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Supreme Court rejects mandamus over Commissioners Court redistricting

The primary will proceed as scheduled, but the issue could be revisited sometime after the 2022 election.

The Texas Supreme Court rejected an effort by Republican commissioners and voters to block Harris County’s recent redistricting plan on Friday, suggesting another challenge still in the works will meet a similar fate.

In their challenge, the petitioners argued that the new maps amounted to illegal Democratic gerrymandering. The new precincts approved by Harris County leaders last year resulted in dramatic shifts that the challengers argued would disenfranchise voters in the upcoming primaries.

But in a narrow ruling, the justices found that they likely couldn’t provide any relief to the challengers because the wheels of the election were already in motion.

“(N)o amount of expedited briefing or judicial expediency at this point can change the fact that the primary election for 2022 is already in its early stages,” their opinion read. “This Court and other Texas courts are duty-bound to respond quickly to urgent cases that warrant expedited proceedings, but even with utmost judicial speed, any relief that we theoretically could provide here would necessarily disrupt the ongoing election process.”

The result is that the new precinct maps will be allowed to stand. The Democratic majority on commissioners court adopted the maps on a 3-2 party line vote in October.

See here and here for the background, and here for a copy of the opinion, which is also embedded in the story. It’s fairly brief and pretty straightforward, so let me summarize:

– The current map violates federal law because of population differences among the four precincts. It was not an option for the court to order that the current map be used while the appeals played out.

– The court ruled that their role in redistricting is limited, and that they did not have nearly enough facts to go on, as many of the plaintiffs’ claims remain in dispute. The burden required to make them step in and halt or change the election, which is already underway, was far too high for them to take action on such a short notice.

– Regarding the (ridiculous) claim about people being disenfranchised because they would have to wait until 2024 to vote when they had been expecting to vote in 2022, the court noted that some number of people will always be in that position when redistricting occurs. The Constitution requires the State Senate (which like Commissioners Court has staggered four-year terms) to have everyone run after redistricting, but there’s no such requirement for Commissioners Courts, which moved to four-year terms by an amendment in 1954. Ordering all four precincts to be on the ballot in 2022 was rejected because of the limited time for anyone who might run in the other precincts to get going. The court also noted that any short-term remedy for Harris County might cause problems with other counties, if people could make similar claims about being disenfranchised.

– Given all that, the court said it had no choice but to reject the writ of mandamus and allow the 2022 election to go forward as planned. The court did not make any claims or judgments about the merits of the plaintiffs’ arguments, and said that if the matter comes back to them after going through the lower courts, they can evaluate them at that time.

So there you have it. There is still the Radack lawsuit out there, but as the story notes it seems extremely unlikely that will succeed at affecting this election based on this ruling. The Cagle/Ramsey lawsuit was dismissed in Harris County district court, so I presume the next step would be for the dismissal, which was made on the grounds that the plaintiffs lacked jurisdiction (this is what the story said, perhaps this should be standing), to be appealed. Success for the plaintiffs would mean sending the case back to a district court, hopefully (for them) to get a hearing and ruling on the merits, which would naturally be appealed by whoever lost. My guess is that this whole process would take a few years if everything proceeds at its normal pace. While the Supreme Court allowed for the possibility of an all-precinct election (under another new map) in 2024, or even a special election presumably before then, I wouldn’t hold my breath on it. Same thing for the Radack lawsuit, which as far as I know has not had an initial hearing yet.

Finally, while this story does not mention it, I wonder if this may also signal the death knell for the two state court redistricting challenges, on the same grounds of not having enough time to do something before people begin voting. That last update suggested the possibility of a trial this week, but I am not aware of any news to that effect. The cases are in Travis County district court, if anyone wants to try to figure that out.

Paxton asks Supreme Court to toss that pesky whistleblower lawsuit

Same argument, different court. Either Ken Paxton can be held accountable, or he gets a free pass to do whatever he wants.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has asked the Texas Supreme Court to toss out a whistleblower lawsuit by four former officials who say they were improperly fired after accusing Paxton of accepting bribes and taking other improper acts.

Paxton told the court that his agency “enjoys … the right to fire its employees — especially employees whose political appointments require they act on behalf of the duly elected Attorney General — at will.”

Paxton also argued that he can’t be sued because the Texas Whistleblower Act was intended to protect government employees from on-the-job retaliation by another public employee.

“The Attorney General is not a ‘public employee,'” said the appeal, filed Wednesday and made public Thursday. “Like the Governor, the Lieutenant Governor, and members of this Court, he is an elected officer, chosen by the people of Texas to exercise sovereign authority on their behalf.”

Paxton made similar arguments before the Austin-based 3rd Court of Appeals, but that court allowed the lawsuit to continue, ruling in October that the whistleblower act protects government workers from being fired for making “a good-faith report of illegal conduct … by the employer.”

Interpreting the act to exclude elected officials as employers would create a substantial loophole that runs counter to the law’s purpose of improving transparency and accountability, the 3rd Court ruled.

[…]

In his appeal to the Texas Supreme Court, Paxton characterized the complaints as matters involving policy disagreements — not a good-faith report of potential crimes as required by the whistleblower act.

“Plaintiffs were political appointees of the Attorney General who were dismissed from their posts following several policy disagreements. These disagreements each regarded duties well within the Attorney General’s authority, such as whether to retain outside counsel, issue a legal opinion, investigate potentially criminal acts and intervene in pending litigation,” the appeal said.

Paxton urged the all-Republican Supreme Court to reject the whistleblowers’ “vague, conclusory and speculative allegations,” saying they do not constitute a good-faith report of wrongdoing.

Lawyers for the whistleblowers will have the opportunity to respond to Paxton’s appeal in the coming weeks.

See here for the previous update. Paxton made the same argument to the Third Court, while also arguing that none of the whistleblowers had actually accused him of a crime, which meant they weren’t really blowing the whistle. I’m sure the plaintiffs will mostly repeat their earlier arguments as well. As for what the Supreme Court will do, or when they might do it – I for one will not be shocked if they wait until after the election – your guess is as good as mine. Reform Austin and KVUE have more.

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.

Third Court of Appeals upholds Harris County mask mandate

Savor the win, for it’s off to SCOTx next.

A state appeals court on Thursday upheld a lower-court injunction that allowed Harris County to impose mask requirements despite Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order banning such mandates.

The Austin-based 3rd Court of Appeals rejected arguments by Abbott and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who claimed state law lets the governor overturn local health mandates imposed to mitigate the spread of a dangerous virus.

Abbott hasn’t budged:Texas parents pleaded for Gov. Abbott to allow mask mandates in schools

“The Governor does not possess absolute authority under the Texas Disaster Act to preempt orders issued by local governmental entities or officials that contradict his executive orders,” said the opinion, written by Justice Chari Kelly.

The appeals court also said the disaster act does not allow, as Abbott and Paxton argued, the governor to suspend state public health laws that give local leaders the power to impose safety rules during declared emergencies.

“(The disaster act) does not give the governor carte blanche to issue executive orders empowering him to rule the state in any way he wishes during a disaster,” Kelly said in an opinion joined by Chief Justice Darlene Byrne and Justice Gisela Triana. All three justices are Democrats.

[…]

The appeal before the 3rd Court hinged on whether language in the Texas Disaster Act empowered Abbott to ban local rules enacted to protect public health.

Paxton and Abbott argued that the act:

• Designates the governor as “commander in chief” when addressing statewide disasters.

• Says local officials act as the governor’s designated agents during emergencies.

• States that executive orders issued under the act have the “force and effect of law.”

The appeals court, however, said Paxton and Abbott took the act’s provisions out of context.

The disaster law designates the governor as commander in chief of “state agencies, boards and commissions having emergency responsibilities” — not counties, Kelly wrote. In addition, nothing in the law limits the authority of county and local officials to respond to local disasters or public health crises, Kelly said.

“Even a statewide disaster may have distinct and disproportionate impacts in each of the state’s 254 counties and that, as a result, some measures for addressing a disaster in some counties may not be necessary or even appropriate in other counties,” Kelly wrote.

What’s more, she wrote, the disaster act lets the governor suspend “regulatory” laws that pertain to conducting state business. But Abbott sought to suspend a state law that lets local officials set public health rules in emergencies, and that law is not regulatory, the appeals court concluded.

“The Act empowers and recognizes that the Governor may issue statewide disaster declarations and that certain local officials may also issue local disaster declarations,” Kelly wrote.

“Nothing in the Act, however, suggests that these authorities are mutually exclusive,” she added.

As noted, the Third Court upheld a ruling issued in August by a Travis County district court. Note that there’s a second case, involving HISD and some other school districts, that was not part of this appeal. In this case, the three justices made the same points in the opinion that plenty of people, myself included, have been making all along about the Governor’s powers. Those judges are Democrats, and the judges on the Supreme Court are not, so we can’t just expect them to employ such thinking. Maybe they will, you never know, but you sure can’t assume it. For now, at least, the good guys have won. And even if SCOTx reverses this opinion, it’s still the case that Abbott and Paxton, by their own admission, don’t have the power to enforce Abbott’s no-mask mandate. Let’s not forget that.

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.

Lawsuit over Harris County Commissioners Court redistricting tossed

Missed this over the holidays.

A Harris County Judge on Wednesday tossed a lawsuit from Republican commissioners and voters over new county maps that favor Democrats.

Judge Dedra Davis ruled in favor of Harris County, finding that Republican commissioners Jack Cagle and Tom Ramsey and three voters did not have jurisdiction to sue.

The Republicans’ attorney, Andy Taylor, indicated that he planned to appeal the ruling.

Cagle, Ramsey and the three voters filed the lawsuit against Democratic County Judge Lina Hidalgo and against Harris County last month. The suit alleged that the redistricting map proposed by Democratic Commissioner Rodney Ellis, known as the Ellis 3 plan, amounts to an unconstitutional gerrymander that would deprive more than 1.1 million voters of their right to vote.

Texas election law staggers county precinct elections every two years. All county commissioners serve four-year terms, but commissioners in even-numbered precincts and those in odd-numbered precincts take place at two-year intervals.

The next election for even-numbered precincts is in 2022. The lawsuit alleges that the Ellis 3 plan shifts more than 1.1 million voters from even-numbered precincts to odd-numbered precincts, depriving them of their right to vote until 2024.

“Plaintiffs submit that there is a very simple explanation for why this occurred,” the lawsuit reads. “Commissioner Ellis wanted to do whatever it would take to draw a new map that would create three…Democratic seats. Thus, the Ellis 3 Plan does just that.”

See here for the background. The lawsuit seemed pretty flimsy on its face, and it was dismissed without comment by District Court Judge Dedra Davis. The plaintiffs, which include Commissioners Cagle and Ramsey, and fan favorite attorney Andy Taylor, have filed a writ of mandamus with the Supreme Court in a last ditch effort to stop the new map from taking effect. The mandamus, which you can see here, makes the following claims:

  • The 2020 census revealed population changes among districts that required redistricting.
  • It was possible to comply with the “one man, one vote” rule by transferring 4% of the county’s population.
  • But Hidalgo, Ellis and Garcia chose a plan that moved 48% and overstepped their authority.
  • That plan will deprive 1.1 million people of their right to vote for commissioner in the next election and likely tip the result from Republican to Democrat in one precinct, creating a 4-1 supermajority for Democrats.

As soon as I saw that “moved 48%” of voters claim, I said to myself, where have I seen a statistic like that before? Right here:

The initial Republican proposal for redrawing Texas congressional maps calls for Harris County to once again be split into nine districts, but with major alterations to protect the region’s endangered GOP incumbents.

The shifts mean more than a million voters who live west of downtown Houston would have a different member of Congress representing them.

Ultimately, Democratic-held districts now represented by U.S. Reps. Sylvia Garcia, Sheila Jackson Lee, Al Green and Lizzie Fletcher would all become more heavily blue under the proposed map released Monday by the Texas Senate. Under the proposal, Republican U.S. Reps. Dan Crenshaw and Troy Nehls would get more like-minded voters in their districts, too.

The proposal adds a completely new congressional district in west Harris County — District 38 — designed to favor a Republican, stitched together by cutting into four existing districts.

A little back of the envelope math here, we have “more than” a million voters, in a county with just under 2.5 million registered voters, that’s over 40% of voters being put into new districts, for the express purpose of creating a new Republican district in the county and bolstering the Republican caucus in Washington. So, yeah. Cry me a river, fellas.

