precedent but circumvent judicial review.

That appears to be a powerful motivator, suggested Leah Litman, a constitutional law expert at the University of Michigan.

“The court is likely to protect its institutional authority, and that desire will probably unify and unite Democratic appointees and Republican appointees,” she said.

Focusing on the Whole Woman’s Health lawsuit could also allow the court to avoid some of the thornier constitutional questions raised in the U.S. government’s case, she added.

“The U.S. v Texas lawsuit might be — by asking what is the injury to the U.S. — that may be seen as teeing up bigger questions they don’t want to address,” [Melissa Murray, a reproductive law expert at New York University] said. “There may be more appetite for the provider suit.”

As both The 19th and Slate point out, whatever SCOTUS does here, they can clear a path for Texas to more cleanly ban abortion in the coming months.

In exactly one month, the justices will hear a more important case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, that gives them an opportunity to overrule Roe v. Wade. And if Roe goes, Texas will simply ban abortion outright, obviating the need for the convulated workaround at the center of today’s oral arguments. For the three justices who are torn over S.B. 8, the solution may be simple: Affirm the federal judiciary’s supremacy over states that undermine their authority, then hand those states the power to ban abortion whenever, wherever, and however they please.

[…]

Previously, the big stumbling block for the conservative justices was the question of who to sue; in their shadow docket decision, the justices sounded uncertain about whether abortion providers can sue state judges and clerks to halt S.B. 8 in its tracks. Under a doctrine known as Ex parte Young, plaintiffs can sue government officials tasked with enforcing a law, though it’s unclear whether judges qualify. On Monday, Kavanaugh seemed to propose a compromise: close the “loophole” that Texas has “exploited” by allowing providers to sue clerks but not judges. The case would then go back down to the district court, who could bar Texas clerks from docketing S.B. 8 cases, thereby defanging the law. As a result, the Justice Department’s lawsuit would become irrelevant, because abortion providers could protect their own interests in federal court.

The best part of this compromise, to the conservatives, is that it could become irrelevant to abortion within months. On Dec. 1, the court will hear arguments in Dobbs, which asks them to overrule Roe v. Wade. If the majority accepts this invitation, Texas won’t need to worry about S.B. 8 anymore; it has already passed a “trigger law” that will automatically ban abortion if Roe falls. At the same time, blue states will not be able to deploy S.B. 8–style schemes against disfavored rights like the Second Amendment. We may remember S.B. 8 not as the start of a new era in state supremacy over constitutional rights, but as a last gasp of defiance before the Supreme Court plunged us into a post-Roe world.

So yeah, keep the bigger picture in mind. Reform Austin, Daily Kos, TPM, and the Chron have more.

Of course Texas sues over federal vaccination mandates

On brand. Always on brand.

Attorney General Ken Paxton, on behalf of the state, sued the Biden administration on Friday over its coronavirus vaccine mandate for federal contractors.

The federal requirement, which is set to take effect Dec. 8, calls on all federal workers and contractors to be vaccinated against COVID-19. The Texas lawsuit comes after similar suits filed by Florida and Georgia, along with several other states.

“The Biden Administration has repeatedly expressed its disdain for Americans who choose not to get a vaccine, and it has committed repeated and abusive federal overreach to force upon Americans something they do not want,” Paxton said in a statement. “The federal government does not have the ability to strip individuals of their choice to get a vaccine or not. If the President thinks his patience is wearing thin, he is clearly underestimating the lack of patience from Texans whose rights he is infringing.”

Paxton and fellow Republican Gov. Greg Abbott have been at war with local and federal officials over vaccinate mandates. Earlier this month, Abbott expanded an executive order to block the requirement for any entity in Texas, including health care facilities and private businesses. He previously banned cities, counties, school districts and state agencies from requiring vaccines. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has tweeted that vaccination “should never be forced on anyone by the state or a private employer.”

The lawsuit alleges the Biden administration acted unconstitutionally in drafting the vaccine mandate policy. It also argues that the administration required congressional approval to enforce it.

[…]

On Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday declined to block Maine’s vaccine mandate, though that request came from a group of health care workers who argued their religious liberty rights had been violated because the mandate did not allow for a religious exemption. The highest court has also rejected challenges to vaccine mandates at Indiana University and in a New York City school system.

I took a quick look around Twitter at the national and constitutional lawyers that I follow who often weigh in on this sort of thing, and as of Saturday night none of them had said anything about this. Maybe they all have better things to do with their time, and maybe they think this isn’t worth commenting on. I don’t know. But my sense is that this is mostly a for-show lawsuit, to impress the ravening hordes, and is unlikely to get anywhere. I could be wrong. The one thing I will note is that there are already a lot of employer mandates out there, and they are both getting people vaccinated and making more people comfortable with the idea. So whatever does happen, it may not matter all that much anyway.

The SCOTUS hearing on SB8 is today

I have no idea what to expect.

The U.S. Supreme Court will take up on Monday the highest-profile legal challenges to Texas’ new abortion law. The Supreme Court previously declined to act on the near-total abortion ban, making next week’s proceedings the first time the high court is stepping in on lawsuits seeking to stop it.

The court will consider two suits against the law, commonly referred to as Senate Bill 8, which blocks abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. One is waged by the federal government, the other by a group of abortion providers and advocates.

The Supreme Court’s review will focus on how SB 8 is enforced, not abortion rights themselves. It’s hard to predict what the court could decide, but its ruling will likely determine the future of abortion care in Texas and shape the legal battles to come.

See here for the more in depth look at the legal questions; the Trib story is a recap of where are are now. Like I said, I have no idea what to expect. There are too many members of this court that cannot be trusted. What they do with this case will tell us how deep that goes.

Redistricting lawsuit #2 filed

This one focuses on just the Congressional map.

An organization affiliated with Eric Holder, who was attorney general in the Obama administration, has filed a federal lawsuit seeking to overturn the state’s GOP-drawn redistricting map for Congress on behalf of a Latino rights group and 13 Texas voters.

