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Legal matters

The coming fight over medical abortion

Sure is a good thing SCOTUS will leave this up to the states, isn’t it?

Republican-led states are moving swiftly to restrict access to medication abortion.

The efforts so far have focused on regulations around the pills, such as banning them from being shipped or prescribed. But can states ban the actual abortion pill itself, even though the Food and Drug Administration has approved it? That question could be the next frontier in the abortion wars.

The short answer comes down to this: The issue isn’t settled law and will likely be litigated in the courts. Some argue states may be hard-pressed to ban the federally approved medication, though antiabortion advocates disagree.

[…]

Some states have introduced bills focused on banning abortion pills, but they haven’t gotten a lot of traction, per Elizabeth Nash, an interim associate director at Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights. (A recent exception is Oklahoma, whose Republican governor is poised to sign legislation banning abortions – including medication abortions – from the moment of “fertilization.”)

Rather, states are banning the practice of medicine around the pills. For instance: At least 19 states ban the use of telehealth for medication abortion, and some states have additional restrictions, like prohibiting pills from being mailed.

Yet, if Roe v. Wade is overturned, some states may try to ban the actual medication. And states already have gestational limits and other abortion bans on the books that could kick in quickly if Roe is overturned — and those likely encompass limitations on the pills, experts said.

Can states ban a medication the FDA has signed off on?

There’s no clear precedent here.

Some states may argue they can ban medication abortion because states have the authority to regulate the practice of medicine. The FDA, on the other hand, is the acknowledged authority on medical products, such as the abortion pill. But the line between medical practice and medical products is not always clear.

And if a state squared off against the federal government over an FDA-approved drug … “We don’t know how the court would rule. It’s an open question,” Patti Zettler, an associate professor of law at Ohio State University and former associate chief counsel in the FDA’s Office of the Chief Counsel.

See here for some background. Reminder #1: The state of Texas has made it a felony to provide abortion medication after seven weeks, after having already banned anyone but doctors from dispensing such medication, and only via an in-person office visit – no telemedicine. You can be sure that Texas will take this to the next level in the next legislative session if it is in position to do so.

Reminder #2: The same medicine that is used for abortion is also used to treat miscarriages. Needless to say, women who are suffering through a miscarriage will face – and as that story notes, are already facing – barriers to medical care that could threaten their health, their future ability to get pregnant and carry a child to term, and even their lives. That’s our future, and if you think I’m being alarmist, go back and read all those soothing articles about how this Supreme Court was never ever going to overturn Roe v Wade because it would cause too much upheaval.

Paxton seeks to intervene in GENECIS case

This is what I was worried about.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton wants the state to intervene in a court battle over medical care for transgender youth at a Dallas hospital.

Paxton filed a petition in a Dallas County court Tuesday night asking that the state be allowed to get involved in the case between Children’s Medical Center Dallas and the doctor who once led its Genecis medical program. A judge recently granted Dr. Ximena Lopez’s request to temporarily resume her regular practice after Children’s and UT Southwestern, which jointly ran the program, last year stopped providing certain medical treatments for adolescent patients newly seeking care for gender dysphoria.

The attorney general is arguing that transgender adolescents should be blocked from accessing treatments such as puberty blockers and hormone therapy, which he says may constitute abuse but which are broadly supported by the medical community.

“In order to protect its interest … in the welfare of children subject to this life-altering decision in the hands of a doctor, the state surely has a right to intervene in this matter,” Paxton and his top deputies wrote in their brief.

The brief didn’t offer a detailed explanation of how the state wants to affect the case. Neither Paxton nor Abbott responded to requests for comment.

Lopez’s legal team filed a response Wednesday evening, saying that the attorney general’s intervention is politically motivated. The team also filed an emergency motion to shorten the time before a temporary injunction hearing currently scheduled for May 26. The temporary injunction, if granted, could extend the pause on Children’s decision to stop providing certain care for new transgender adolescent patients.