Apparently, we’re still litigating whether Texas Central is a railroad

I admit, I’m a bit confused by this.

The Texas attorney general’s office has put its weight behind a landowner’s case against the companies developing a controversial Dallas-Houston bullet train, arguing they can’t force people to sell parcels needed for the high-speed rail project.

Weighing in on the matter at the invitation of the Texas Supreme Court, the attorney general’s office offered the latest twist in the nearly decade-long fight over a 240-mile line that would connect Dallas and Houston. While the project has picked up support from leaders of urban areas, it’s encountered hard resistance from residents of the rural counties on its proposed path.

One of those residents, Leon County landowner James Miles, sued Texas Central after the private company sought permission to survey his 600-acre property in 2015 as part of its efforts to examine the land for the project. Miles asked the courts to declare that the company did not have the right to enter his property because it does not have the eminent domain authority granted to railroad companies.

He won at a trial court, but the legal dispute reached the Texas Supreme Court after a state appellate court in Corpus Christi sided with Texas Central and a related company.

In a legal brief filed with the Texas Supreme Court on Friday, deputies for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton argued the high court should reverse that appellate decision and rule in Miles’ favor because the companies fall short of the Texas Constitution’s definition of a rail company.

“The [companies] may only make preliminary examinations and surveys of private landowners’ properties for the purpose of constructing and operating a bullet train if they are either railroad companies or interurban electric railway companies,” the state wrote in its brief. “In the State’s view, the [companies] are neither.”

That leaves them with “no authority to enter, examine, survey or condemn Miles’ land,” the state wrote.

I am confused because at last report, the Supreme Court had declined to review that 13th Court of Appeals’ verdict. I Am Not A Lawyer, but right there in the story that I blogged about was the clear suggestion that this was the end of the road for that case. However, now that I see this story, a bit of googling shows that the Supreme Court granted a motion for a rehearing, which you can see here. It doesn’t seem to me that any new issues were raised by the Miles plaintiff, but what do I know? In any event, this explains why the AG brief says it is in response to “the Court’s letter of October 15, 2021 inviting the Solicitor General to express the views of the State of Texas”. Oral arguments for this are set for January 11. If any of you lawyers out there want to shed some extra light on this, by all means please be my guest.

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.

The filings I’m still looking for

Today is Filing Deadline Day. By the end of today, we’ll know who is and isn’t running for what. While we wait for that, let’s review the filings that have not yet happened, to see what mysteries may remain.

Congress: Most of the potentially competitive districts have Democratic candidates in them. The ones that remain are CDs 22, 26, 31, and 38, though I have been told there is a candidate lined up for that latter slot. Of the rest, CD22 would be the biggest miss if no one files. I have to think someone will, but we’ll know soon enough.

For open seats, CD15 has five candidates so far, none of whom are familiar to me. CD30 has six candidates, with State Rep. Jasmine Crockett receiving the endorsement of outgoing Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson. CD34 has six, with current CD15 Rep. Vicente Gonzalez the presumed favorite. CD35 has three serious contenders – Austin City Council member Greg Casar, former San Antonio City Council Member Rebecca Viagran, and State Rep. Eddie Rodrigues – and one person you’ve not heard of. CD37 has Rep. Lloyd Doggett and former CD31 candidate Donna Imam, in addition to a couple of low-profile hopefuls, but it will not have former CD25 candidate Julie Oliver, who has said she will not run.

Democratic incumbents who have primary challengers include Rep. Lizzie Fletcher in CD07 (I’m still waiting to see if Centrell Reed makes some kind of announcement); Rep. Veronica Escobar in CD16 (I don’t get the sense her challenger is a serious one); and Rep. Henry Cuellar in CD28, who gets a rematch with Jessica Cisneros, who came close to beating him last year. The Svitek spreadsheet lists some dude as a potential challenger in CD18 against Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, but so far no filing. Reps. Al Green, Joaquin Castro, Sylvia Garcia, Colin Allred, and Marc Veasey do not appear to have any challengers as of this morning.

Statewide: Pretty much everyone who has said they are a candidate has filed. Frequent candidate Michael Cooper and someone named Innocencio Barrientez have filed for Governor, making it a four-candidate field. Two Harris County district court judges, Julia Maldonado and Robert Johnson, have filed for slots on the Supreme Court and CCA, respectively. The Svitek spreadsheet lists potential but not yet filed contenders for two other Supreme Court positions but has no listings for CCA. The one potential candidate who has not yet taken action is Carla Brailey, who may or may not file for Lt. Governor.

SBOE: As this is a post-redistricting year, all SBOE seats are on the ballot, as are all State Senate seats. Dems have four reasonable challenge opportunities: Michelle Palmer is running again in SBOE6, Jonathan Cocks switched from the Land Commissioner race to file in SBOE8, Alex Cornwallis is in SBOE12, and then there’s whatever is happening in SBOE11. The good news is that DC Caldwell has company in the primary, if he is actually allowed to run in it, as Luis Sifuentes is also running. I would advise voting for Sifuentes.

There are two open Democratic seats, plus one that I’m not sure about. Ruben Cortez in SBOE2 and Lawrence Allen in SBOE4 are running for HDs 37 and 26, respectively. There are two candidates in 2 and three candidates in 4, so far. Georgina Perez is the incumbent in SBOE1 but as yet has not filed. If she has announced that she’s not running, I have not seen it. There is a candidate named Melissa Ortega in the race.

In SBOE5, the district that was flipped by Rebecca Bell-Metereau in 2020 and was subsequently made more Democratic in redistricting, we have the one primary challenge to an incumbent so far, as a candidate named Juan Juarez has filed against Bell-Metereau. I’m old enough to remember Marisa Perez coming out of nowhere to oust Michael Soto in 2012, so anything can happen here. The aforementioned Perez (now Marisa Perez-Diaz) and Aicha Davis are unopposed so far.

Senate: Nothing much here that you don’t already know. Every incumbent except Eddie Lucio has filed for re-election, and none of them have primary opponents so far. Lucio’s SD27 has the three challengers we knew about, Sara Stapleton-Barrera, State Rep. Alex Dominguez, and Morgan LaMantia. A candidate named Misty Bishop had filed for SD07, was rejected, and has since re-filed for SD04; I’m going to guess that residency issues were at play. There are Dem challengers in SD09 (Gwenn Burud, who has run for this office before) and SD17 (Miguel Gonzalez), but no one yet for SDs 07 or 08.

House: Here’s the list of potentially competitive districts, for some value of the word “competitive”. Now here’s a list of districts on that list that do not yet have a filed candidate:

HD14
HD25
HD28
HD29
HD55
HD57
HD61
HD66
HD67
HD84
HD89
HD96
HD106
HD126
HD129
HD133
HD150

I’m told there’s someone lined up for HD133. We’ll see about the rest.

All of the open seats have at least one candidate in them so far except for HD22, the seat now held by Joe Deshotel. There’s a name listed on the Svitek spreadsheet, so I assume that will be sorted by the end of the day.

Reps. Ron Reynolds (HD27), Ana-Maria Ramos (HD102), and Carl Sherman (HD109) are incumbents who have not yet filed. No one else has filed yet in those districts as well. Svitek has a note saying that Rep. Ramos has confirmed she will file; there are no notes for the other two. There is the possibility of a last-minute retirement, with a possibly preferred successor coming in at the same time.

Here is a complete list of Democratic House incumbents who face a primary challenge: Rep. Richard Raymond (HD42) and Rep. Alma Allen (HD131). Both have faced and turned away such opponents in the past. If there was supposed to be a wave of primary opponents to incumbents who came back early from Washington, they have not shown up yet.

Rep. James Talarico has moved from HD52 to the open HD50 after HD52 was made into a lean-Republican district. Rep. Claudia Ordaz-Perez, the incumbent in HD76, will run in HD79 against Rep. Art Fierro after HD76 was relocated from El Paso to Fort Bend.

Harris County: Again, nothing new here. Erica Davis has not yet filed for County Judge. County Clerk Teneshia Hudpseth is the only non-judicial incumbent without a primary opponent so far.

Far as I can tell, all of the county judicial slots have at least one filing in them, except for a couple of Justice of the Peace positions. George Risner, the JP in Precinct 2, Place 2 (all JP Place 2 slots are on the ballot this year) has not yet filed, amid rumors that he is mulling a challenge to Commissioner Adrian Garcia. Incumbent Angela Rodriguez in JP precinct 6 has not yet filed. No Dem challengers yet in precincts 4 or 8.

Other judicial races: Sorry, I don’t have the bandwidth for this right now. I’ll review it after today.

And that’s all I’ve got. See you on the other side. As always, leave your hot gossip in the comments.

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.

A brief look at the winter storm litigation

This story is actually about the judge who will be presiding over winter storm cases, but it caught my eye for a reason that will be apparent.

Sylvia A. Matthews presided over more than 175 jury trials and 160 bench trials during her decade as a Harris County District Court judge. Lawyers for plaintiffs and defendants say she is smart, fair, well-prepared, hard-working, efficient and decisive.

Matthews will need all those qualities over the next several months as she oversees more than 150 highly complex civil lawsuits filed by victims seeking billions of dollars in damages as the result of last February’s winter storm, which was one of the deadliest and costliest disasters in Texas history.

The lawsuits filed across Texas include individuals suing for wrongful death, personal injury and property damages and companies complaining about breach of contracts, interruption of business and price-gouging.

Some of the largest power companies, such as the Houston utility CenterPoint Energy, the Chicago company Exelon and Vistra Energy of Irving, one of the state’s biggest generators and retail electricity providers.

While the lawsuits have been filed in more than a dozen Texas courts, the Texas Supreme Court has consolidated them into one docket, called multidistrict litigation.

The cases are consolidated for efficiency, allowing pretrial issues, such as production of evidence and admissibility of testimony, to be decided in a uniform matter. Once the pretrial issues are decided, the cases are usually sent back to the courts where the lawsuits were filed for trial.

For example, lawyers predict that the 200 lawsuits already filed in the Astroworld tragedy will also be consolidated into a single proceeding for pre-trial purposes.

[…]

The winter storm litigation is likely to take years to resolve, according to legal experts. In fact, the statute of limitations for more lawsuits does not expire for another year, meaning more cases may still be filed.

The stuff in between is about Judge Matthews, a Republican now serving as a visiting jurist following her electoral defeat in 2018. It’s fine, I’m glad she’s good at her job, but it was the stuff about the Texas Multidistrict Litigation Panel that I noticed. Here’s this thing I’d never heard of before October of this year, and now it’s turning up all over the place, including and not surprisingly in the AstroWorld cases. I feel like someone owes me a nice in-depth explainer about this body. How long has it been in existence, what are the rules that govern it, who serves and how do they get there, and is it just one of those things that it’s been a key player in such high profile and hot button matters as these cases plus SB8 or is it somehow a sign of the times? Oh, to be an assignment editor. Seriously, someone write me that story, I’d read the hell out of it.

Anyway. Litigation over the freeze and blackout and responsibility for the latter will no doubt go on for years, but hopefully it will help provide some answers. Lord knows, we’re not getting any from our state leaders. I’ll be keeping an eye out for further news.

Appeals court upholds Dallas mask mandate

There’s still mask mandate litigation going on, and Greg Abbott keeps getting his ass handed to him.

Clay Jenkins

Mask mandates will be allowed in the State of Texas. The Fifth Court of Appeals in Dallas issued the ruling during the late night on November 22.

The decision is the latest chapter in the fight between Governor Greg Abbott and Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins over how to handle the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jenkins had argued he had the right to issue a local mask mandate if it means protecting public health and that he had the power to do so under the Texas Disaster Act.

Abbott had asserted that he had the authority to issue a statewide order banning the mandates. His attorneys argued it was a matter of law and that the governor was given the power under the Texas Disaster Act.

On Monday, an appeals judge issued a temporary injunction against the governor’s ban saying, “…Abbott lacks legal authority to act as he attempted. Instead, by endeavoring to exercise power beyond that given to him in the Disaster Act, he attempted to infringe on Jenkins’s powers.”

[…]

After a district judge issued a temporary injunction supporting Jenkins in August, the governor’s office sought a higher ruling from the district court of appeals.

Neither the governor’s office nor the Texas Attorney General’s office have commented on the ruling, but they could choose to appeal it to the Supreme Court of Texas.

“We’ll have to see what the attorney general and the governor want to do, but I’m not tired and I will continue to stand for your public health against any other elected official,” said Jenkins.

In the meantime, Jenkins says, don’t let all the legal back and forth confuse you.