Filed Monday in an Austin federal court, the lawsuit claims mapmakers in the Texas Legislature improperly drew political districts in Senate Bill 6 that increased the power of white voters even though 95% of the state’s growth last decade was fueled by people of color.

That population growth made Texas the only state to gain two congressional seats after the 2020 census.

“Yet Senate Bill 6 appropriates those additional districts — and more — for white Texans,” the lawsuit argued. “Senate Bill 6 does so by packing and cracking communities of color along racial lines to ensure that those groups’ growing populations will not translate to increased political influence.”

Holder, chairman of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, said the congressional districts drawn by Republican lawmakers and signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott violate the Voting Rights Act.

[…]

The new lawsuit, filed Monday on behalf of Voto Latino and 13 voters, asks U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman to overturn the congressional districts and order a new map to be drawn that:

• Adds two majority Latino districts in South and West Texas, from the border region north to Bexar County and south to the Gulf of Mexico.

• Improves the voting strength of Latinos in Congressional District 23, which stretches along the border with Mexico from San Antonio to just east of El Paso.

• Adds a majority Latino or majority Black-Latino district in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

• Creates another majority Latino or majority Black-Latino district in the Houston area.

The lawsuit also complained that Congressional District 35, which stretches from Austin to San Antonio along a narrow strip of Interstate 35, improperly combines far-flung Latino communities into a district with a Latino voting-age population of just under 48%.

A statement from Voto Latino is here, and a copy of the lawsuit is here. The National Redistricting Action Fund, a non-profit affiliate of the NDRC, did the filing. As noted, there is a separate lawsuit filed by MALDEF that challenges the legislative and SBOE maps in addition to the Congressional map. I assume that the NRDC and NRAF focused on the Congressional map because the NDRC’s mission is more of a national one. You know the drill here – the plaintiffs will have tons of evidence on their side, but unless there’s a new federal law to address this, SCOTUS ain’t gonna care. There’s also a chance this could delay the 2022 primaries, though again I would not bet on it. We’ll see what happens. Spectrum News has more.

The Hollywood (mostly non-) response to SB8

Of interest.

In May 2021, Texas governor Greg Abbott signed into law SB8, also known as the Texas Heartbeat Act. It’s the latest, and most contested, challenge to the 1973 Supreme Court decision made in Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion in the United States. Since Abbott’s adoption of the law, which allows any private citizen to sue someone who performs or aids and abets an abortion once “cardiac activity” can be detected, the current Supreme Court has denied a motion to block the act from going into effect; the White House is reportedly preparing to sue Texas; Abbott has signed a Senate bill that requires physicians providing abortion-inducing drugs up to seven weeks into a pregnancy to report such doings at the risk of possible jail time; and everyone from HBO’s Last Week Tonight With John Oliver to The Satanic Temple has argued against the law.

But Hollywood has been relatively quiet on the matter. While the Texas law inspired some outcry from names like The Wire’s David Simon, Boyhood’s Patricia Arquette, and her sister, Ratched’s Rosanna Arquette, as well as scattered refusals to film in the state, the response hasn’t been nearly as urgent as it was in 2019, when Georgia had its own “fetal heartbeat” bill.

Back then, Disney CEO Bob Iger told Reuters that if that bill became law, it would be “very difficult” to produce films and TV series there. “I rather doubt we will,” he added. When asked about it during that summer’s Television Critics Association press tour, Mark Pedowitz—president of the CW, a channel that’s a subsidiary of WarnerMedia and CBS Entertainment Group and that has a history of airing shows filmed in Georgia—was similarly responsive. “Anybody who interferes with people’s right to make medical choices, I am solely against,” he said. “If the law is passed, I am certain we’ll have discussions with both studios about what to do and what not to do in terms of where Georgia sits.”

Why, then, has the Texas bill not catalyzed the same level of fervor? Simple: “Texas is not a production hub on par with Georgia,” television producer and writer Amy Berg says via email.

Berg, who was interviewed by Vanity Fair in 2019 about her decision to call for a boycott then—and, judging from her Twitter feed, is no fan of the Texas law either—continues that “even Louisiana and New Mexico have traditionally been more film-friendly. Perhaps that’s why boycotting Texas isn’t something that comes to mind immediately as a vehicle for expressing outrage or inducing meaningful change.”

There’s more to it than that, and as with Stacey Abrams’ plea for businesses to not boycott Georgia following the passage of its recent voter suppression law, there are concerns that any such action would just hurt small businesses and people without power, while being welcomed by the state’s Republican leaders who’d be happy to be in opposition to Hollywood types. You can feel however you want to about this, but I think we can all agree that this is a complex question and that people can approach it in good faith from different angles.

SCOTUS will hear SB8 appeals

Both of them, on November 1. The law remains annoyingly in effect until then.

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to fast-track two Texas cases involving the state’s near-total ban on abortion, but refused to halt the law from being enforced.

The high court has scheduled oral arguments for Nov. 1.

The court will take up the cases brought forward by abortion providers and the U.S. Department of Justice against the ban, according to a court opinion from Justice Sonia Sotomayor on Friday. It will review the procedural merits of both cases, rather than the constitutionality of abortion, while enforcement of Senate Bill 8 remains in effect.

In her opinion, Sotomayor offered a partial dissent of the Supreme Court’s decision to keep the law in place while the court deliberates over the two cases.

“By delaying any remedy, the Court enables continued and irreparable harm to women seeking abortion care and providers of such care in Texas—exactly as S. B. 8’s architects intended,” Sotomayor wrote.

The court’s decision to expedite its involvement was a rare move, brought upon by a law that has garnered national attention because of its extensive limits on abortions and its particular mechanisms of enforcement: not by state officials but by private citizens who are empowered to sue those who may help someone receive an abortion after fetal cardiac activity is detected.