[…]

“Through his filing, the attorney general is saying that he and the state should decide what is best for Texas children instead of their parents and chosen physicians,” Lopez’s attorney Charla Aldous said in a statement. “That’s a very dangerous path to follow when we’re talking about parents who are literally trying to secure lifesaving, internationally recognized standard-of-care treatment for their kids.”

See here, here, and here for some background. This is completely unsurprising, but hopefully the court will swat it aside. It would be nice if UT Southwestern took the position that this is just between them and the doctor and the state should butt out, but I doubt that will happen. I’ll keep an eye on this to see where it goes from here.

Debtors’ court, part 2

Also not good.

One day last September, while trying to pay for groceries, Leslie Alvarez got the shock of her life. All the money in her bank account had disappeared.

The Houston single mother called her bank. An employee told Alvarez that her accounts had been placed on a legal hold. A person she did not know had been authorized to remove money from her accounts.

“I had to tell my kids they had to wait awhile so I could go make money to get what they needed,” she said.

Alvarez was forced to pay up on a $1,500 cash loan as part of a debt judgment issued against her in a Harris County civil court.

Texas doesn’t allow people’s wages to be garnished to pay off debts unless it is to collect child support. By law, however, courts can designate special officers, known as turnover receivers, to force payments by freezing or seizing bank accounts. The legal process became popular in Harris County but has been used all over the state more commonly in recent years, officials say.

“This is the only real way a debt collector can hurt you,” said Craig Noack, a creditor’s attorney in San Antonio who also serves as a court-appointed receiver in Texas.

At issue, though, is whether courts have adequate oversight to ensure a fair process.

Each year, tens of thousands of Texans are subject to a bank seizure as a result of a default judgment that was declared against them because they didn’t show up in court to fight a lawsuit over a debt.

But here’s the dilemma: Most debtors don’t know that they can have their bank accounts cleaned when a debt collector wins a default judgment against them unless they claim exemptions for certain sources of funds, such as child support, Social Security, unemployment benefits and retirement funds. Alvarez had child support payments in her accounts when they were seized.

Just this month, the Supreme Court of Texas took its first steps to establish parameters that would ensure that debtors are informed of their rights to claim exemptions. Under new rules, which took effect May 1, debt collectors must provide at least 17 days for debtors to inform courts that they have funds or property that is exempt from seizure.

“The purpose of these rules and forms is to try to help even out a little bit the playing field so that the debtors get more information,” Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht said.

[…]

In the Houston region and other large Texas counties, default judgments rose by 86 percent between 2012 and last year, data show.

“As long as people don’t respond, debt collectors can get a default judgment,” said Ann Baddour, director of the fair financial services project at Texas Appleseed, a consumer advocacy group in Austin. “There’s just this motivation to move forward and sue.”

Even the Texas Creditors Bar Association, a statewide organization of attorneys that engages in debt collections, says it wants to make sure debt collectors don’t take money that is protected by law.

They support the notifications, said Noack, who represented the Texas Creditors Bar Association in discussions before the Supreme Court Advisory Committee about the new rules.

“You’re not going to find a creditor’s attorney out there who wants to take somebody’s Social Security,” he said.

Yet, among the many concerns consumer advocates say still must be addressed is the lack of oversight in Texas courts regarding the appointment of the court officers or turnover receivers.

Texas courts have no way to prevent abuses — or even mistakes — because judges are not required to track their appointments or keep periodic reports on the status of seizures, Houston consumer attorney Benjamin Sanchez said.

“You have these receivers who are doing things but not necessarily reporting back to the court,” Sanchez said.