“Don’t listen to what people tell you is legal. Listen to what doctors tell you is safe,” he said.

See here for the previous entry, and here for the opinion. Note that this is a state lawsuit about what cities and counties can do, and has nothing to do with the federal lawsuit that the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals was meddling in. Different Fifth Courts – believe me, I know, it’s confusing.

Beyond that, not a whole lot of coverage when I went looking for stories, which I knew to do because I saw this tweet from Judge Jenkins. Maybe that’s a holiday week problem, I don’t know. As I said, there’s a ton of lawsuits out there over the Abbott executive order that banned mask mandates by cities and counties and school districts, and so far the plaintiffs have mostly won. That may all come crashing to a halt at the Supreme Court, but until then the leaders who have been bold and exercised actual leadership have been rewarded for it. Gotta enjoy those victories while you can.

Bexar mask mandate back on

Abbott and Paxton take another L.

A temporary order that allows the City of San Antonio and Bexar County to require masks in their buildings will stay in place until a lawsuit challenging an executive order goes to trial in December, the 4th Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday.

In another blow to Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order, U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel ruled Wednesday in Austin that the ban on mask mandates in schools violates the Americans with Disabilities Act — freeing local officials to again create their own rules, according to The Texas Tribune.

After San Antonio and Bexar County sued Abbott over his July executive order that prohibited local governments from issuing mask mandates, a Bexar County district judge issued a temporary injunction in August. That temporary injunction gave the city and county the ability to require masks inside city- and county-owned facilities as well as in public schools that teach pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.

The 4th Court of Appeals had already upheld the temporary injunction after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton appealed the trial court’s decision and argued that his appeal automatically blocked the city and county’s mask mandate. That decision made in August was temporary until the appellate court could take up the matter and issue a more final decision, which occurred Wednesday, said Larry Roberson, civil division chief of the Bexar County District Attorney’s office.

“This is the opinion on the temporary injunction,” he said. “The earlier issues were just procedural.”

The city and county argued that the governor’s executive order exceeded his scope of authority by blocking local governments from creating public health prevention measures. They also argued that by not having the ability to enforce their own public health measures, coronavirus transmission would be more widespread without masks and cause irreparable harm.

Their arguments were enough to validate the need for a temporary injunction, three judges on the 4th Court of Appeals found.

“We conclude that the City and County have pled sufficient facts to establish that their injuries are ‘likely to be redressed by the requested relief,’” Chief Justice Rebeca C. Martinez wrote in the appellate court’s opinion issued Wednesday.

See here for the previous update and here for the court’s opinion. I will note that this is still a temporary restraining order and that the merits of the case will be heard at trial on December 13. That said, I will also note these sentences from the opinion, which addresses the question of whether Abbott had the power to forbid local governments from issuing mask mandates with the emergency powers granted to him under the Texas Disaster Act of 1975:

We hold Section 418.016(a) does not provide the Governor with the authority he claims to suspend statutes that concern local control over public health matters or to prohibit local restrictions on face coverings.

[…]

Applying the plain language of the Act, we conclude the City and County demonstrated a probable right to relief that the Governor’s power to suspend laws, orders, and rules under section 418.016(a) does not include the power to prohibit face-covering mandates that local governments may adopt to respond to public-health conditions or the power to suspend public-health statutes authorizing local governments to act for the benefit of public health.

[…]

Because the Governor possesses no inherent authority to suspend statutes under the Texas Constitution and he exceeded the scope of statutory authority granted to him by the Legislature, his actions in issuing Executive Order GA-38 were done without authority.

In between is a bunch of technical legal stuff that will make your eyes glaze over, but the bottom line is that this directly addresses the claim that the Governor’s emergency powers allow for him to suspend local orders that are intended to mitigate the disaster in question, an authority that would seem to contradict the whole purpose of a “Disaster Act”. We’ve discussed that several times here, and while that question will surely come up again in the trial court hearing and later on appeal, it’s good to see this basic idea affirmed here by the appellate court. May such common sense continue to prevail as this moves on to the trial stage. The Current has more.

State lawsuits against SB8 finally get a hearing

A long strange trip it has been.

Right there with them

A state district judge on Wednesday morning heard arguments from abortion rights groups challenging Texas’ restrictive abortion law in what seems to be the first court hearing to specifically tackle the statute’s constitutionality.

David Peeples, a retired state magistrate judge, presided over the eight-hour hearing. He didn’t make a ruling Wednesday but is expected to make one soon after he receives additional filings from both the abortion rights groups and Texas Right to Life, a prominent anti-abortion organization and a defendant in the suits.

Peeples is considering over a dozen cases filed in state court challenging Senate Bill 8, which effectively bans abortions after about six weeks. These lawsuits — filed by Planned Parenthood, doctors, social workers, abortion fund organizations, practical support networks and lawyers — were consolidated by Texas’ multidistrict litigation panel to be heard together.

Attorneys for the 14 cases argued that the law is unconstitutional. Planned Parenthood sought an order blocking the law, while plaintiffs in the 13 other suits asked the judge to issue declaratory judgment of the constitutionality of the law, a legal maneuver used to resolve legal uncertainty in a certain case.

“In short, SB8’s enforcement mechanism, created to subvert one constitutional right, violates the Texas and United States Constitutions,” wrote attorneys representing the plaintiffs in the 13 other suits.

The suits target Texas Right to Life, which helped draft Texas’ law and has vowed to sue violators, even though the group has not filed suits against anyone as of yet.

Texas Right to Life argued that the plaintiffs can’t prove they’ve been injured by the law, and even if they did, the court has no jurisdiction to issue an order blocking the law. Furthermore, since it hasn’t actually filed any suits against people who have violated Texas’ abortion law, the organization argued it isn’t a proper defendant in the case. Its attorneys also argued the abortion rights groups were asking for an overly broad declaration to block cases that might hypothetically be filed.

See here, here, and here for some background. There’s video of the hearing here. The argument made by Texas Right to Life about how they couldn’t possible be sued for any of this, and the plaintiffs’ argument that the law has to be stopped at its root because the piecemeal approach fundamentally deprives them of their rights has been a part of this from the beginning and was a key element in the federal hearing before SCOTUS earlier this month. As before, I have no idea what the court might do or how long it might take to do it, but in this case I feel confident saying that it won’t be the final word. One way or the other, this will end up before the state Supreme Court. They may have some guidance from SCOTUS by then, but they’ll still have to grapple with those questions on their own. The Chron has more.

SCOTx hears Chick-Fil-A case

Missed this last week.

The Supreme Court of Texas heard oral arguments Thursday in the now two-year-old case involving the exclusion of Chick-fil-A city contract in the San Antonio International Airport.

[…]

San Antonio has always maintained that the law should not apply to the contract because it was not the law then and is not retroactive.

“The Fourth Court of Appeals in San Antonio correctly held that the plaintiffs cannot convert Chapter 2400 of the Texas Government Code into a retroactive statute,” said Laura Mayes, spokesperson for the city.

Plaintiffs lawyer Jonathan Mitchell argued to Texas Supreme Court justices that while they agree the contract vote took place prior to the law, several of the city’s actions took place afterwards.

“Anything the city did to put a different vendor in that spot that would have gone to Chick-fil-A is an action to exclude Chick-fil-A from a property — all of that falls under adverse action,” he explained.

Mitchell argued anything as mundane as an email could be considered as an adverse action and qualify as an “allegation” of the new law, which would waive the city’s “governmental immunity.”

The issue for the city’s lawyer, James Daniel McNeel “Neel” Lane, was that plaintiffs never alleged a specific violation; they only now argue that it would be impossible for the city to not have taken an adverse action.

“There has to be an allegation, factual allegation of a violation of the act. There is not here,” he said.

See here for some background; there’s video from the arguments in the story. I know I’m biased here, but the plaintiffs’ argument just sounds stupid to me. But as noted, this case has a connection to the litigation over SB8, as the plaintiffs in this case don’t have an actual loss or injury to claim, just that if there had been a Chick-Fil-A at the airport they would have patronized it. If SCOTx rules on the question of standing, you can see how it might apply to SB8. I figure we’ll know about this one sometime next year.

Third Court rejects Paxton attempt to kill whistleblower lawsuit

Good.

Best mugshot ever

A state appeals court found Thursday that former deputies of Attorney General Ken Paxton who were fired after accusing the Republican official of abusing his office are protected under the state’s whistleblower law, allowing their lawsuit against Paxton to proceed.

Paxton’s lawyers had argued in court that he’s exempt from the Texas Whistleblower Act because he’s an elected official, not a public employee. But the court upheld a previous lower court decision that denied Paxton’s attempt to dismiss the case.

In its opinion, Texas’ 3rd Court of Appeals rejected the attorney general’s interpretation of the Texas Whistleblower Act, “which would have the effect of stripping whistleblower protections from employees who might report misconduct by the thousands of elected officials throughout the State — particularly by those who direct and lead the agencies of this State.”

[…]

In its opinion, the court wrote that the former employees “sufficiently alleged illegal conduct by their employing governmental entity as contemplated by the Act” and disagreed with Paxton’s characterization of the whistleblower law, writing that while “Texas is an employment-at-will state,” the act “provides an exception to that general rule.”

“Although loyalty and confident are important considerations in employment matters,” it wrote, “the Act provides that a State employer cannot fire an employee because he reports illegal conduct by the employer, even when it is that act of reporting that causes the employer to lose confidence or feel the employee lacks loyalty.”

See here for the previous update, and here for a copy of the ruling. The justices seemed pretty skeptical of Paxton’s argument at the hearing, so this is no surprise. Paxton could ask for an en banc hearing or he could appeal to the Supreme Court. The former means another couple of months that the lawsuit is on ice, but the odds of success are low. The latter is more likely to get a favorable ruling for Paxton, but if he loses he’s out of options and we move on to the next phase. I’m guessing he would rather avoid discovery, because it seems very likely that a weasel like Paxton has stuff to hide, so we’ll see if he decides to draw it out or not. Maybe, if we’re very lucky, we’re a step closer to Ken Paxton facing a bit of accountability for once in his life. The Chron has more.

Chick-Fil-A and the “heartbeat” lawsuits

I’d forgotten all about this.

A case that’s before the Texas Supreme Court this fall could have strong implications for the future of the state’s newly adopted abortion ban, the most prohibitive in the nation.

The suit relates to a 2019 law that, like the abortion law, was authored by state Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola.

Known as the “Save Chick-fil-A” law, it allows anyone to sue when they believe a governmental entity has taken “adverse actions” against a person or company based on its support for a religious organization, as Republican lawmakers believed the city of San Antonio did when excluding the fast-food restaurant from its airport.

Civilian enforcement is also the key to the new state law that effectively bans abortion, Senate Bill 8 — a provision that has so far allowed it to survive a legal challenge based on Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court case establishing women’s right to abortions. At issue in both cases: Can a state law grant private citizens standing to sue?

“The standing issue in the case is essentially the same,” said Jason Steed, a Dallas-based appellate lawyer and court watcher who is not involved in the case. “That’s what’s interesting about it is that the court could decide that standing issue and whatever they decide about that issue would have direct implications for SB 8.”

[…]

The city council’s decision to ban the restaurant had animated conservatives who saw it as discrimination against the company because its owner had given money to Christian groups that oppose same-sex marriage.

Gov. Greg Abbott, surrounded by Republican lawmakers, each with a Chick-fil-A styrofoam cup in hand, signed Hughes’ bill in July 2019, and celebrated it as a victory for religious freedom.

The suit before the Texas Supreme Court was brought on Sept. 5, 2019, by five Chick-fil-A supporters who said they were harmed because they would have been customers of the restaurant had it opened in the city-owned airport.

Still, they note in the suit that the law does not require them to prove damages and purports to give standing to anyone who alleges a violation. They are seeking a court order to stop the city from excluding the fast-foot chain from this project and potential ones with the city in the future.

It’s unclear whether the company wants into the airport. In September 2020, San Antonio was forced to offer Chick-Fil-A its spot back as part of an agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Civil Rights under the Trump administration. The settlement helped the airport avoid penalties that could have jeopardized millions of dollars in funding from the agency.

But Chick-Fil-A declined, and the city has since given the spot to Whataburger, which is slated to open by next spring.

In August of 2020, the Fourth Court of Appeals in San Antonio sided with the city and reversed a lower court’s decision, ruling that the city had sovereign immunity, a legal principle that protects governments and their agencies from lawsuits.