“The last time [the Supreme Court] moved this quickly was Bush v. Gore,” said Josh Blackman, a law professor at South Texas College of Law Houston whose expertise includes constitutional law.

[…]

Normally, the Supreme Court considers getting involved in a case only after an appeals court has had a chance to make a decision on it. But abortion providers filed a request called a “certiorari before judgment,” a rarely used procedure in which the high court immediately reviews a district court’s ruling without waiting on an appellate court to take action.

One of the abortion providers included in the challenge is Whole Woman’s Health, a provider with four clinics in Texas. Amy Hagstrom Miller, president and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, said Friday’s decision will mean Texans will continue to be denied safe and accessible abortion care.

“The legal limbo is excruciating for both patients and our clinic staff,” Miller said in a statement. “Lack of access to safe abortion care is harming our families and communities and will have lasting effects on Texas for decades to come.”

See here. here, here, and here for some background. The 19th adds some details.

The court will not specifically examine the constitutionality of a six-week ban. Rather, the justices will be looking at the legality of Texas’ private enforcement setup, as well as whether the Justice Department has the right to challenge the law. But regardless of the specific questions at play, a decision in favor of Texas could still signal to other anti-abortion lawmakers that a ban like Texas’ is a viable path to pursue.

The law has virtually eliminated access to the procedure in Texas. Many clinics have stopped providing abortions altogether. Those who can afford the journey and are past six weeks of pregnancy are seeking abortions in surrounding states, including Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arkansas and Kansas. But many others — particularly those without the time off, financial resources or child care to travel out of state — may end up carrying unwanted pregnancies to term.

Abortions are now virtually unavailable for minors in Texas, who are required to either get parental consent or go through a special judicial approval process that makes it very difficult to meet the six-week deadline. Undocumented teens who are seeking abortions have been sent to immigration facilities in other states, because most of them already past six weeks when they discover they are pregnant.

And Slate tries to read some tea leaves.

The plaintiffs got half a loaf on Friday, or maybe less. SCOTUS will hear both cases, holding oral arguments in just 10 days. (With these orders, the court acted at breakneck speed, which is nearly unprecedented in modern times; the closest analogue is Bush v. Gore.) But SCOTUS restricted the scope of its review in a curious and confusing way. The court will not consider the Justice Department’s request to rule on the merits of S.B. 8. Instead, it will ask only whether the United States may sue the state of Texas, as well as all “state officials” and “private parties,” to “prohibit S.B. 8 from being enforced.” The abortion providers’ application likewise focuses on procedural issues, asking the court to decide “whether a state can insulate from federal-court review a law that prohibits the exercise of a constitutional right” by delegating enforcement to the public.

Neither of these questions squarely presents the constitutionality of a six-week abortion ban to the Supreme Court. The justices could interpret the abortion providers’ request as an invitation to consider the merits by declaring that the court must decide whether abortion is “a constitutional right” before determining “whether a state can insulate” S.B. 8 from review. (If there’s no right to abortion, there’s no clear constitutional flaw in S.B. 8.) But that seems unlikely; after all, the justices took pains to avoid confronting this question in the Justice Department’s case, where it is directly presented. They also ignored Texas’ request to recast these cases as a direct challenge to Roe. It appears, rather, that the court is committed to deciding only whether private plaintiffs or the federal government can sue a state when it makes an end run around the Constitution, as Texas did with S.B. 8.

Several aspects of the court’s orders suggest that at least one justice has not made up their mind about this question. If a majority believed Texas’ scheme is permissible and federal courts cannot stop it, why would it rush to hear these cases? It could have let them languish on the shadow docket, or decline to intervene at this early stage, just as it did last time around. Conversely, if a majority believed Texas’ scheme is impermissible and federal courts can stop it, why would it let S.B. 8 remain in effect? Why not halt the law while the court prepares a formal ruling?

Friday’s orders thus read like a compromise. But for whom? Chief Justice John Roberts and the three liberals have already said they want to pause the law. No one seriously argues that the overtly anti-Roe justices—Clarence Thomas, Sam Alito, or Neil Gorsuch—would lift a finger to stop S.B. 8. That leaves Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett, who probably want to overturn Roe but may want to move slower than their hard-right colleagues. It appears either Kavanaugh, Barrett, or both aren’t yet sure which way they’ll vote in the Texas litigation. Now they’ve preserved every option.

I don’t have anything to add to that. Hold your breath and hope for the best.

Texas takes its shot at Roe v Wade

We were always headed in this direction. It was just a matter of when we were going to get there.

Texas on Thursday asked the U.S. Supreme Court to keep in place a law that imposes a near-total ban on abortion and urged the justices that if they quickly take up a legal challenge brought by President Joe Biden’s administration they should overturn the landmark ruling that legalized the procedure nationwide.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in a legal filing responded to the U.S. Justice Department’s request that the Supreme Court quickly block the Republican-backed state law while litigation over its legality goes forward.

The Justice Department on Monday suggested that the justices could bypass the lower courts already considering the matter and hear arguments in the case themselves. Paxton’s filing said that if the justices do that, they should overturn Supreme Court precedents including Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that recognized a woman’s right under the U.S. Constitution to terminate a pregnancy.

“Properly understood, the Constitution does not protect a right to elective abortion,” Paxton’s filing said, adding that the state law furthers “Texas’s interest in protecting unborn life, which exists from the outset of pregnancy.”

[…]

Paxton on Thursday also asked the Supreme Court to reject a bid by the abortion providers to have the justices immediately hear their case.

See here, here, and here for some background. The forced-birth fanatics on SCOTUS already have an opportunity to overturn or functionally eviscerate Roe in December with that Mississippi case, so this may at least tell us how screwed we all are. Just remember all this in 2022 when we get to vote out some of the zealots that got us here, starting with our felonious Attorney General. The Trib and CNBC have more.