See here for the previous entry. I hope we can all agree that no one should have their bank account drained as the result of a default judgment where they hadn’t known they needed to appear in court. There needs to be a lot more oversight here, and that’s first a job for the Legislature and then a job for the court system. One possible aspect to a solution might be a public defender system for civil litigation, modeled on the same system for criminal defendants. This is an idea I’ve seen advocated by others, and it makes sense on the principle that everyone should have the right to a lawyer to represent them in court. I’m no expert, I’m just throwing out an idea here. Whatever the case, there’s a real need for reform.

DFPS to resume investigating families of trans kids

Gross and discouraging.

The state of Texas will restart its abuse investigations into families with transgender kids after a recent court ruling that lifted a statewide injunction on such probes.

In a statement on Thursday, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services said the agency would investigate all allegations of abuse. The statement, while not addressing the investigations into medical treatments for trans youth, indirectly indicated that these probes will now continue.

“DFPS treats all reports of abuse, neglect, and exploitation seriously and will continue to investigate each to the full extent of the law,” the statement read.

Current state law does not explicitly define gender-affirming medical treatments, such as puberty blockers and hormone therapy, as child abuse. A DFPS spokesman did not comment when asked if the agency plans to continue investigating such treatments as child abuse.

Age appropriate and individualized medical treatments for trans youth, including the ones Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has called abuse, are supported by the state and nation’s largest physicians groups including the American and Texas Medical Associations. These groups have opposed the state’s abuse investigations and other efforts to block or alter gender-affirming care for minors.

The state’s announcement came just days after the Texas Supreme Court ruled that the attorney general and Gov. Greg Abbott, who had directed the agency to investigate certain medical treatments for trans adolescents as child abuse, had no authority to do so. It put control over these probes back into the hands of protective services, which opened at least nine investigations into families with transgender children since the governor issued his directive in February.

One investigation into an agency employee who has a transgender daughter will remain paused while the family fights to overturn the abuse policy, the ruling stated.

[…]

Brian Klosterboer, an attorney with the ACLU of Texas who is on the team representing the unnamed DFPS employee, said the state’s decision to reopen the cases is unfortunate and unlawful. He said his team believes that the high court’s decision removes any responsibility for Texans to report trans youth getting treatments.

“We are going to be closely monitoring what the agency does. We would encourage families that have any reason to believe that they have an investigation to seek legal help,” Klosterboer said.

“Abbott’s letter and Paxton’s opinion did not change Texas law,” he added. “Gender-affirming health care is still legal in all 50 states.”

See here for the previous entry. The initial litigation is still ongoing – as is so often the case in these battles, the issue is over whether or not the law or in this case executive order can be enforced while the lawsuit is being heard – so there may still be a statewide injunction at some point. There’s also a clear path for other families to file similar lawsuits to get injunctions for themselves, similar to what abortion providers and funds were facing with SB8. It’s still a mess and a huge burden for these people that have done nothing wrong and just want to be left alone. And it’s another reason to vote these guys out in November. The Trib has more.

State Bar complaint filed against Ted Cruz

Good.

Not Ted Cruz

A group of lawyers want the State Bar of Texas to investigate Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz for his “leading” role in attempting to overturn the 2020 presidential election results.

Lawyers with the 65 Project, an organization aiming to hold attorneys accountable for trying to keep former President Donald Trump in power despite his reelection loss, filed an ethics complaint with the association Wednesday. It cites Cruz’s role in a lawsuit seeking to void absentee ballots, numerous claims he made about voter fraud, plus an attempt to stop four states from using 2020 election results to appoint electors — all of which failed.

“Mr. Cruz knew that the allegations he was echoing had already been reviewed and rejected by courts. And he knew that claims of voter fraud or the election being stolen were false,” the complaint says.

[…]

Cruz represented Pennsylvania Republicans in their efforts to cast out nearly all 2020 absentee ballots in their state, which the Pennsylvania Supreme Court rejected. Cruz accused the state court of being “a partisan, Democratic court that has issued multiple decisions that were just on their face contrary to law.”