See here, here, and here for some background. Ken Paxton filed a lawsuit in July of 2019, before the five busybodies filed theirs. The easy way out for SCOTx is to uphold the Fourth Court’s ruling, which would allow them to not address the question of standing, which as noted is at the center of SB8. The city of San Antonio argued that the plaintiffs did not have standing, and as of today there’s no adjudication on that matter. Sooner or later, one way or another, we’ll get some kind of answer to that.

SCOTx puts San Antonio ISD’s vaccine mandate on pause

Ken Paxton finally gets what he wants.

The Texas Supreme Court temporarily halted San Antonio Independent School District’s staff vaccine mandate on Thursday, a day before the deadline for all employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

The ruling comes two weeks after a Bexar County judge denied the state’s request for a temporary injunction to stop the staff vaccine mandate. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office appealed that decision to the 4th Court of Appeals and also requested the court temporarily block the mandate while it considers Paxton’s appeal.

The 4th Court of Appeals denied the attorney general’s request to temporarily block the vaccine mandate. Paxton then requested the Texas Supreme Court step in and halt the mandate, which it did Thursday while stating the court’s decision is not a reflection “on the merits of the state’s claims.” The appeals court still has to rule on the state’s appeal of the temporary injunction that was denied by the Bexar County judge on Oct. 1.

[…]

While the Supreme Court’s ruling means SAISD must pause its vaccine mandate, the district said in a statement that it will continue to work with health care providers to offer vaccines to any employees, students, and families who want them.

“This is especially important as we anticipate the availability of the Pfizer vaccine for 5-11-year-old children in the next month. We remain committed to believing it’s the right thing to do,” the district said in the statement. “We are extremely proud of our efforts in providing abundant access to this life-saving protocol to all of our employees and the broader SAISD community. Based on the science, we continue to feel strongly that these vaccines help us keep our staff and students as healthy as possible and in the classroom, where learning happens best, and in giving our families stability.”

See here, here, and here for the background. Next up would be a hearing in district court on the merits of the state’s request for an injunction, followed by another round of appeals. The hope remains that in this time, whether the mandate is allowed to be enforced or not, some number of SAISD employees get vaccinated who wouldn’t have done so otherwise. If that happens, it was all worth it. The Trib has more.

If in Texas you can’t get justice…

Try somewhere else.

An abortion provider in Texas took the unusual step Tuesday of asking a federal judge in another state to declare unconstitutional the six-week-ban on the procedure that took effect last month in Texas.

Lawyers for Dr. Alan Braid, a San Antonio physician who acknowledged performing an abortion after the state’s legal limit, wants a judge in Illinois to block three lawsuits filed against him under the ban, which has halted almost all abortions in the nation’s second-most-populous state.

Abortion providers and advocates say they are in “legal limbo,” after twice asking the Supreme Court to intervene to block enforcement of the law, which bars abortion as early as six weeks into pregnancy with no exception for rape or incest.

They are awaiting action in the three lawsuits against Braid, as well as word from a federal judge in Austin, who could rule at any time on the Justice Department’s request for an injunction to restore abortion access in Texas.

“Dr. Braid filed suit today to stop the vigilante plaintiffs and get this extreme abortion ban declared unconstitutional once and for all,” Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement.

“He should never have had to put himself at legal risk to provide constitutionally protected abortion care. This legal limbo has gone on long enough and needs to be stopped.”

[…]

Braid came forward last month, announcing in a Washington Post column that he had performed an abortion past the legal limit and essentially inviting a lawsuit so he could directly challenge the constitutionality of the ban.

Three individuals — one in Arkansas, one in Texas and another in Illinois — quickly filed lawsuits against Braid in state court in Texas.

The Center for Reproductive Rights, representing Braid, now wants to consolidate the “competing claims” in those cases in federal court in Illinois.

Braid’s lawyers say they can take this step because three different people in three different states have filed similar claims to an award of at least $10,000.

“The likelihood of strangers filing multiple, overlapping lawsuits against a provider is a feature of SB8, and not an accident,” the court filing states, making reference to the law, which was formally classified as Senate Bill 8.

Braid said that none of the individuals has a right to damages because the law is unconstitutional under the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision guaranteeing the right to abortion before viability, usually around 22 to 24 weeks.

Braid also has a right, the filing states, “to avoid wasteful, vexatious and duplicative litigation and potentially conflicting rulings.”

See here, here, and here for some background. I knew about the Arkansas and Illinois lawsuits against Dr. Braid, but had not been aware of the third one. Looking at the defendants named in the filing, it appears that the third litigant is one of the frequent commenters here. I’ll let him explain himself about that.

These lawsuits are all in state court. There is also the bottleneck imposed by the Texas Multidistrict Litigation Panel (supported by the Supreme Court) on lawsuits by providers to get injunctions against other potential litigants, but from my read of the lawsuit that does not appear to be at issue here. The larger point is that not just Dr. Braid but every abortion patient and provider and clinic employee and volunteer and many other people have a right to their day in court, and to have a clearly unconstitutional law be put on hold while legal questions surrounding it are being decided. That’s what is being asked for here, and that is what has been denied all these people by SCOTUS, the Fifth Circuit, and the Supreme Court of Texas. If this is what it takes to finally bring a (temporary) halt to this travesty then so be it, but it should never have come to this in the first place.

UPDATE: Late in the day yesterday, the judge in the federal lawsuit filed by the Justice Department against the state of Texas issued a temporary restraining order that blocks any SB8 lawsuits from being filed. We all know that the Fifth Circuit already has an order ready to block that, but for now that would seem to moot this action. I’ll post about this ruling tomorrow.

SCOTx denies Planned Parenthood emergency request

Not a surprise, I suppose.

Right there with them

The Texas Supreme Court denied a request Monday from Planned Parenthood to resume its lawsuit, filed in a state district court, that challenges the state’s near-total abortion ban.

Planned Parenthood asked the all-Republican court last week to overturn the Texas Multidistrict Litigation Panel’s decision to indefinitely pause its suit alongside 13 other lawsuits filed in Travis County district court. The panel of five judges stopped the cases from continuing at the request of Texas Right to Life, a prominent anti-abortion organization that helped draft Texas’ abortion restrictions.

The suit filed by Planned Parenthood asked the court to declare the abortion law, which bans the procedure as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, unconstitutional. A hearing was scheduled for this month, the organization said, before the panel of judges paused proceedings. In that case, the court temporarily blocked Texas Right to Life from being able to sue Planned Parenthood for potential violations of the abortion law.

“The Texas Supreme Court’s decision to allow the stay to remain in effect is extremely disappointing and will likely deprive Planned Parenthood of its day in court, once again,” Helene Krasnoff, Planned Parenthood’s vice president for public policy litigation and law, said in a statement.

Elizabeth Myers, a Dallas-based attorney who represents plaintiffs for the other 13 lawsuits blocked, said Monday’s ruling was disappointing, but she called the stay a temporary setback.

“We’ll present our arguments and the defendants will ultimately have to attempt to defend SB8 on the merits,” Myers said. “That is something the defendants are obviously scared and unwilling to do, so it’s not surprising that they continue to try to delay it. At some point, their delay tactics will no longer work and our clients look forward to that day.”

See here for the background. I still don’t understand what the norms are for the Texas Multidistrict Litigation Panel, so I don’t know if outrage, annoyance, or a shrug of the shoulders is the appropriate reaction. I’m going to go with “annoyance” anyway, because this whole situation is some kind of bullshit. Let’s please get a favorable ruling in the federal case ASAP, shall we?

Planned Parenthood files emergency request to SCOTx

From the inbox:

Right there with them

On Wednesday, Planned Parenthood affiliates in Texas filed an emergency request asking the Texas Supreme Court to intervene in an ongoing case against Texas Right to Life (TRTL), challenging Senate Bill 8, the state’s six-week abortion ban. Earlier this month, Planned Parenthood was granted a temporary injunction against the group and its associates, which blocked TRTL from suing abortion providers and health care workers at Planned Parenthood health centers in Texas under S.B. 8.

However, in yet another attempt to deprive Planned Parenthood of its day in court, at TRTL’s request, the Texas Multidistrict Litigation Panel stepped in and stayed all ongoing challenges to S.B. 8 in state court indefinitely. This comes despite the fact that a hearing in Planned Parenthood’s case, where it asked the court to declare S.B. 8 unconstitutional, was already scheduled for Oct. 13. Intervention by the Texas Supreme Court is urgently and immediately needed. S.B. 8 continues to cause unprecedented harm on the ground, blocking Texans from accessing their constitutional right to abortion.

[…]

The U.S. Supreme Court allowed S.B. 8 to take effect nearly one month ago, disregarding nearly 50 years of precedent by denying an emergency request to block the law’s unconstitutional pre-viability abortion ban. S.B. 8 has decimated abortion access in the state, as providers are forced to turn people away under the six-week abortion ban. Historically, the overwhelming majority — between 85 and 90% — of Texans who obtain abortions in the state are at least six weeks into pregnancy. Under S.B. 8, the first six-week abortion ban allowed to take effect since the Roe v. Wade decision, few are able to receive care in the state, forcing patients to bear the financial and emotional cost of traveling elsewhere for essential care, all during a pandemic. For many Texans, particularly those who are Black or Latino, who have low incomes, or who live in rural areas, abortion is unattainable.

Since S.B. 8 took effect, abortion has been virtually inaccessible for the 7 million women of reproductive age living in Texas. Some of the devastation caused by the law in Texas and beyond are detailed in recent declarations from Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast President & CEO Melaney Linton, Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains President & CEO Vicki Cowart, and Planned Parenthood of Arkansas and Eastern Oklahoma physician Dr. Joshua Yap in support of the U.S. Justice Department’s request for a preliminary injunction to stop the enforcement of S.B. 8.

See here for a bit of background. I wasn’t sure what the context of this was until I remembered that I had seen this:

With more than a dozen lawsuits challenging Texas’ near-total abortion ban stalled in state court, Planned Parenthood has asked the all-Republican Texas Supreme Court to step in and allow the cases to proceed.

Last week, the Texas Multidistrict Litigation Panel, which is made up of five judges, indefinitely paused 14 lawsuits filed in Travis County district court at the request of Texas Right to Life, a prominent anti-abortion organization that helped draft Texas’ abortion restriction. The panel of judges typically steps in to take action on a group of similar cases. The judges didn’t list a reason for the stay, and said the cases will remain paused until the panel makes another order.

One of the suits was filed by Planned Parenthood. It asked the court to declare the abortion law, which bans the procedure as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, unconstitutional. A hearing was scheduled for Oct. 8, the organization said, before the panel of judges paused proceedings.

In that case, the court temporarily blocked Texas Right to Life from being able to sue Planned Parenthood for potential violations of the abortion law.

“Texas Right to Life championed this blatantly unconstitutional law, but now it is doing everything it can to prevent those challenging S.B. 8 from having their day in court because TRTL knows it will lose,” Helene Krasnoff, vice president for public policy litigation and law at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement. “We’re urging the Texas Supreme Court to step in and move this critical case along so we can restore access to abortion across the state.”

Got to say, I had never heard of the Texas Multidistrict Litigation Panel before now. I can understand why it exists, but at least in this instance it seems maddeningly opaque and unaccountable. I have no idea what the rules are here, or what PP’s odds of success are, but it seems they had no other choice if they wanted to be able to pursue this kind of legal remedy. So while we all have our eyes on the federal court, this is what’s happening at the state level.

Appeals court appears skeptical about Paxton’s whistleblower defense

As well they should be.

Best mugshot ever

A panel of Texas 3rd Court of Appeals justices expressed skepticism of an argument from Attorney General Ken Paxton’s lawyers on Wednesday that he is exempt from the state’s whistleblower act because he’s not a public employee and a case against him should be thrown out.

Former Paxton deputies in the Office of the Attorney General claim in a whistleblower lawsuit that they were fired for reporting alleged crimes by Paxton to law enforcement. Paxton’s lawyers are trying to get the case dismissed and asked the appeals court to throw out the case on the grounds that Paxton is not subject to the whistleblower law. A lower court denied Paxton’s motion to dismiss the case in March.

Barely a minute into oral arguments, Justice Chari L. Kelly began questioning Solicitor General Judd E. Stone II, who is representing Paxton in the suit.

“Isn’t the action of every employer at the OAG’s office an action by the employee governmental agency?” Kelly said.