Justice Department officially asks SCOTUS to halt SB8

The stakes are clear. Now we get to see if SCOTUS has any respect for the law.

The U.S. Supreme Court is considering whether to take up abortion providers’ challenge to Texas’ near-total abortion ban sooner than the high court usually would hear arguments.

While the clinics’ lawsuit has not been heard by a federal appellate court, the Supreme Court agreed Monday afternoon to expedite the request from several clinics and providers that the high court instead consider the case. Texas must respond by noon Thursday.

The move came just hours after the Biden administration — in a separate challenge to Texas’ Senate Bill 8 — asked the high court to halt the near-total abortion ban while the Justice Department’s legal challenge to the new restrictions goes through the courts.

In its request filed Monday, the Justice Department argued that allowing the law to stand would “perpetuate the ongoing irreparable injury to the thousands of Texas women who are being denied their constitutional rights,” it added. The Supreme Court previously declined to block the law from taking effect in a separate lawsuit, though it did not weigh in on Senate Bill 8’s constitutionality.

The U.S. Justice Department’s request comes after a series of federal court decisions flip-flopped on whether the law should remain in effect as its constitutionality is being challenged.

[…]

Texas, the Justice Department argued in its filing, crafted an “unprecedented” structure to thwart the courts. Senate Bill 8, which bans abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, before many people know they are pregnant, has made abortion “effectively unavailable” after that time period, according to the Justice Department.

“Texas has, in short, successfully nullified this Court’s decisions within its borders,” the Justice Department wrote.

You can see the Justice Department filing here. The Justice Department had announced their intention to appeal late last week, so this was the actual filing and the request for relief from the ridiculous and lawless Fifth Circuit. The original lawsuit filed by the providers was in July, and we know what happened after that. Not really much to add here – even SCOTUS seemed to understand that SB8 had all kinds of questions surrounding it back when they first declined to step in. Now that we have seen the harm, not to mention the damage SCOTUS has done to its own standing, you’d think they would understand the need to do the normal thing and put that highly questionable law on the shelf while the courts do their thing. They have one chance to be seen as legitimate. I hope they take it. The Chron has more.

Down to the wire for Congressional redistricting

Time is running out in this session. Of course, there’s always the next session shudder.

A redraw of the state’s congressional map to include a decade of population growth could be headed to last-minute backdoor negotiations after the Texas House made a series of changes to the Senate’s proposed boundaries.

The House approved the congressional map on a 79-56 vote early Sunday, leaving in place district configurations that largely protect incumbents while denying Hispanics control of either of the two additional seats the state earned based on the 4 million new residents it gained, according to 2020 census results. Half of the new residents were Hispanic.

But the House late Saturday tweaked the Senate-approved map so that two Black Democratic members of Congress in the Houston area would not be pitted against each other. The chamber also amended the map to just barely restore the Hispanic-majority electorate of a Central Texas district stretching from Austin to San Antonio that the Senate plan had shrunk.

Early Sunday morning, the Senate rejected those changes and requested what’s known as a conference committee, made up of members of both chambers, to hash out the differences. That deal would require an additional vote by each chamber before this third special session ends Tuesday.

[…]

Throughout the evening, Democrats warned of “blatant legal defects” that undermine the electoral strength of voters of color in choosing their representatives in Washington, D.C. At times offering vague reasoning for their opposition, the House’s Republican majority repeatedly rejected their bids to rework the map and create additional districts in which voters of color could control elections.

A failed proposal to create such a district for Hispanics in western Dallas County grew particularly contentious as state Rep. Jacey Jetton, R-Richmond, spoke against the proposal, noting it would reduce the Hispanic population in a neighboring Democratic district.

In response, state Rep. Rafael Anchía, the Dallas Democrat who had offered the proposal, questioned why Republicans would object to the new district while signing off on a configuration that instead draws some of those Hispanics into a massive rural district with almost surgical precision.

Under the plan Republicans approved, the 6th Congressional District — which stretches across seven mostly white rural counties to the south of Dallas — extends a finger northward into Dallas County to capture Hispanic neighborhoods. That engineering simultaneously boosts white voters’ control of the district while stranding Hispanic voters who in the past were concentrated enough to influence election outcomes.

“You really have to try hard to deny Latinos in North Texas the ability to select that candidate of their choice, but that’s what’s baked in this plan,” Anchía said.

[…]

In reconfiguring the Austin-area districts, the Senate had brought the share of Hispanic eligible voters in the 35th Congressional District down from 52.6% to 48%. House Republicans voted to give Hispanic voters a marginal majority by bringing them up to 50.5% of eligible voters in the district, which is currently represented by longtime Democratic U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett.

In that same amendment, Republicans also upped the percentage of Hispanic eligible voters to exactly 50% in CD-27, a district that runs from the Gulf Coast up to Central Texas. But the seat would likely remain under Republican control, giving Donald Trump a hypothetical 20.5-percentage-point margin of victory at 2020 levels of support. The district is currently represented by Republican Michael Cloud of Victoria.

Democrats voted against those changes because they also served to further boost Republican performance in neighboring CD-15, which is anchored in Hidalgo County. The Senate reconfigured that district to flip it from one that Joe Biden narrowly carried to one that Trump would’ve won by 2.6 percentage points. Under the House’s changes, Trump’s margin of victory increases to 4.6 percentage points.

The CD-15 incumbent, U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, has said he would move to run for reelection in the reconfigured CD-34, which was unexpectedly close in 2020 but was shored up as a safe Democratic seat. But it appears he will be able to stay put, thanks to a Democratic amendment passed Saturday that would draw his residence into CD-34.

Save for exceptions like CD-15, the GOP appeared to prioritize incumbent protection over aggressively running up the party’s numbers in the congressional delegation. But the map does in fact give Republicans a bigger edge, increasing from 22 to 25 the number of districts that would have voted for Donald Trump in 2020. The state’s current delegation consists of 23 Republicans and 13 Democrats.