The complaint wants to see Cruz disciplined. It does not say how, though it mentions a New York appellate court’s suspension of Rudy Giuliani’s law license. Guiliani was one of Trump’s lawyers who also repeated false voter fraud claims.

Cruz also agreed to represent Trump in a Texas lawsuit aiming to bar Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan and Wisconsin from using its election results. The complaint argues Cruz pushed forward with a frivolous claim, which the U.S. Supreme Court quickly denied.

Here’s the 65 Project webpage; the “65” refers to the “65 lawsuits based on lies to overturn the election and give Trump a second term” that were filed by “an army of Big Lie lawyers. You can see the complaint filed against Cruz here, and the tracker they have of other complaints here. There were several filed on March 7 of this year; the one filed against Cruz was the first since then. None have been resolved yet so it’s too soon to say how effective this group will be. The one thing I can say is that this group was not involved in any of the State Bar complaints against Ken Paxton. Here’s a Vanity Fair story dated March 8 with some background on the group and its members.

Will this work? The State Bar complaints against Paxton over his dangerous and frivolous lawsuit against four Biden-won states is proceeding, though the formal lawsuit that represents the next step has not yet been filed as far as I can tell. I’d say there’s a reasonable argument that Paxton was more directly involved in the seditious and unethical behavior than Cruz was, which may make the State Bar less receptive to the filers’ case, but he wasn’t just a bystander either. Given how long it’s taken the Paxton case to get to a resolution point I’d say don’t hold your breath waiting on something to happen with this one. If it does move forward, great. Hope for the best. But do please put your energy into beating Ted Cruz in his next election, and if he steps away from the Senate to run for President do what you can to elect a Democrat to replace him. That will ultimately have a much bigger effect.

One more thing: This NYT story is headlined “Group Seeks Disbarment of Ted Cruz Over Efforts to Overturn 2020 Election”. While the complaint lays out multiple alleged violations of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct (TDPRC), it does not suggest a remedy. Instead, it merely asks that the State Bar investigate and “apply the standards set for lawyers within the TDRPC, and impose sanctions against Mr. Cruz for violating those requirements”. Certainly, based on the complaints against Paxton for similar behavior, having Cruz’s law license suspended would be on the table if the State Bar were to rule against him, but I presume there would be other options as well. We’ll see if and when it ever gets that far. TPM has more.

UPDATE: Texas Lawyer provides a bit more detail.

In Cruz’s case, the 65 Project alleges he agreed to act as a lawyer in litigation before the U.S. Supreme Court in two bogus cases, Kelly v. Pennsylvania and Texas v. Pennsylvania. Acting in tandem with Trump’s legal team, Cruz had a significant role in an “anti-democratic plot, intentionally amplifying false claims about the 2020 election on multiple occasions,” the complaint states.

The Texas v. Pennsylvania lawsuit, filed by Paxton and Assistant Attorney General Brent E. Webster, has to date resulted in a State Bar lawsuit against Webster in Williamson County’s 368th District Court. Also, Paxton acknowledged on May 6 that the bar would be filing suit against him.

The Commission for Lawyer Discipline’s petition in the Webster case is instructive in that it lays a roadmap for how the bar might proceed against Paxton and Cruz.

The Texas v. Pennsylvania suit, which also challenged the vote count in Georgia, Michigan and Wisconsin, alleged without evidence several forms of vote rigging.

“Respondent’s representations were dishonest. His allegations were not supported by any charge, indictment, judicial finding, and/or credible or admissible evidence, and failed to disclose to the court that some of his representations and allegations had already been adjudicated and/or dismissed in a court of law,” the commission’s petition states.

The filing against Webster refers to the bar rule against lawyers engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.

See here for more on the Webster case. We’ll see if indeed the State Bar follows this roadmap.

Texas asks SCOTUS to not block its stupid social media law

As you’d expect.

The Supreme Court should allow a sweeping Texas law to remain in effect that restricts the ability of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to moderate their platforms, according to the state’s attorney general.