Justice Gisela D. Triana questioned Stone’s argument that all elected officials are exempt from the whistleblower law and Chief Justice Darlene Byrne asked whether his interpretation would give Texas Supreme Court justices immunity from sexual harassment claims from their employees.

Stone said employees filing sexual harassment claims would have other avenues for relief outside the whistleblower law, but argued that the attorney general as an elected official cannot be sued under the law, which covers public employees, appointed officials and governmental entities.

[…]

Stone argued that barring the attorney general from firing employees when they disagree with legal positions or have lost his trust would be an infringement on the elected official’s power.

But Kelly questioned that argument and nodded to claims by the whistleblowers’ lawyers that Paxton is a public employee because he receives checks from the state and participates in its retirement system, and that he acts as the entity because he is its titular head.

“If he can go in and change any decision internally … If he truly has the power to have the last say on anything that comes out of the agency. How is he not the agency?” she asked.

Stone said the justices should interpret the law as it was written, which did not include elected officials in the text of those who can be sued on whistleblower claims.

But Joe Knight, who argued for the whistleblowers’ lawyers, blasted the idea that the Legislature wrote a statute meant to ensure public employees complied with the law and then exempted elected officials without explicitly saying so. He said the drafting of the law in such a way would be “strange and unlikely,” and said the “Legislature does not hide elephants in mouseholes.”

In briefings to the court, the whistleblowers’ lawyers said when lawmakers intend to exempt elected officials from being labeled as public employees, they do so in the text of the law. The Texas Whistleblower Act does not.

The whistleblowers’ lawyers said exempting the attorney general would rob the law of its purpose to protect public employees reporting wrongdoing by government entities.

Stone also argued in briefs that the former officials did not make the reports to law enforcement authorities required to invoke whistleblower protection, and that even if they had, they reported only potential crimes, not crimes that had actually happened.

The whistleblowers’ lawyers attacked that argument, saying their clients reported their concerns to the Travis County District Attorney’s Office, the FBI, the Texas Rangers and the attorney general’s human resources office.

The lawyers also said their clients believed Paxton had already abused his office, tampered with government records, taken bribes and obstructed justice through his interactions with Paul when they brought their concerns to law enforcement.

See here, here, and here for some background. It must be noted that all three appellate court justices are Democrats, so their opinions will carry limited weight before the Court of Criminal Appeals, no matter how ridiculous Paxton’s arguments are. That’s just how it is, I don’t make the rules. No indication when the court may rule, but the initial suit was filed last November, the motion to dismiss was denied in March, and the appeal to the Third Court was made in June, so as far as that goes, we’re moving at a decent pace.

Feds officially investigating Texas mask mandate ban

Good.

The U.S. Department of Education on Tuesday launched a civil rights investigation into Gov. Greg Abbott’s ban on mask mandates in schools, making Texas the sixth state to face a federal inquiry over mask rules.

The investigation will focus on whether Abbott’s order prevents students with disabilities who are at heightened risk for severe illness from COVID-19 from safely returning to in-person education, in violation of federal law, Suzanne B. Goldberg, the acting assistant secretary for civil rights wrote in a letter to Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath.

The investigation comes after the Texas Education Agency released guidance saying public school systems cannot require students or staff to wear masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in light of Abbott’s ban on mask mandates.

[…]

Goldberg wrote that the Office for Civil Rights will examine whether TEA “may be preventing school districts in the state from considering or meeting the individual educational needs of students with disabilities or otherwise enabling discrimination based on disability.”

The department previously opened similar investigations into mask policies in Iowa, South Carolina, Utah, Oklahoma and Tennessee. But the agency had not done so in Texas because of court orders preventing the state from enforcing Abbott’s order. The new TEA guidance changed that, however.

See here and here for the background. The TEA’s new directive made me scratch my head.

In newly released guidance, the Texas Education Agency says public school systems cannot require students or staff to wear masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

A statement released by the agency Friday says Gov. Greg Abbott’s May executive order banning mask mandates precludes districts from requiring face coverings.

“Per GA-38, school systems cannot require students or staff to wear a mask. GA-38 addresses government-mandated face coverings in response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the statement reads. “Other authority to require protective equipment, including masks, in an employment setting is not necessarily affected by GA-38.”

The agency previously had said it would not enforce the governor’s ban until the issue was resolved in the courts.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has sued several school districts for imposing mask requirements on students and teachers, and some districts have sued the state over the governor’s order. The lawsuits have produced mixed results with some courts upholding districts’ mask mandates and some siding with the attorney general.

TEA officials on Tuesday did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the new guidelines and questions about how the agency would enforce the ban on mask mandates. The agency has not yet clarified what prompted the new guidelines, given that the legal battles regarding the order are ongoing.

Hard to know exactly what motivated this, but “pressure from Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton” would be high on my list of suspects. If I were to advise school districts that currently have mask mandates, as HISD does, or are thinking about imposing one, I would say go right ahead, and keep the mandates you have. This is a toothless threat, and the courts have not yet weighed in on the issue in a meaningful way. We know that having the mask mandates promotes safety, and if that isn’t the highest priority I don’t know what is. Do not waver.

Anyway. The Trib has an explainer about the state of mask mandates and lawsuits around them, but it doesn’t indicate when the legal cases may be having hearings, which admittedly would be a big task to track. The federal lawsuit will have a hearing on October 6, and we may get some clarity out of that. In the meantime, keep the mask mandates. We need them, and (a couple of district court judges aside) no one is stopping school districts from having them. The Trib has more.

Precinct analysis: Congress, part 2

Introduction
Congressional districts
State Rep districts
Commissioners Court/JP precincts
Comparing 2012 and 2016
Statewide judicial
Other jurisdictions
Appellate courts, Part 1
Appellate courts, Part 2
Judicial averages
Other cities
District Attorney
County Attorney
Sheriff
Tax Assessor
County Clerk
HCDE
Fort Bend, part 1
Fort Bend, part 2
Fort Bend, part 3
Brazoria County
Harris County State Senate comparisons
State Senate districts 2020
State Senate district comparisons
State House districts 2020, part 1
State House districts 2020, part 2
Median districts
State House district changes by demography
State House district changes by county
SBOE
Congress, part 1

I didn’t want to leave the Congressional district analysis without looking at some downballot races, since I mentioned them in the first part. To keep this simple, I’m just going to compare 2020 to 2012, to give a bookends look at things. I’ve got the Senate race (there was no Senate race in 2016, another reason to skip that year), the Railroad Commissioner race, and the Supreme Court race with Nathan Hecht.


Dist   Hegar   Cornyn  Hegar% Cornyn%
=====================================
01    79,626  217,942  26.30%  71.90%
02   157,925  180,504  45.50%  52.00%
03   188,092  224,921  44.50%  53.20%
04    79,672  256,262  23.20%  74.70%
05   101,483  173,929  36.00%  61.70%
06   155,022  178,305  45.30%  52.10%
07   154,670  152,741  49.20%  48.60%
08   100,868  275,150  26.20%  71.50%
09   168,796   54,801  73.50%  23.90%
10   191,097  215,665  45.90%  51.80%
11    54,619  232,946  18.60%  79.20%
12   129,679  228,676  35.20%  62.00%
13    50,271  217,949  18.30%  79.40%
14   117,954  185,119  38.00%  59.60%
15   110,141  111,211  48.10%  48.60%
16   148,484   73,923  63.10%  31.40%
17   127,560  174,677  41.00%  56.20%
18   178,680   60,111  72.60%  24.40%
19    65,163  194,783  24.40%  73.00%
20   163,219   99,791  60.10%  36.80%
21   203,090  242,567  44.50%  53.10%
22   188,906  214,386  45.80%  52.00%
23   135,518  150,254  46.10%  51.10%
24   165,218  171,828  47.80%  49.70%
25   165,657  222,422  41.70%  56.00%
26   168,527  256,618  38.60%  58.70%
27    98,760  169,539  35.90%  61.70%
28   118,063  107,547  50.60%  46.10%
29    99,415   51,044  64.00%  32.80%
30   203,821   53,551  77.00%  20.20%
31   178,949  206,577  45.20%  52.20%
32   170,654  165,157  49.60%  48.00%
33   111,620   41,936  70.40%  26.50%
34   101,691   93,313  50.60%  46.50%
35   175,861   87,121  64.50%  32.00%
36    78,544  218,377  25.90%  71.90%


Dist   Casta   Wright  Casta% Wright%
=====================================
01    75,893  217,287  25.20%  72.20%
02   153,630  176,484  44.90%  51.60%
03   181,303  220,004  43.70%  53.00%
04    76,281  254,688  22.50%  75.00%
05   100,275  171,307  35.80%  61.20%
06   151,372  176,517  44.60%  52.00%
07   149,853  149,114  48.50%  48.20%
08    97,062  271,212  25.60%  71.40%
09   168,747   51,862  74.10%  22.80%
10   184,189  211,020  44.90%  51.40%
11    53,303  230,719  18.30%  79.10%
12   123,767  227,786  33.90%  62.50%
13    47,748  215,948  17.60%  79.50%
14   114,873  182,101  37.40%  59.40%
15   113,540  103,715  50.50%  46.10%
16   144,436   75,345  62.30%  32.50%
17   121,338  171,677  39.70%  56.20%
18   177,020   57,783  72.60%  23.70%
19    62,123  192,844  23.60%  73.20%
20   165,617   93,296  61.40%  34.60%
21   197,266  234,785  43.90%  52.30%
22   184,521  209,495  45.50%  51.60%
23   136,789  144,156  47.10%  49.60%
24   160,511  167,885  47.10%  49.20%
25   157,323  218,711  40.30%  56.00%
26   160,007  251,763  37.30%  58.70%
27    97,797  165,135  36.00%  60.80%
28   121,898  100,306  52.90%  43.60%
29   102,354   46,954  66.30%  30.40%
30   204,615   50,268  77.60%  19.10%
31   169,256  203,981  43.40%  52.30%
32   168,807  160,201  49.60%  47.10%
33   111,727   40,264  71.10%  25.60%
34   105,427   86,391  53.30%  43.70%
35   173,994   82,414  64.70%  30.60%
36    76,511  216,585  25.40%  72.00%


Dist Meachum    HechtMeachum%  Hecht%
=====================================
01    79,995  215,240  26.60%  71.50%
02   154,787  179,887  45.20%  52.50%
03   185,076  220,662  44.60%  53.10%
04    79,667  253,119  23.50%  74.50%
05   101,813  172,186  36.40%  61.50%
06   155,372  175,793  45.80%  51.80%
07   149,348  154,058  48.20%  49.70%
08    99,434  272,277  26.20%  71.60%
09   170,611   52,213  75.00%  22.90%
10   188,253  212,284  45.80%  51.60%
11    56,146  228,708  19.30%  78.50%
12   129,478  225,206  35.50%  61.80%
13    51,303  214,434  18.90%  78.90%
14   118,324  181,521  38.50%  59.10%
15   115,046  103,787  51.20%  46.20%
16   149,828   73,267  64.20%  31.40%
17   126,952  170,378  41.50%  55.70%
18   179,178   58,684  73.50%  24.10%
19    66,333  190,784  25.20%  72.30%
20   166,733   93,546  62.00%  34.80%
21   200,216  237,189  44.50%  52.80%
22   188,187  210,138  46.30%  51.70%
23   138,391  143,522  47.70%  49.50%
24   164,386  168,747  48.10%  49.40%
25   162,591  218,370  41.60%  55.80%
26   168,621  251,426  39.10%  58.30%
27   100,675  164,273  37.10%  60.50%
28   122,263   99,666  53.50%  43.60%
29   101,662   48,349  66.00%  31.40%
30   207,327   50,760  78.50%  19.20%
31   172,531  198,717  45.00%  51.80%
32   169,325  163,993  49.60%  48.10%
33   112,876   40,077  71.80%  25.50%
34   104,142   84,361  53.80%  43.50%
35   177,097   82,098  66.00%  30.60%
36    78,170  216,153  26.00%  71.90%