See here and here for the background. I expect that the conference committee will produce a final map that will get approved in time, which would at least have the benefit of lessening the need for yet another special session. That’s all up to Greg Abbott of course, and if there’s some other dumbass wingnut thing he wants to do to fake looking tough for Republican primary voters, he can do it. Having Congressional maps in place would mean he doesn’t have to, for whatever that’s worth. This map is trash, but we know the courts will rubber stamp it, so the Republicans have no need to care. Pass it and get out of town, it’s the best we can hope for.

The Lege is now 3/4 done with redistricting

All but the Congressional maps are done. They’re just plowing through it.

The Texas Legislature is nearing the end of its work to incorporate a decade’s worth of population growth into new political maps — pressing forward with efforts to cement GOP dominance of the statehouse and deny voters of color a greater say in who gets elected.

In the final stretch of a 30-day special legislative session, the Republican majorities in the House and Senate on Friday almost simultaneously signed off on new political maps for the opposite chamber, sending them to Gov. Greg Abbott, also a Republican, for his signature. The votes were largely procedural as neither chamber made any changes. It’s customary for each chamber to defer to the other in drawing up maps for its own members, but both must give them a vote.

By a vote of 81-60, the House granted approval to a Senate map that would draw safe seats for Republican incumbents who were facing competitive races as their districts diversified over the last 10 years.

The Senate gave an 18-13 vote to a House map that would fortify the Republican majority of the 150 districts, bolstering those that had grown competitive over the last decade and devising new battleground districts.

The House also signed off on a new map for the Republican-controlled State Board of Education, which sets standards for Texas public schools. Still left on the docket is a House vote on a redraw of the state’s congressional map that would largely protect incumbents in Congress while reducing the number of districts in which Black and Hispanic residents make up the majority of eligible voters. That vote is expected Saturday.

If adopted, the maps could remain in place for the next 10 years, though it’s all but certain that they will face legal challenges that could result in changes.

[…]

Sixteen Republican incumbents will be drawn into safe districts for reelection, while two Senate seats being vacated by Republicans would almost certainly go to new GOP candidates over Democrats next year based on the percentage of voters in the district who voted for Donald Trump over Joe Biden in last year’s presidential race.

Democrats would also likely lose Senate District 10 in North Texas, represented by Sen. Beverly Powell of Fort Worth. That would shift the Senate’s partisan makeup from the current 18 Republicans and 13 Democrats to 19 Republicans and 12 Democrats under the proposed map.

Voters of color in the district, which sits entirely in Tarrant County, have banded together with white voters over the last decade to elect their candidates of choice. Its eligible voters are 21% Black, 20% Hispanic and 54% white.

But under the proposed map, SD 10’s Black and Hispanic populations are split into two other districts with majority-white electorates.

The voters who remain in the newly drawn District 10 would also see major changes. Black and Hispanic voters in urban areas of south Fort Worth would be lumped in with seven rural counties to the south and west that would drive up the district’s population of white eligible voters to 62% while diminishing its population of voters of color.

Tarrant County House Democrats warned that federal courts had ruled that a similar attempt to redraw the district last decade was discriminatory. They offered multiple amendments to keep District 10 entirely in the county.

[…]

The House’s new map also pulls back on Hispanic and Black voters’ potential influence in electing their representatives.

The map brings the number of districts in which Hispanics make up the majority of eligible voters down from 33 to 30. The number of districts with Black residents as the majority of eligible voters would go from seven to six. Meanwhile, the number of districts with a white majority among eligible voters would increase from 83 to 89.

The map moved through the Senate chamber without any discussion, save for an earlier objection from state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., a Democrat from the Rio Grande Valley, during a Senate Redistricting Committee meeting Friday morning.

Lucio denounced a revision to the map that would carve up predominantly Hispanic communities in the Rio Grande Valley in service of creating a new competitive House district in the typically blue region. The change, forced by a member who does not represent the affected districts, blindsided the House members from the area.

“Members, this is my fourth redistricting session,” Lucio told other members of the committee. “In my time in the Legislature, I have never seen such blatant disregard for the process.”

Meanwhile, Republicans shot down Democratic proposals to create new opportunities for Hispanic or Black Texans to control elections.

State Rep. Todd Hunter, the Corpus Christi Republican serving as the House’s chief map-drawer, has previously argued the map “achieves fair representation for the citizens of Texas” while complying with federal law.

The redraw will ultimately aid Republicans’ ability to control the chamber for years to come.

The House map creates 85 districts that would have favored Trump at 2020 levels of support and 65 that would have voted for Biden. The current partisan breakdown of the House is 83 Republicans and 67 Democrats, though Trump only won 76 of the current districts in 2020.

See here and here for some background. The speed with which these maps have been approved is I believe one part there being basically no changes proposed in the other chamber, and one part a sense of urgency on the legislators’ part to get the hell out of town already. I can hardly blame them for that, but in the end it’s up to Greg Abbott.

On the subject of litigation over these maps, on claims of racial discrimination and voting rights violations, I remain pessimistic about the likelihood of any redress from the courts. Not because I think the maps are fair and accurately reflect the population, but because I have no expectation that this Supreme Court will countenance any voting rights claims. We could still do something about that at a federal level, but until Senators Manchin and Sinema let go of their bizarre obsession with the filibuster as it is currently defined, that ain’t going anywhere.

That said, I am reasonably optimistic about the potential for gains in the State House, if not in 2022 then in the coming years. The Chron story on the passage of these maps is a reminder of why.

The new Texas House map will protect Republican control by shedding Democratic-leaning areas where the party has lost support and moving those to blue districts while shoring up red ones.

That give-and-take is evident in west Harris County where two red districts, represented by Republican state Reps. Mike Schofield of Katy and Lacey Hull of Houston, are redrawn to include red-leaning precincts from Democratic state Rep. Jon Rosenthal’s nearby district; Rosenthal’s district will get blue-leaning areas now represented by the two Republicans.