In a filing to the Court on Wednesday, Texas argued that its law, HB 20, which prohibits large social media firms from blocking, banning or demoting posts or accounts, does not violate the First Amendment.

It contrasts with claims by opponents, including the tech industry, that the legislation infringes on the constitutional rights of tech platforms to make editorial decisions and to be free from government-compelled speech.

[…]

A group of states led by Florida has also submitted a Court filing defending Texas’s law. The friend-of-the-court brief, which was authored by a dozen states including Alabama, Arizona, Kentucky and South Carolina, among others, reflects how the legal battle over HB 20 has nationwide ramifications.

Justice Samuel Alito is currently considering whether to grant an emergency stay of a lower court decision that had allowed the law to take effect last week. The law is being challenged by advocacy groups representing the tech industry.

[…]

The case has already drawn “friend of the court” briefs from interested third parties including groups such as the Anti-Defamation League and the Texas State Conference of the NAACP, who urged the court to block the law, arguing it will “transform social media platforms into online repositories of vile, graphic, harmful, hateful, and fraudulent content, of no utility to the individuals who currently engage in those communities.”

Also seeking to file a third-party brief was former Rep. Chris Cox, co-author of the tech platform liability shield known as Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a federal law that explicitly permits websites to moderate content and which has become a lightning rod in the wider battle over digital speech.

Social media operators have repeatedly cited Section 230 to successfully nip many suits in the bud concerning user-generated content. But HB 20 conflicts with Section 230 by saying platforms can be sued in Texas for moderating their online communities, raising questions about the future of the federal law that’s been described as “the 26 words that created the internet.”

See here and here for some background. Alito will either issue a decision on his own or refer the matter to the full court. Insert shrug emoji here.

SCOTUS asked to again block that stupid social media censorship law

Please save us from the lawless Fifth Circuit. Having to make such an ask of this SCOTUS sure is a jaw-grinding experience.

Lobbying groups representing Facebook, Twitter, Google and other tech companies filed an emergency request with the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday, seeking to block a Texas law that prohibits large social media platforms from banning users based on their political views.

The Texas law went into effect on Wednesday when the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted the state’s request for a stay of a district judge’s injunction blocking the law.

The law forbids social media companies with more than 50 million active users per month from banning members based on their political views and requires them to publicly disclose how they moderate content.

[…]

Internet lobbying groups NetChoice and the Computer & Communications Industry Association filed a lawsuit against the measure, and U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman in Austin, Texas, issued a preliminary injunction in December.

Pitman had found that the law would harm social media companies’ free speech rights under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The tech groups, in their emergency request, asked the Supreme Court to “allow the District Court’s careful reasoning to remain in effect while an orderly appellate process plays out.”

See here for the previous update, and here for a more detailed analysis of why the Fifth Circuit’s no-words ruling was so bad. You know how much faith I have in this court to ever do the right thing, but maybe this was a bridge too far. Maybe. Ars Technica and The Verge have more.

Dallas gender affirming care unit can reopen

Some good news for transgender kids and their families.

A Dallas-based program that offers mental health services and hormone treatments to transgender children may resume the therapy for new patients for the first time since November, after a judge on Thursday temporarily cleared away legal barriers to the practice.

The program director, Dr. Ximena Lopez, had filed a lawsuit in March against Children’s Medical Center in Dallas for shutting down operations to new patients last fall at the GENder Education and Care, Interdisciplinary Support (GENECIS) program, which is housed at the hospital and run jointly by it and UT Southwestern Medical Center.

Thursday’s temporary restraining order banned those restrictions for the next two weeks, and within hours after the decision, five new patients had been scheduled at the center.

“It’s powerful,” said Dallas lawyer Charla Aldous, who represents Lopez. “This is going to affect the lives of children. It really is.”

The GENECIS center was formally dissolved in November, which meant that patients already enrolled in the program still had access to the hormone therapies, but that new patients had to be turned away for those services.