	
Dist  Sadler     Cruz Sadler%   Cruz%
=====================================
01    76,441  169,490  30.55%  67.74%
02    84,949  155,605  34.35%  62.92%
03    88,929  168,511  33.52%  63.52%
04    69,154  174,833  27.60%  69.79%
05    73,712  130,916  35.14%  62.41%
06   100,573  143,297  40.12%  57.16%
07    89,471  141,393  37.73%  59.63%
08    55,146  190,627  21.88%  75.64%
09   140,231   40,235  76.35%  21.91%
10   103,526  154,293  38.76%  57.76%
11    45,258  175,607  19.93%  77.32%
12    77,255  162,670  31.22%  65.74%
13    43,022  175,896  19.12%  78.17%
14    97,493  142,172  39.77%  58.00%
15    79,486   62,277  54.55%  42.74%
16    91,289   56,636  59.66%  37.02%
17    82,118  130,507  37.31%  59.30%
18   145,099   45,871  74.37%  23.51%
19    52,070  155,195  24.37%  72.65%
20   106,970   73,209  57.47%  39.33%
21   115,768  181,094  37.32%  58.38%
22    90,475  157,006  35.74%  62.02%
23    86,229   98,379  45.28%  51.66%
24    90,672  147,419  36.88%  59.97%
25   101,059  155,304  37.79%  58.07%
26    77,304  173,933  29.66%  66.74%
27    81,169  125,913  38.11%  59.12%
28    90,481   68,096  55.14%  41.50%
29    71,504   38,959  63.27%  34.47%
30   168,805   44,782  77.58%  20.58%
31    89,486  138,886  37.46%  58.13%
32   103,610  141,469  41.03%  56.03%
33    81,568   33,956  68.96%  28.71%
34    79,622   60,126  55.23%  41.71%
35   101,470   56,450  61.37%  34.14%
36    63,070  168,072  26.66%  71.04%


Dist   Henry    Cradd  Henry%  Cradd%
=====================================
01    67,992  170,189  27.73%  69.41%	
02    78,359  155,155  32.30%  63.95%	
03    80,078  167,247  31.02%  64.80%	
04    64,908  170,969  26.53%  69.87%	
05    69,401  129,245  33.75%  62.86%	
06    96,386  141,220  39.03%  57.18%	
07    80,266  143,409  34.60%  61.81%	
08    51,716  188,005  20.83%  75.74%	
09   138,893   39,120  76.19%  21.46%	
10    94,282  153,321  36.00%  58.54%	
11    44,310  171,250  19.77%  76.42%	
12    72,582  160,255  29.85%  65.90%	
13    42,402  171,310  19.15%  77.36%	
14    96,221  137,169  39.91%  56.89%	
15    81,120   56,697  56.51%  39.50%	
16    90,256   49,563  60.67%  33.31%	
17    77,899  126,329  36.20%  58.70%	
18   142,749   44,416  73.97%  23.01%	
19    50,735  150,643  24.17%  71.76%	
20   102,998   72,019  56.19%  39.29%	
21   103,442  181,345  34.03%  59.66%	
22    85,869  155,271  34.42%  62.24%	
23    85,204   92,976  45.63%  49.79%	
24    83,119  146,534  34.52%  60.85%	
25    92,074  153,051  35.16%  58.44%	
26    71,177  172,026  27.82%  67.24%	
27    79,313  120,235  38.16%  57.84%	
28    94,545   59,311  58.53%  36.72%	
29    72,681   35,059  65.14%  31.42%	
30   166,852   43,206  77.43%  20.05%	
31    82,045  136,810  35.10%  58.52%	
32    92,896  143,313  37.69%  58.15%	
33    81,885   30,941  69.96%  26.43%	
34    82,924   50,769  58.78%  35.99%	
35    97,431   55,398  59.79%  34.00%	
36    62,309  161,751  26.88%  69.79%


Dist   Petty    Hecht  Petty%  Hecht%
=====================================
01    71,467  163,306  29.37%  67.11%
02    84,472  147,576  35.05%  61.23%
03    85,368  161,072  33.16%  62.56%
04    68,551  163,313  28.26%  67.31%
05    72,559  123,012  35.59%  60.34%
06   101,437  133,905  41.29%  54.51%
07    86,596  135,562  37.63%  58.90%
08    55,495  181,582  22.47%  73.53%
09   141,509   36,555  77.91%  20.13%
10   100,998  146,370  38.76%  56.17%
11    47,657  163,669  21.49%  73.81%
12    76,959  153,820  31.79%  63.53%
13    46,099  162,448  21.01%  74.02%
14   100,566  131,348  41.86%  54.67%
15    83,009   53,962  58.27%  37.88%
16    93,997   46,517  63.26%  31.31%
17    82,692  120,206  38.64%  56.16%
18   145,329   41,564  75.56%  21.61%
19    54,458  143,426  26.12%  68.80%
20   109,712   66,441  59.93%  36.29%
21   112,633  172,657  37.12%  56.90%
22    91,252  149,320  36.71%  60.06%
23    90,554   87,003  48.74%  46.83%
24    89,019  139,910  37.09%  58.29%
25    98,663  145,549  37.88%  55.87%
26    76,953  165,377  30.12%  64.73%
27    83,222  114,299  40.30%  55.36%
28    97,850   55,633  60.91%  34.63%
29    74,382   33,124  66.97%  29.82%
30   169,799   39,877  78.96%  18.54%
31    89,084  128,420  38.24%  55.13%
32    97,997  137,060  39.92%  55.84%
33    84,095   28,859  72.01%  24.71%
34    85,950   47,645  61.27%  33.96%
35   102,646   51,225  63.03%  31.46%
36    66,497  154,956  28.85%  67.24%

There are two things that jump out at me when I look over these numbers. The first actually has to do with the statewide totals. Joe Biden cut the deficit at the Presidential level nearly in half from 2012 – where Barack Obama trailed Mitt Romney by 1.26 million votes, Biden trailed Trump by 631K. The gains were not as dramatic in the Senate and RRC races, but there was progress. Ted Cruz beat Paul Sadler by 1.246 million votes, while John Cornyn beat MJ Hegar by 1.074 million; for RRC, Christi Craddock topped Dale Henry by 1.279 million and Jim Wright bested Chrysta Castaneda by 1.039 million. Not nearly as much progress, but we’re going in the right direction. At the judicial level, however, that progress wasn’t there. Nathan Hecht, then running for Supreme Court Place 6, won in 2012 by 908K votes, and he won in 2020 by 934K. That’s a little misleading, because in the only other contested statewide judicial race in 2012, Sharon Keller beat Keith Hampton for CCA by 1.094 million votes, and five out of the seven Dems running in 2020 did better than that. Still, the point remains, the judicial races were our weakest spot. If we really want to turn Texas blue, we will need more of an investment in these races as well.

One explanation for this is that Dem statewide judicial candidates didn’t do as well in at least some of the trending-blue places. Hegar and Castaneda both carried CD07, but only two of the Dem judicial candidates did, Staci Williams and Tina Clinton. All of them carried CD32, but none of them by more than two points, while Biden took it by ten; to be fair, Hegar won it by less than two, and Castaneda had the best performance with a 2.6 point margin. Maybe these folks were motivated by Trump more than anything else, and they didn’t see the judicial races in those terms. I have noted before that Dem judicial candidates did better in CD07 in 2018 than in 2020, so maybe the higher turnout included more less-likely Republicans than one might have expected. Or maybe these folks are in the process of becoming Democratic, but aren’t all the way there yet. Just something to think about.

On the flip side of that, while Hegar underperformed in the three closer-than-expected Latino Democratic districts CD15, CD28, and CD34 – Cornyn actually carried CD15 by a smidge – everyone else did better, and indeed outperformed Biden in those districts. The judicial candidates all carried CDs 28 and 34 by at least six points, with most in the 8-9 range and a couple topping ten, and all but two carried CD15 by a wider margin that Biden’s 1.9 points, with them in the three-to-five range. Still a disconcerting step back from 2012 and 2016, but at least for CDs 28 and 34 it’s still a reasonably comfortable margin. Maye this is the mirror image of the results in CDs 07 and 32, where the Presidential race was the main motivator and people were more likely to fall back on old patterns elsewhere. As with CDs 07 and 32, we’ll have to see where those trends go from here.

After however many entries in this series, I don’t have a whole lot more to say. We’ll be getting new maps soon, and we’ll have a better idea of what the immediate future looks like. I think the last two decades has shown us that there’s only so far out in the future that redistricting will be predictive in such a dynamic and growing state as Texas, but we have seen the winds shift more than once, so let’s not get too comfortable with any one idea. Whatever we get in this session is not etched in stone, and we still have some hope for federal legislation. For now, this is what we’re up against.

Just a reminder, no one is enforcing Abbott’s mask mandate ban

In case you had forgotten.

While Republican Gov. Greg Abbott is speaking out against mask mandates in schools and suing to stop some Texas school districts from enacting them, in reality his order banning such mandates has gone largely unenforced — so much so that the federal government doesn’t consider it active.

Abbott threatened $1,000 fines for officials who try to impose mask mandates, although no such fines have been handed down. And if he wanted to, Abbott could send state troopers or deputize the Texas National Guard to enforce his order, as he has done on the border, but he hasn’t. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, meanwhile, has a published list of 71 non complying cities, counties and school districts; is fighting in court with at least six of them and sent letters threatening more legal action to others.

But in the court filings from the lawsuits, Paxton has acknowledged that neither he nor Abbott will directly enforce the ban on mask mandates, instead leaving it to local district attorneys, some of whom are already on-record saying that they don’t intend to prosecute.

Abbott’s own Texas Education Agency on Aug. 19 said that the ban on mask mandates would not be enforced until the courts have resolved legal challenges to his authority to do it. And the federal Department of Education chose Monday not to open an investigation into the matter in Texas, even as it launched probes of five other states with active bans.

[…]

The five largest counties in the state are Harris, Dallas, Tarrant, Bexar and Travis. The district attorneys for Harris and Bexar counties have already announced they don’t intend to prosecute school districts over mask rules, and a prosecutor with Travis County said the office would remain focused on violent crime, although they would evaluate the situation on a case-by-case basis.

Tarrant County did not respond to a request for comment, and a spokeswoman for Dallas County said: “This issue is working its way through the civil courts. At this point in time — until that’s concluded and depending on how that’s concluded — there’s no reason to consider a position on that.”

On Monday at a House Public Education Committee hearing, Rep. Steve Allison, a San Antonio-area Republican, acknowledged there’s “an appearance of dysfunction” in government right now over the mask orders and Abbott’s ban.

See here and here for the background. I’m not sure why the Travis and Dallas DAs are being so equivocal, but it doesn’t really matter. There’s no way they’ll prosecute anyone over this, not if they want to avoid having their asses handed to them in the next primary election. We all know this is about Greg Abbott trying to look macho for the Republican primary voters. There’s no need to help him with that in any way.

Feds take first steps in the mask mandate fight

Coming attractions.

The U.S. Department of Education is opening civil rights investigations to determine whether five states that have banned schools from requiring masks are discriminating against students with disabilities, the agency said on Monday.

The department is targeting Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah, all Republican-led states, in its investigations. It said it was concerned that their bans on mandatory masking could leave students with disabilities and underlying health conditions more vulnerable to COVID-19, limiting their access to in-person learning opportunities.

“It’s simply unacceptable that state leaders are putting politics over the health and education of the students they took an oath to serve,” U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in a statement.

“The Department will fight to protect every student’s right to access in-person learning safely and the rights of local educators to put in place policies that allow all students to return to the classroom full-time in-person safely this fall.”

[…]

Florida, Texas, Arkansas and Arizona are four other Republican-led states that have banned mandatory masking orders in schools. The Education Department left those states out of its inquiry because court orders or other actions have paused their enforcement, it said in a news release.

The department says it is monitoring those states and would take action if local mask-wearing policies are later barred from going into effect.

See here for the background, and here for the press release. It’s too early to say how this might go, and that’s before we get a resolution in the reams of mask mandate-related lawsuits that are still working their way through our system. Suffice it to say that the good guys have a lot of fight left in them.

More injunctions against the mask mandate bans

Keep ’em coming.

Concluding that Gov. Greg Abbott exceeded his authority by banning mask mandates in Texas, an Austin judge ruled Friday that school districts in Travis County can enforce face coverings as a COVID-19 precaution.

State District Judge Catherine Mauzy’s order also applied to 19 school districts that represent about 1 million students — including Austin, Dallas, El Paso, Fort Worth and Houston — as well as Austin Community College, which also sued Abbott.

However, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton quickly appealed, automatically blocking enforcement of Mauzy’s temporary injunction — though the Austin-based 3rd Court of Appeals can be asked to reinstate the judge’s order while Paxton’s challenge proceeds.

In her ruling, Mauzy concluded Abbott’s ban on mandatory masks — contained in a July 29 executive order — was unlawful and exceeded his authority in violation of the Texas Constitution.