As the state’s demographics change, however, there are only so many reliably red areas from which to pull. That meant for some districts, the best Republicans could do was make changes to benefit incumbents.

For example, the Energy Corridor district represented by state Rep. Jim Murphy, a Republican who is not seeking re-election, would give up some GOP precincts to Hull. Former President Donald Trump won Murphy’s district by 4 percentage points in 2020, but under the new map, that margin would drop to 2 points.

You’ve seen me make a version of this argument in previous posts. In the House, unlike the other maps, the Republicans were constrained by the county rule, which did not allow them to extend mostly rural districts into urban and suburban counties to dilute their Democratic communities. That forced them to draw a large number of districts with a relatively modest margin for Donald Trump, and the large majority of them are in counties where the trends have been moving strongly in a Democratic direction. Things can certainly change, and any given election can favor one party or the other, but overall that seems like a highly unstable equilibrium for the GOP.

The fourth map is of course the Congressional map. The Senate approved a map a few days ago, and the House committee approved it with no changes, as House Redistricting Chair Todd Hunter insisted that any amendments be made on the House floor. That puts them in position to be done with the entire business by the time the session ends, though I expect there to be a big fight when this map comes up for debate. The proposed map does some truly outlandish things to break up urban counties and communities of color, which I’m sure will draw a ton of heat and more threats of litigation from Dems. I expect them to get the job done, though if there are changes it will have to go back to the Senate for final approval. If it needs to go to a conference committee, that will almost surely require a fourth special session to finish it off. God help us all. Daily Kos has more.

Justice Department goes to SCOTUS over SB8

As expected.

The Biden administration will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to stop enforcement of Texas’ near-total abortion ban, according to a Friday statement from a U.S. Department of Justice spokesperson.

Courts have pingponged back and forth on the law’s enforceability over several weeks. The Justice Department’s move comes after a panel of federal appellate judges ordered late Thursday that the ban will remain in place while its constitutionality is decided.

[…]

“The Supreme Court needs to step in and stop this madness. It’s unconscionable that the Fifth Circuit stayed such a well-reasoned decision that allowed constitutionally protected services to return in Texas,” Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement.

When Texas abortion providers originally made an emergency appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court before the law went into effect, the court denied their request to stop the law’s enforcement in a 5-4 vote.

Abortion advocates remain unsure of what the Supreme Court will do and if it will ultimately uphold the precedent of Roe v. Wade’s landmark decision in a case out of Mississippi that the court will begin hearing Dec. 1.

See here for the previous update. Not much to add here, either SCOTUS does the right thing or we continue to be screwed by a bunch of partisan hacks in robes who will always arrive at their preferred outcome regardless of the facts. What do you think all those references to the Fifth Circuit’s super-duper conservatism are telling us, anyway? And yes, the Fifth Circuit’s opinion here is highly questionable:

Click over to read the rest. The Current has more.

Fifth Circuit does the expected with the SB8 appeal

Was it ever in doubt?

Texas’ near-total abortion ban can continue to be enforced while the law’s constitutionality is decided, a panel of federal appellate judges ordered late Thursday.

The three justices of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals — considered perhaps the most conservative appellate court in the nation — also agreed to hear oral arguments in the underlying lawsuit the Biden administration filed against Texas over the law.

A U.S. district court previously blocked enforcement of the law for two days before the 5th Circuit initially froze the order. The panel of 5th Circuit justices agreed in a 2-1 decision Thursday to let the law remain in effect until it considers the U.S. Department of Justice’s challenge. Judge Carl Stewart dissented.

The decision means the appellate court will take over the legal challenge to Senate Bill 8 that was being overseen by U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman.

Oral arguments before the 5th Circuit have not yet been scheduled, but it could be months before they take place.

[…]

The 5th Circuit already issued an emergency stay in late August to stop district court proceedings and cancel a hearing in another lawsuit challenging Texas’ abortion law. That case was brought on by abortion providers and also overseen by Pitman. The 5th Circuit is set to hear oral arguments in the abortion providers’ case no earlier than December.

The same panel of 5th Circuit judges will consider both cases.

See here, here, and here for the background, and here for a copy of the order. This was what we all expected – I mean, just look at who comprised the panel, if you know who these justices are – but it still sucks. The next logical step is an emergency appeal to SCOTUS, because it’s offensive and ridiculous to continue to allow this travesty of a law to remain in effect. No guarantees there, of course, but at least there’s a chance. This one was never really in question.

Justice Department files its brief with the Fifth Circuit

Good luck. They’re going to need a lot of it.

Right there with them

The Biden administration urged the courts again to step in and suspend a new Texas law that has banned most abortions since early September, as clinics hundreds of miles away remain busy with Texas patients making long journeys to get care.

The latest attempt Monday night comes three days after the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the nation’s most restrictive abortion law after a brief 48-hour window last week in which Texas abortion providers — following a blistering ruling by a lower court — had rushed to bring in patients again.

The days ahead could now be key in determining the immediate future of the law known as Senate Bill 8, including whether there is another attempt to have the U.S. Supreme Court weigh in.

[…]

“If Texas’s scheme is permissible, no constitutional right is safe from state-sanctioned sabotage of this kind,” the Justice Department told the appeals court.

In wording that seemed to be a message to the Supreme Court, the Justice Department raised the specter that if allowed to stand, the legal structure created in enacting the law could be used to circumvent even the Supreme Court’s rulings in 2008 and 2010 on gun rights and campaign financing.

It is not clear when the 5th Circuit court will decide whether to extend what is currently a temporary order allowing the Texas law to stand.