Since November, the clinic has had to turn away about 100 families with children who wanted to begin the treatment at the center, Aldous said. The center had also been told that starting next month, it would no longer be allowed to start gender-affirming hormone therapy for any patients, including those already being seen by mental health doctors there.

Another hearing is set for May 26 in Dallas County Court-at-Law Judge Melissa Bellan’s courtroom to determine the path forward for the clinic. The lawsuit demands the hospital allow clinic doctors to offer what they describe as lifesaving treatment to young people with gender dysphoria and similar issues.

The clinic does not offer surgical options or gender confirmation surgery for either children or adults. Under the gender-affirming model of care, more time is spent allowing kids to socially transition instead of focusing on medical treatment. A social transition consists of the steps a child takes to affirm their identity. An example could include allowing a child assigned male at birth to wear clothing, grow their hair or use a different name that better fits their identity.

GENECIS was dissolved after facing months of pressure by socially conservative political leaders and activists, who organized protests targeting hospital board members and accused the program of committing child abuse.

Bellan wrote in her Thursday order that Children’s Medical Center had violated the law by “interfering with, controlling, or otherwise directing any physician’s professional judgment” and by “discriminating against patients on the basis of the patient’s gender identity and directing (Lopez) to violate the law by discriminating against patients on the basis of a patient’s gender identity.”

The ruling barred Children’s Medical Center from prohibiting GENECIS doctors from restricting puberty blockers or hormone therapy to existing or new patients to treat gender dysphoria as part of gender-affirming care.

If the hearing in two weeks goes in their favor, Aldous plans to ask for an immediate ruling on the suit “to make this decision final.”

“Dr. Lopez is very relieved that she can now treat her patients in the manner in which she has been trained to do and what the standard of care requires,” Aldous said. “She’s thrilled with the court’s decision.”

See here and here for some background. Assuming the subsequent hearing gets the same result, the main question to me is whether there is an appeal, and if so by whom. I don’t think UT Southwestern would care to continue to fight this, but for sure there will be plenty of others who would. Would they be allowed to intervene, I wonder? You lawyers may feel free to speculate, the rest of us will have to wait and see.

SCOTx ponders the questions the Fifth Circuit asked it about SB1

Seems like there’s not that much in dispute, but there’s always something.

Texas Supreme Court justices questioned during oral argument if they should answer certified questions from a federal appeals court about challenges to an election law that created penalties for soliciting voters to use mail-in ballots.

The case, Paxton v. Longoria, concerns a First-Amendment issue over how provisions in Senate Bill 1, a 2021 law, could lead to civil penalties and or criminal prosecution of county election administrators and volunteer deputy registrars.

During a Wednesday hearing before the court, the foremost issue that appeared to concern the justices was whether they should provide an advisory opinion to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals at all.

Since the case has progressed from federal district court to the Fifth Circuit and on to the state Supreme Court, the parties positions have changed and the justices find themselves in the unusual position of being asked to answer three questions where there is very little if any disagreement between the parties.

The Fifth Circuit asks the justice to answer whether a volunteer deputy registrar, or VDR, is a public official under the Texas Election Code; whether speech the plaintiffs intend to use constitutes “solicitation” within the context of the state code; and whether the Texas Attorney General has the power to enforce that code.

The plaintiffs are Harris County Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria and Cathy Morgan, a volunteer deputy registrar who assists people with mail-in ballots in Travis and Williamson counties.

The state, represented by Lanora Pettit, a principal deputy solicitor general with the Office of Attorney General, acknowledged in her brief that volunteer deputy registrars are not public officials subject to prosecution; the term “solicit” does not include merely providing information but instead requires “strongly urging” a voter to fill out an application that was not requested; and the Attorney General is not a proper official to seek civil penalties.