Mauzy found that the school officials and parents who challenged Abbott’s order made “a sufficient showing” to establish that Abbott was not authorized to declare “by executive fiat” that school districts are prohibited from requiring masks to be worn.

Without court intervention, Mauzy added, Abbott’s ban leaves school officials unable to mandate masks to control the spread of COVID-19, “which threatens to overwhelm public schools and could result in more extreme measures such as the school closures that have already begun in several Texas school districts.”

In a separate ruling, Mauzy also granted an injunction sought by Harris County to allow a mask mandate to continue for Houston-area school districts, said Christian Menefee, county attorney.

“Gov. Abbott is misusing the Texas Disaster Act to make this pandemic worse,” Menefee said, calling the ruling an important step in reining in the governor.

But in a third challenge, the judge declined to issue a statewide injunction, requested by the Southern Center for Child Advocacy, that would have allowed mask mandates in all Texas school districts. Mauzy’s one-page order gave no reason for the denial.

It’s hard to keep track of all of these, but see here for the original ruling in the Harris County case, and here for the original ruling in the SCCA case; the filing of their lawsuit was noted here. I have so many of these posts, some of which combine stories from multiple lawsuits, so I can’t find (and may not have) a post about the original Austin lawsuit, but the famous SCOTx demurral of the emergency request by Paxton and Abbott to block a TRO was related to the Austin/Travis County lawsuit. I note that the Harris County case and the SCCA case were originally in Judge Jan Soifer’s courtroom, so I am assuming that a bunch of similar lawsuits were combined into one and that’s how they all wound up before Judge Mauzy.

The injunction may be on hold because of the appeal (there’s some fancy legal term for this that I have encountered before but forgotten by now), but the plaintiffs can and surely will ask for it to be reinstated by the Third Court of Appeals. That will force another reckoning with the Supreme Court, thanks to the recent order in the Bexar County case. In a sense all of this is just sound and fury since Abbott and Paxton can’t enforce the mask mandate bans anyway, but the ritual must be observed. I feel like I should get a CLE credit for all of this blogging. HISD Superintendent Millard House’s statement about the ruling is here, and KXAN and the Trib have more.

Abbott admits he can’t enforce his mask mandate ban

So what are we even doing here? Just make your mandate and move on.

Gov. Greg Abbott has been embroiled in court battles with Texas cities, counties and public schools that have defied his ban on local mask mandates. But in the urban areas where those battles are being waged, the local officials Abbott needs to enforce his ban aren’t playing ball.

Even as Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton vow to punish local government and school district officials who flout the governor’s executive order, they conceded in court documents that they actually have no power to enforce the ban.

“Neither Governor Abbott nor Attorney General Paxton will be enforcing” the order, Paxton argued in a Monday court filing in Dallas.

Since the pandemic began, Abbott has issued a flurry of executive orders, the most prominent of which have limited cities and counties from enacting measures intended to slow the spread of COVID-19, like mask mandates and occupancy restrictions on businesses like restaurants and retailers.

Cities, counties and school districts in the state’s major urban areas have responded with a flood of lawsuits challenging Abbott’s executive order prohibiting them from enacting mask mandates amid a surge of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

In a bid to convince judges to toss out those legal challenges, Abbott and Paxton claim in recent court filings that they’re not the right target because it’s up to local prosecutors to enforce Abbott’s orders.

“The Governor’s executive orders, having the full force and effect of law, are enforceable by state and local law enforcement,” spokesperson Renae Eze said in a statement.

But in the state’s urban counties, those district attorneys are mostly Democrats who are unlikely to sue fellow local officials for violating Abbott’s order banning mask mandates.

“[Abbott is] saying, ‘Well, it’s not enforceable, only the DA can do it,” said Randall Erben, an adjunct law professor at the University of Texas at Austin. “Well, the DAs in Travis, Harris and Dallas are not going to prosecute anybody for violation of the executive order.”

In the state’s most populous county, Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg doesn’t anticipate enforcing Abbott’s executive order because it’s not a criminal matter, a spokesperson said.

Abbott’s legal argument — tucked into court documents in at least five lawsuits challenging his order — has prompted some lawyers representing local governments and public schools to call out the governor and Paxton for saying one thing in public and another in the courtroom.

Yeah, Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee was one of those people. This is, as the article notes later on, one hundred percent Abbott and Paxton beating their chests for the rubes. Again, never believe a word Ken Paxton says.

Two points to consider. One is that while those of us fortunate enough to live in a sufficiently enlightened county can now put whatever pressure we want on our mayors and county judges and school boards to move forward with their mask mandates, since there won’t be any criminal consequences for them and in that sense all of the ongoing litigation doesn’t really matter. But if your city or school district is not in such a place, then you really do care about what the Supreme Court will ultimately say, because your Mayor or Superintendent will be in the crosshairs otherwise. Even with a favorable SCOTx ruling, Abbott has ratcheted up the political pressure enough that it may not be worth it to them regardless. The harm they’re doing for the sake of winning the support of a depraved bunch of Republican primary voters is incalculable.

And two, this is now another example of Abbott and Paxton making “you can’t sue me” a key point of their governance. The “heartbeat” abortion ban atrocity is perhaps the highest-profile example, but Paxton’s claims that he’s exempt from the state’s whistleblower laws because he’s not a “public employee” are another, and it’s just as pernicious. It’s all about wielding power without responsibility or constraint. If trends hold to form, look for bills introduced by Republicans in the next Lege to include clauses about why the state can’t be sued by anyone who claims to have been harmed. At least, that will be the case until we have Democrats in the executive offices. At that point, it will be game on for limiting what they can do. But for now, we’re not supposed to sue them for anything because…well, just because.

Bexar mask mandate put on hold again

SCOTx has entered the chat, again.

The Texas Supreme Court has temporarily blocked San Antonio and Bexar County’s mask mandate, marking the latest update in a flurry of court battles over mask requirements statewide.

The decision comes after an appellate court earlier this month allowed the local mask mandate to stand, despite Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order barring public entities from instituting such requirements. The new ruling is a win for the governor and Attorney General Ken Paxton, who had asked the high court earlier this week to step in and stop local officials.

[…]

In the order, the high court noted that the lawsuit does not consider whether people should wear masks or whether government officials should compel them to do so. Rather, the justices said, the case concerns which levels of government can make those decisions.

“The status quo, for many months, has been gubernatorial oversight of such decisions at both the state and local levels,” they wrote. “That status quo should remain in place while the court of appeals, and potentially this court, examine the parties’ merits arguments to determine whether plaintiffs have demonstrated a probable right to the relief sought.”

The court has yet to make a final decision on the matter, which could take weeks or months. Several similar but separate lawsuits, including two in Dallas and Houston, are also currently being litigated.

See here, here, and here for some background. This only affects the Bexar County case – the litigation in Harris and Dallas and other places have not yet been taken to the Supreme Court. It seems likely that they would go the same way, but as noted so far SCOTx is not inclined to let Abbott and Paxton jump the line on this, so they have to go through the process first. Also, this is a stay of the temporary restraining order, which means that if and when the judge in Bexar County issues a temporary injunction, as the judge in Dallas County just did, the SCOTx stay will become moot and Abbott and Paxton will have to go through the process again, to get another stay while that ruling is appealed. Isn’t this fun?

Also, as a friendly reminder, never believe a thing Ken Paxton says:

I know you didn’t need to be told that, but it never hurts to say. The Trib and the Current have more.

Dallas County gets its injunction

Another big win.

Clay Jenkins

A district court judge has sided with Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins in his dispute with Gov. Greg Abbott over the county’s mask mandate, allowing the mandate to stay in place.

Judge Tonya Parker issued a temporary injunction Wednesday on Abbott’s order that public entities such as cities, counties and schools can’t issue mask requirements or mandates. The injunction allows Jenkins’ mask order — and the mask requirements of local school districts — to continue, for now.

Parker in her ruling said that Jenkins has shown that Dallas County residents “will suffer probable imminent and irreparable injury through County Judge Jenkins being precluded from exercising his authority” to require masks in public.

The judge noted that the highly transmissible delta variant threatens to overwhelm the healthcare system and has increased hospitalizations and death in Dallas County.

“Each of these bases for probable imminent and irreparable injury independently supports the issuance of the requested temporary injunction,” the ruling said.

The temporary injunction will return Jenkins to “the position he was in” before Abbott’s executive order that barred face mask requirements, the ruling said.

Parker set a hearing for Jan. 10 to review the temporary injunction, though attorneys for the state could file an appeal to Parker’s ruling sooner than that.

See here for the background. A copy of the ruling is here, and you can see Judge Jenkins doing a media call about this here. This will be appealed, of course – one presumes that Paxton and Abbott have learned their lesson and will go through the appellate courts first – and we’ll see how long that takes. It may be that at the least SCOTx is less inclined to grant emergency relief. We’ll know when it gets to them. For now, a win for the good guys.

On a related note, Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee sent out an interesting press release that notes some differences between what Ken Paxton says in public about mask mandate bans and what he’s been saying in court about them.

In GA-38, the Governor banned school districts and local officials from mandating masks, and stated local officials who issue such safety measures would be subject to a “fine up to $1,000.” In response to recent mask mandates imposed by local officials, Attorney General Ken Paxton has stated publicly—and repeatedly—that his office will enforce Governor Abbott’s mask mandate ban. He and Governor Abbott joined together in stating that “any school district, public university, or local government official that decides to defy [the Governor’s mask mandate ban] will be taken to court.”[1] His office has compiled a list of “government entities unlawfully imposing mask mandates,” designed to intimidate those entities into compliance.[2] He has sent letters to many on that list, threatening them with enforcement.[3] He has tweeted several times he intends to sue these entities, most recently saying “I will defend TX Law & sue every entity that violates it. We will win!”[4]

Despite these public statements, the Attorney General admitted to the courts hearing the lawsuits brought by local officials and school districts that his office does not and cannot enforce GA-38, nor can he seek the $1,000 fine provided in the order. His office has stated plainly that “[n]either Governor Abbott nor Attorney General Paxton will be enforcing GA-38.”[5] Instead, the Attorney General acknowledges that only local district attorneys can enforce GA-38—he has claimed that entities like Harris County, other counties/cities, and certain independent school districts cannot sue the Governor and the Attorney General because they have “alleged no credible threat of prosecution by local district attorneys, who would be the ones enforcing GA-38.”[6]

Menefee added: “I presume the Attorney General is telling the truth in his court filings. He should be telling everyone else the same thing and letting local governments and school districts continue doing what they can to stop the spread of COVID-19, especially among our children.”

Go view the document to see the footnotes; the last two refer to the AG’s own filings in the cases involving Harris County and others. I mean, it’s not like anyone should have expected the truth from Ken Paxton, but it’s still bracing to see it laid out like that.

Back to SCOTx for the mask mandate ban

Brace yourselves.

Following an unfavorable outcome at an appellate court, Gov. Greg Abbott asked the Texas Supreme Court to block the mask mandate in San Antonio and Bexar County.

A Bexar County district judge issued a temporary order on Aug. 16 allowing the city and county to require masks in city and county buildings and public schools. That order keeps the mask mandates in place until December, when a trial is set for the case. Attorney General Ken Paxton, on behalf of the state, appealed that order immediately to the 4th Court of Appeals, but a panel of judges upheld the local mask mandate last Thursday.

Paxton took that decision to the Texas Supreme Court on Monday, arguing in the filing that the 4th Court of Appeals’ ruling adds to the confusion over mask requirements in Texas, and asked for “urgent” action.

Paxton wrote that the 4th Court’s action “upends, rather than preserves, the status quo. The court of appeals’ decision thereby compounds the widespread confusion over mask mandates in Texas and frustrates the state’s ability to cohesively address the pandemic.”

The 4th Court of Appeals had judged keeping a local mask mandate maintains the status quo, as a previous temporary restraining order granted on Aug. 10 first put the mandates in place in San Antonio and Bexar County.

Paxton also argued that the state’s high court must take quick action because other cities and counties are being granted their own temporary orders allowing them to require masks despite the governor’s executive order prohibiting that.

See here and here for some background. The 4th Court of Appeals issued its order denying the request for a stay on the same day that the Supreme Court batted back the request it had received in the Harris County case. They could act quickly or they could sit on this and wait for action from other courts, because Lord knows there’s a ton of litigation out there.

Speaking of other litigation

A Dallas County judge today will decide whether Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has the authority to prevent local officials from imposing public health measures like mask mandates. It’s the latest in a dramatic and fast-moving court battle over the issue in the state.