See here and here for the background. Yesterday was the deadline for the briefs to be filed for the Fifth Court to consider whether to allow the restraining order put in place by Judge Pitman to remain or to continue to stay it and thus allow the extremely unconstitutional SB8 to be enforceable. You know my opinion of the Fifth Circuit. I figure they only bothered to ask for briefs so they’d know how to customize their order allowing SB8 to stay in place. We have to go through the motions regardless. Whatever they do, this will go to SCOTUS next. In the meantime, maybe the court should consider and address the state’s true motives, for then at least we might have some clarity. Axios has more.

For now, some Texas women can travel to other states for abortions

For now.

Right there with them

The new Texas abortion ban has spurred a flood of women traveling sometimes hundreds of miles to access the procedure in neighboring states.

The law, which prohibits abortion after six weeks of pregnancy and calls for lets private citizens to enforce it by filing lawsuits, has been in effect for just over a month. But already, clinics in Oklahoma, Louisiana, Colorado and New Mexico have said they’re being inundated with Texas patients.

“We haven’t seen numbers like this ever,” Dr. Rebecca Cohen, a Denver OB/GYN, told CBS News last month.

“An abortion can be painful, people can hurt,” Cohen said of the emotional toll. “But this is different. We are seeing patients who are traumatized when they arrive.”

In Louisiana, officials at Hope Medical Group for Women in Shreveport said they went from seeing no more than 20 percent of their patients from Texas to now over 50 percent. Some patients are driving from as far as McAllen in the Rio Grande Valley.

[…]

The Guttmacher Institute, which supports for abortion rights, estimates that Texans are now traveling an average of 14 times farther to get the procedure. In states such as Louisiana, they then have to go through mandatory waiting periods.

The law is likely to disproportionately impact women of color, many of whom lack the time and money needed to get out of state.

In affidavits last month, abortion providers said Texas patients were undergoing traumatic and sometimes daunting trips to neighboring states. One child who was allegedly raped by a relative traveled with her guardian from Galveston to Oklahoma to get an abortion, and another woman was reportedly selling some of her belongings to pay for the trip to an out-of-state abortion clinic, according to the filings, which are part of a pending federal lawsuit over the law.

I guess it’s a minor consolation that some people are still able to exercise their constitutional right, but not everyone can, and those who are able to are now massively inconvenienced and having to pay a lot more money for the privilege. States like Louisiana and Oklahoma have their own abortion restrictions, like waiting periods, so even those who can travel to get the care they need and deserve have to make an ordeal of it. And of course, all this is available only until Oklahoma and Louisiana pass their own version of SB8, which they are apparently free to do now. As writers like Dahlia Lithwick have observed, SCOTUS does not need to write the words “Roe v Wade is overturned” in an opinion in order to overturn Roe v Wade. It’s already happened here, and we’re just the beginning. We need to be voting a lot of people out of office for this if we ever want to get our rights back.

We wait until at least Tuesday for a chance at justice with SB8

In case you missed it.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals late Friday temporarily allowed Texas’ near-total abortion ban — the strictest in the nation — to again be enforced after freezing a federal judge’s temporary block of the law. The state appealed the order just two days after it was issued.

A panel of 5th Circuit justices restored enforcement of the law hours after Texas asked the court to step into a lawsuit that the U.S. Justice Department filed against the state. Enforcement of the law will be allowed to continue until at least Tuesday, when a response from the Justice Department is due. After the court considers arguments from both sides, the court can decide whether to continue allowing enforcement of the law or allow a lower court to once again temporarily block it.

The court would not be determining the overall case’s outcome at this point — but it would decide whether the law could continue to stand while court proceedings unfold.

[…]

The abortion law allows for retroactive enforcement — meaning those who helped someone get an abortion while the law was blocked for two days can now be sued.

A day after Pitman’s order, at least one major provider in the state — Whole Woman’s Health — had quickly begun performing abortions that Texas lawmakers sought to outlaw. It appears the clinics and doctors who performed abortions outlawed by the statute would now be vulnerable to lawsuits after Friday’s order.

“We do understand that it does open us up to some risk. We have to wait and see,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, CEO of Whole Woman’s Health. “We have a lot of lawyers on speed dial these days.”

Miller said her organization and physicians in her clinics are on edge.

“But not for a second do we question that it was the right thing to do,” she said. “People need our help, and they shouldn’t be put through this.”

The organization will comply with the law once again, she said. Already several appointments had been made for Monday, so clinics will have to cancel them.

“Unfortunately, there’s going to be a lot of phone calls we have to make,” she said.

See here for the previous entry, which had an update at the end for the Fifth Circuit action. The Justice Department may wait for a ruling from the Fifth Circuit before it appeals (because we all know what the lawless Fifth Circuit is going to do) to SCOTUS, or it may just file an emergency petition with SCOTUS and hope for a faster ruling. SCOTUS has a Mississippi abortion case on its docket this term, so one way or another it’s going to be dealing with the larger issues. It’s just a question of whether they want to allow for a de facto overturning of Roe v Wade before they rule in that case or not. Maybe take a closer look a those approval numbers, guys.

In the meantime, there’s a real danger that it won’t much matter anyway what happens.

Abortion providers have said they are hoping they get more permanent relief from the U.S. Supreme Court.

The nation’s highest court was asked to intervene when the law was first going into effect, but justices declined. Since the law has been in effect, abortion providers have petitioned the court, again. So far, the court has not responded.

Abortion providers have said one of the longer-term concerns is what will happen to their clinics if the law continues to stay in effect. Hagstrom Miller said providers are facing serious financial strains as they turn away the majority of people seeking an abortion.

She said access to abortion in the state could be permanently altered if the law isn’t blocked as the legal challenges move through the courts.

“If clinics close because SB 8 is enforced long enough,” Hagstrom Miller said, “the damage will be done, even if it’s eventually struck down.”

Abortion providers have been begging for relief from this ludicrously unconstitutional law, to no avail so far. The danger that they’ll be forced out of business for financial reasons while they wait is real, and is exactly what happened with the TRAP law that was struck down in a few years ago. Fully half of all clinics went under in the interim, and I guarantee you that was no accident. If it happens again, we may never recover. And again, that was the plan all along.