Sean Morales-Doyle of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law submitted a brief that was in line with Pettit on the first and third questions, but had a nuanced distinction on the question of solicitation’s meaning.

Justice Jeff Boyd asked Morales-Doyle, “I’m just not sure why the dispute matters. If everybody agrees that the VDR is not a public official, so therefore has no standing, everybody agrees that Ms. Longoria has not … indicated any intent to violate in Williamson County, and everybody agrees the attorney general has no enforcement authority , where’s the case or controversy?”

Morales-Doyle said that Morgan began the case with a reasonable fear of prosecution and while the state has indicated a disinclination to prosecute she does not know the position of the Travis County district attorney, nor what future district attorneys would do.

If the questions are not answered, she would therefore still need to have the temporary injunction in place, he said.

On defining solicitation, because a felony criminal prosecution is possible, Justice Jane Bland asked if the state should limit its meaning to the penal code’s definition, which would restrict the term to situations where a public official induces someone to commit a criminal act.

Morales-Doyle supported that approach, noting that every criminal solicitation statute that he is aware of applies only to solicitation of criminal conduct.

“What is troubling everybody—and apparently troubling the attorney general who wants to give a definition of solicitation that I’m not aware existing in any criminal code—is the absurd result that someone could be held criminally liable for encouraging their fellow citizen to vote,” Morales-Doyle said.

On rebuttal, Pettit argued that sanctionable solicitation is not limited to criminal inducement. She cited the example of barratry, where lawyers unlawfully solicit clients for profit.

See here for the background. The bottom line is that the plaintiffs have asked for a temporary injunction against the provision of that law that makes it a crime for election officials and election workers to encourage voters to vote by mail, whether or not those voters are eligible under Texas law to do so. The motion was granted by a district court judge and then put on hold by the Fifth Circuit. I think the Fifth Circuit is evaluating whether to put the injunction back in place while the rest of the initial lawsuit is litigated, but we are in the weeds here and I don’t have certainty about that. Let’s see what SCOTx says first and maybe that will clue me in. (Any lawyers out there that want to help, by all means please do.)

SCOTx issues mixed ruling on transgender child abuse investigations injunction

We’ll just have to see what happens next.

Texas’ child welfare agency remains blocked from investigating the family of a transgender teen that sued the state in March, but can once again investigate other families that provide gender-affirming care after the Supreme Court of Texas struck down a statewide injunction Friday.

Though it overturned the injunction on procedural grounds, the high court raised questions about why the Department of Family and Protective Services opened these investigations in the first place. The court affirmed in Friday’s ruling that neither Attorney General Ken Paxton nor Gov. Greg Abbott had any grounds to direct the agency’s actions.

[…]

“The Governor and the Attorney General were certainly well within their rights to state their legal and policy views on this topic, but DFPS was not compelled by law to follow them,” Friday’s ruling reads. “DFPS’s press statement, however, suggests that DFPS may have considered itself bound by either the Governor’s letter, the Attorney General’s Opinion, or both. Again, nothing before this Court supports the notion that DFPS is so bound.”

The ruling does note the myriad “informal mechanisms” through which elected officials can influence a state agency, but “ultimately, however, one department or another has the final say.”

[…]

In this case, the ruling said, DFPS was responsible for deciding whether these investigations aligned with current state regulations — and will now have to decide whether to continue these investigations and allow new ones to be opened.

DFPS employees have told The Texas Tribune that agency leadership has acknowledged that these investigations do not meet the current requirements for child abuse and have said policy would need to be generated to match the governor’s directives.

In March, a district judge granted an injunction blocking the state from continuing these investigations or opening new ones. Paxton appealed that decision to the Third Court of Appeals, which reinstated the statewide temporary injunction.

He then petitioned the Supreme Court of Texas to review that appeal. In Friday’s ruling, the high court agreed with Paxton that the appeals court overstepped — while the appeals court can reinstate an injunction if it “preserves the parties’ rights,” they cannot reinstate a temporary injunction of any nature.