At today’s hearing, the judge will likely hear evidence and testimony about the pandemic’s impact and the efficacy of mask-wearing to stop the spread of the COVID-19 delta variant as well as legal arguments about the Texas Disaster Act.

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins and his legal team, who are requesting a temporary injunction against Abbott’s order, say mask-wearing is the best way to save lives and slow the pandemic while they wait for people to get the vaccine. They’ll also argue that Jenkins, the county’s chief administrator who has emergency management powers, has the legal authority to issue executive orders to mandate such rules.

“We need protection for citizens in Dallas County, we need protection for the economy of Dallas County,” Charla Aldous, one of Jenkins’ attorneys, said at the hearing Tuesday morning. “The bottom line: We are here because Judge Jenkins wants to do his job.”

Abbott and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton say the governor’s executive order, GA-38 — which bans mask mandates — is legal because the Texas Disaster Act gives him the power to ban Jenkins and other local officials like school districts from requiring masks.

Benjamin Dower, a lawyer with the Texas Attorney General’s Office, said the state would produce no witnesses and that the testimony from Jenkins’ witnesses weren’t relevant to temporary injunction hearing.

“None of this is actually relevant to the matter the court has to decide,” Dower said. “This is really a question of law, not fact.”

Judge Tonya Parker, of the 116th Civil District Court, will decide today whether to grant a temporary injunction barring the governor’s order. She previously granted a temporary restraining order doing just that.

The restraining order hearing was to prove whether there would be harm if Abbott’s ban were enforced. The temporary injunction hearing scheduled for this morning is to decide whether the decision should be more permanent. The judge will hear evidence on the matter, but Jenkins’ legal team must still prove immediate harm from Abbott’s order.

See here and here for some background; yes, all of this litigation is hard to keep track of. This post is likely to be already out of date by the time it publishes in the morning. I’ll update it then. Hold onto your butts in the meantime.

UPDATE: No news on the Dallas case yet. Maybe by this time tomorrow.

Stop investigating yourself, you’ll go blind

There’s not enough snark on the Internet for this.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office on Tuesday released an internal report that found that Paxton did not accept bribes and did not misuse his office to benefit his friend and campaign donor Nate Paul, despite a continuing FBI investigation of the matter.

The office did not immediately respond to questions about who completed the unsigned report, or why the office handled the matter internally, rather than hiring outside investigators to avoid a possible conflict of interest.

The bribery and abuse of office accusations were made by eight of Paxton’s top aides last fall. Four of the whistleblowers have sued Paxton for retaliating against them for reporting him to law enforcement.

“The takeaway from this internal report is that, although Ken Paxton remains under active federal investigation, the people who still work for Paxton say he did nothing wrong,” the whistleblowers’ attorneys said in a joint statement. “Of course, the one-sided internal report is full of half-truths, outright lies, and glaring omissions.”

The attorneys added that it was notable that “whoever in Paxton’s office wrote this report was not willing to put their name on it.”

The “report”, if you can even call it that, is here. The only appropriate response to this is guffaws and mockery, so I’ll start with my own.

OK, fine, a little sober skepticism is all right, too.

You can read the rest yourself. Honestly, this is one of those situations where the headline to the story tells you all you need to know. Save the self-serving BS for the appellate court and quit insulting our intelligence, please. The Trib, which has quite a few details, has more.

The status of the mask mandate lawsuits

The Chron does a roundup.

Texas courtrooms have become a busy place this August, with Attorney General Ken Paxton battling school districts, cities, counties and nonprofits to defend Gov. Greg Abbott’s ban on local mask mandates aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19.

Tracking the status of lawsuits can be dizzying.

“The way I like to think about it is there are four big buckets of cases and then there are some little minor cases out there,” said Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee, whose county has sued both Paxton and Abbott over the ban on mask orders.

Those buckets include Harris County’s lawsuit; one brought by a group of school districts; one from Bexar County and San Antonio; and one from Dallas County. Those cases are the furthest along in the legal process, Menefee said, and he expects a final decision on Abbott’s mask order rules to come from one of those cases.

Harris County’s lawsuit and the school districts’ are proceeding along the same track, Menefee said. Local officials cheered a ruling late Thursday by the state Supreme Court, on a procedural question, that allowed the county’s mask mandate to stay in place for now.

The all-Republican high court could have ruled on the merits of the question, but chose not to, instead punting it to a lower court. This signals that the court isn’t yet prepared to offer a final decision on whether or not mask mandates across the state will be allowed to remain in place, he said.

“They could rule whenever. The fact that they haven’t issued a ruling I think is encouraging because I think that means they’re thinking about it,” Menefee said. “If they do that, that’s going to be the law of the land for Texas,” applying to all cases.

[…]

In Bexar County and San Antonio’s case, local officials won a temporary injunction from an appeal, allowing their mask mandates to remain in place while their case is pending. A trial is scheduled for December. Paxton’s office is likely to appeal that to the state Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, Dallas County is fighting for a temporary restraining order to allow it to keep the mask mandate in place for the short term, a step that precedes arguments over a temporary injunction. That decision would last longer, months rather than weeks.

The stragglers, as Menefee described them, include a Fort Bend County case and a lawsuit from the Southern Center for Child Advocacy over many of the same issues.

A Fort Bend County district judge on Thursday granted the county a temporary injunction it its legal challenge to Abbott’s ban on mask mandates. County Judge KP George said it “removed the hurdles that have prevented our municipalities and school districts from taking the same action to protect their communities and the children…”

Thursday’s ruling should remain in place until the issue goes to trial in at least 45 days. Or Paxton could appeal the lower court’s decision to the state Supreme Court, as he has others, leaving it up to them to decide.

Hope that helps a little. And as a reminder of the legal questions, Erica Greider talks to an expert.

Steve Vladeck, a professor at the University of Texas School at Law, reckons that local officials still face an uphill battle in their legal battles.

The Supreme Court of Texas, he explained, didn’t side against the state on the substantive question. It simply concluded that Paxton had skipped a step in the legal process, meaning that the statewide restraining order against Abbott’s executive order remains in effect while Paxton retraces his steps.

The TEA guidance on masks, similarly, isn’t a policy change on the agency’s part; rather, it’s a recognition that a temporary restraining order issued by Travis County District Judge Jan Soife blocking the enforcement of Abbott’s latest executive order remains in effect, while litigation is pending.

“The real bottom line is that Judge Soifer’s TROs are still in effect today, but they may not be tomorrow,” Vladeck said.

Vladeck thinks it’s more likely than not that the state’s highest court will eventually side with Abbott; after all, he noted, it previously issued stays against local mask mandates issued in Dallas and Bexar County — that’s “more than nothing, when it comes to reading tea leaves.”

At the heart of the case, Vladeck continued, are genuine substantive questions about the scope of the governor’s powers under the Texas Disaster Act of 1975.

“I think we can safely say they’re broad,” Vladeck said. “The problem is they’re surely not limitless.”

Judge Soifer, you may recall, ruled in both the Harris County case and the Southern Center for Child Advocacy case. As we have seen, there is a range of opinion on this litigation from the legal community. I tend to think Vladeck is right about what will happen – however subtle some of the legal questions are, there’s also the politics of it, and the Supreme Court is much more likely to give Greg Abbott what he wants than not – but it’s not an obvious question to answer. We should know more pretty quickly.

The mask rebellion

Sweet, sweet music to the ears.

The local mask rebellion, coupled with the fresh threat of legal action from President Joe Biden’s administration, poses the most serious challenge yet to [Gov. Greg] Abbott’s emergency powers, which he has wielded in unprecedented ways that have drawn intense criticism both from Democrats and from some conservatives.

[…]

Many school boards and superintendents are stuck between conflicting requirements from the governor and their local health departments, while others feel that masks are essential and that they have the authority to control their own schools, regardless of the governor’s wishes.

“I don’t think the governor has an MD next to his name,” said Conrado Garcia, superintendent of West Oso Independent School District in Corpus Christi. “We’re just trying to help our kids, and maybe what’s missing is some of that kind of thinking.”

West Oso is one of 58 school districts deemed “noncompliant” with Abbott’s order by Attorney General Ken Paxton, who is publishing a list of the rogue government entities.

At last count, the list also included three charter school groups, one city and eight counties — Bexar, Cameron, Dallas, Harris, Hays, Hidalgo, Nueces and Travis — for a total of 70 entities. Paxton, who is also suing to overturn some of the local mandates, encouraged the public to notify his office of any “violator” that was not included on the list.

Garcia said he hopes Abbott will come around on the local mask mandates.

“Our intention is not to fight the governor, our intentions are that he will realize that there’s so many parents, and the list is growing of the number of school districts that are passing more and more resolutions,” Garcia said. “So I think eventually, somewhere, somehow, common sense dictates to me that if you’re hearing from that many people, I hope that he will compromise and let us continue with our work.”

The cases pose a new legal test for Abbott, whose emergency orders withstood early challenges from the right, filed by conservative groups that argued against business closures and the governor’s own mask mandate.

The Texas Supreme Court decided last year that it didn’t have standing to take up those cases, though Justice John Devine nonetheless issued an opinion in which he critiqued a portion of state law that allows the governor to suspend certain laws and rules during emergencies.

“I find it difficult to square this statute, and the orders made under it, with the Texas Constitution,” Devine wrote, noting that only the Legislature — not the judiciary or executive branches — has constitutional power to suspend laws.

In the latest mask challenges, local officials are citing the same portion of state law, but with the opposite intent: to stop Abbott from blocking local action aimed at blunting the spread of COVID. In cases involving San Antonio’s and Dallas’ mask mandates, local officials have argued that Abbott may suspend only local orders that would “in any way prevent, hinder or delay necessary action in coping with a disaster.”

Ron Beal, an attorney and former administrative law professor at Baylor University, sided with the local officials in an amicus brief submitted to the state Supreme Court on Monday.

“It is wholly inconsistent with the legislative intent for the governor to consciously and knowingly not meet or prevent the dangers, but to enhance them,” Beal said. “There is simply no language in the statute that empowers the governor to give citizens permission to prolong the disaster. It is thereby void.”

[Dale Carpenter, a constitutional law professor at Southern Methodist University], said the case raises difficult constitutional questions for the conservative jurists on the court.

“That cuts a number of ways in this case, both for and against the governor, because he’s acting in a way that many conservatives believe is reinforcing individual rights to choice, choice about wearing masks specifically,” Carpenter said. “But I think the court certainly doesn’t want to issue an opinion that says the governor’s the commander-in-chief and he can do what he wants, and not qualify that opinion a lot.”

[…]

Paris ISD, in Northeast Texas, has taken a novel approach to its own mask mandate. While other districts have argued that health data or conflicting local requirements required them to ignore Abbott’s order, Paris ISD’s board simply amended its dress code to include a mask.

The lawyer for the district, Dennis Eichelbaum, argues that so long as the state’s education law remains in place, school districts have the exclusive right to govern themselves. Unless Abbott decides to use his emergency powers to suspend that law, Eichelbaum argues, school districts can institute mask mandates.

“We’ve always had dress codes. It’s very common in Texas. And this is no different, really, than saying we’re requiring our students to wear shoes,” he said. “I can’t explain why other law firms weren’t as creative, but it seems pretty simple to me.”

Eichelbaum argued that Abbott’s executive order is vague and inconsistently enforced, pointing to requirements that students wear face masks during welding class or that baseball catchers and football players wear face protection. Amending a dress code to include masks to protect against COVID is no different, Eichelbaum said.

Obviously, I am delighted by the resistance to Abbott’s shameful demagoguery on this issue. Abbott, who has made a career out of defying federal laws and directives he doesn’t like, deserves no sympathy for any of this. I don’t know what the Supreme Court will do, though their refusal to just call an end to all the litigation is moderately heartening, and I appreciate the legal analysis in this story. There’s at least a chance that common sense can prevail, and that’s more than we’ve had around here in awhile.

I will say, it’s been this kind of resistance to Abbott’s anti-mask mandate, which as noted has come from some red areas as well as the cities, that makes me give some credence to that Spectrum/Ipsos poll. Abbott may only care about the most fervid of Republican primary voters, but mayors and school boards have to answer to a broader electorate, and some of them will be facing that music this year. Maybe one of the HISD Trustee candidates, especially one in a district formerly held by a Republican, will base their campaign on an anti-mask platform, but if so I haven’t seen any evidence of it yet. If nothing else, this is a big campaign issue for next year, when we finally get a candidate for Governor out there.