State appeals SB8 restraining order to Fifth Circuit

I’m sure they expect the usual room service from the appeals court. It’s just a matter of how quickly they can get it.

Texas asked a federal appeals court Friday to step in “as soon as possible” to restore the state’s near-total abortion ban.

The state filed its emergency request for an appeal two days after U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman temporarily blocked the new abortion law in response to a lawsuit brought by the Biden administration. The state quickly filed a notice of its intent to appeal after Pitman’s order on Wednesday night.

In Friday’s request, state attorneys argue that Pitman’s order to temporarily block the law at the United States’ request “violates the separation of powers at every turn.” They ask the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals — considered to be perhaps the nation’s most conservative appellate court — to stop Pitman’s order.

State attorneys argued the U.S. overstepped by suing the state since it will never be subject to one of the lawsuits allowed by the law and since the state does not enforce the law directly.

“This Court’s immediate intervention is necessary to vindicate Texas’s sovereign interest in preventing a single federal district court from superintending every Texas court,” attorneys wrote in Friday’s request.

[…]

“I think there is a very good chance the court grants a stay [to block Pitman’s order],” Josh Blackman, a constitutional law professor at South Texas College of Law Houston, said in an email. He said Pitman already faced many barriers to issuing his temporary order.

“Congress never authorized the United States to sue a state in this context,” Blackman explained. “And there is no history of previous suits by the federal government against an allegedly unconstitutional law. The federal government lacks a ‘cause of action’ to sue Texas.”

See here for the background. I dunno, I figure if a law can be passed to take away a right in such a way that it’s basically impossible to challenge it in court, then it wasn’t actually a right to begin with. And if a state can take away a federal right like that, it sure seems like a design flaw in the system. I don’t expect the Fifth Circuit to give a damn about that, but someone had to say it. By the way, even with this initial court ruling, the right that was taken away still hasn’t really been restored, and who knows when it might be. Like I said, if that can happen to someone’s rights, then was there ever really such a thing as “rights”?

UPDATE: Room service indeed.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit granted a temporary emergency stay in the United States v. Texas, the federal government’s suit against the state. As a result of the 5th Circuit’s ruling, a preliminary injunction — which halted the SB 8 from being enforced — no longer stands, and the vast majority of all abortions are once again banned in Texas.

The 5th Circuit has given the federal Justice Department until 5 p.m. CT on Tuesday to respond to Friday night’s action. The Justice Department will need to prepare its argument to counter Texas’ request that such a stay be a permanent one.

When I said that the Fifth Circuit already had an order printed and ready to go staying Judge Pitman’s order? I was only half-joking. Next, we’ll get to see if SCOTUS meant what they said about “procedurally proper challenges” maybe being more successful. The Chron has more.

Senate passes Congressional map

Start the litigation countdown. Yes, I know, this still has to pass the House, but still.

The Texas Senate approved a map Friday that would largely protect incumbents in Congress while reducing the number of districts in which Black and Hispanic residents make up the majority of eligible voters — stymieing the growth of the state’s Democratic Party representation in Washington, D.C.

The congressional map is focused more on protecting incumbents than on growing the power of the dominant Republican Party in the state by flipping districts from blue to red. But the map, proposed by GOP state Sen. Joan Huffman of Houston, helps Republicans by increasing the number of districts that would have voted for Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election and decreasing those that would have gone for Joe Biden.

In anticipation of federal challenges to the map, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a Republican who presides over the Senate, said in a statement Friday that the proposal approved by the chamber was “legal and fair” and represented a “commitment to making sure every Texan’s voice is heard in Washington, D.C.”

[…]

State Sen. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, proposed a map that would create three additional districts where Hispanics made up the majority, bringing the number of those districts to 10.

But Republicans rejected the proposal, with Huffman saying the amendment had been drafted less than 24 hours before the Senate’s vote on the maps and would result in a “detailed and painstaking racial gerrymander” in North Texas to draw a new Hispanic-majority district in the same area as the current Congressional District 33, represented by U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth.

Gutierrez accused Republicans of racially discriminating against voters of color.

“How else do we describe a situation where Texas gains new political power because of the physical presence of millions of Black, Brown, and Asian bodies, and yet the political establishment does not give those very Texans the ability to elect more candidates to represent them?” he said in a statement. “It is an insult to the foundations of our democracy.”

Under the proposed maps, voters of color may end up with less representation in the congressional delegation. The new map drops the number of districts in which Hispanics make up a majority of eligible voters from eight to seven, and the districts in which Black Texans make up a majority of eligible voters from one to zero.

The number of districts where whites make up a majority of eligible voters goes up to 23 although the state’s white population — which increased by just 187,252 — was swamped by the growth of people of color.

See here for more on the initial map, which looks to be largely the same as the final map. Which we know is totally fair and representative because Dan Patrick says it is. The House will likely make some changes, but it seems unlikely to be substantively different. I’ll say this much, they’ve given Harris County Democrats a new district to target, and I feel confident that any Republican who wins the new CD38 is never going to get a free pass. I’ll be interested to see who files for this on the Democratic side.

As for the coming litigation, the arguments are clear, it’s just a matter of what SCOTUS will allow in the post-Voting Rights Act world that it wants. I will say again, it’s not too late for a new Voting Rights Act to be passed. We’re going to need an upgrade in the US Senate to make that happen, I fear.

Speaking of litigation, I would love to know what the status of the Gutierrez/Eckhardt lawsuit is. That had to do with the legislative maps, not the Congressional map, but given the speed with which those maps are moving along, we will be reaching a point of no return soon. Let’s at least have a hearing on this one before events make it moot, OK?

UPDATE: I should have spent more time looking at the District Viewer, because I have just now realized that this map moves me out of CD18, where I’ve been for 30 years, and into CD29. I feel a little weird about that.