In this case, the justices ruled, the “parties” are the family that sued the state initially — not all parents of all transgender children.

Ian Pittman, an Austin attorney representing two families of transgender children that are under investigation for child abuse, said the injunction had allowed his clients to “breathe a sigh of relief” while their investigations were paused. Although the investigations can resume, he’s hopeful that DFPS will now close out the cases.

“This ruling reaffirms that [DFPS Commissioner Jaime Masters] acted improperly when she acknowledged the directive and said they would follow it,” he said. “She was abdicating her responsibilities as commissioner to a political stunt that has no legal authority.”

If DFPS does not close out the cases, he expects other families may consider bringing suits to get any investigations against them similarly blocked.

See here and here for the most recent entries. There were multiple written opinions plus some concurrences and dissents, so just go here and look for case 22-0229 if you want to slog through them. I’ve seen varying reactions to the ruling and will link to them, but this Daily Kos piece is the closest to my own feelings.

Now, some folks are celebrating Friday’s ruling as a win, as the court does explicitly say the governor does not have the “authority to investigate, prosecute, or impose reporting requirements regarding child abuse allegations.” The court also pointed out that neither Abbott nor Paxton could “bind” the Department of Family and Protective Services’ (DFPS) “investigative authority.”

This all sounds encouraging, but again, the court didn’t rule on the ethics of the situation, but whether or not the lower courts were overstepping with the injunction holds. So … What happens now?

DFPS will decide whether or not to continue investigations, as well as whether or not they will open new ones. According to this ruling, the agency was responsible for determining if the investigations met state regulations, to begin with. Per The New York Times, it is not clear whether the ruling will cause the agency to resume investigations right away (or at all) or not.

If the department closes the cases, we can breathe a sigh of relief. If it doesn’t close the cases? It’s likely many more parents will sue the state.

For me? I’m taking it as a cautious win, but I’m not outright celebrating until the agency confirms those cases are closed and that more aren’t on the way.

I’m open to persuasion on this, but until and unless someone changes my mind, I’m waiting to see what DFPS does next, and hoping that as many parents of trans kids are preparing to file their own suits as possible, just in case. Here are statements from the ACLU and Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee, and the Chron, the Texas Signal, and the Texas Observer have more.

That stupid social media censorship law has been unblocked

The Fifth Circuit continues to debase itself.

A federal appeals court on Wednesday reinstated a Republican-backed Texas law that prohibits large social media companies from banning users over their political viewpoints.

The decision hands a win to Republicans who have long criticized social media platforms such as Twitter for what they call anti-conservative bias — disapproval that was amplified when President Donald Trump was banned from Twitter for violating the platform’s rules on inciting violence during the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol.

The order did not evaluate the law on its constitutionality but instead allows the law to go back into effect while the case proceeds in district court, according to a statement from one of the plaintiff groups. The ruling came from a three-judge panel on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals — which is often considered the most conservative appeals court in the country — and was not accompanied by a written opinion explaining the decision at the time of publication.

Two large industry trade groups that represent companies such as Google and Twitter sued to block the law last fall.

In December, a federal district court judge ruled in favor of the groups and blocked the law while the lawsuit continues, reasoning that the First Amendment protects a company’s right to moderate content and called parts of the law “prohibitively vague.” As a result, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton appealed the district judge’s decision to the circuit court.

Passed during a special session last year, House Bill 20 also requires social media platforms with more than 50 million monthly users to publicly disclose information about content removal and account suspensions.

“HB 20 is an assault on the First Amendment, and it’s constitutionally rotten from top to bottom,” Chris Marchese, counsel for the NetChoice industry trade group, tweeted after the ruling. “So of course we’re going to appeal today’s unprecedented, unexplained, and unfortunate order by a split 2-1 panel.”

See here, here, and here for the background. I’ve been beaten down by the constant flow of atrocities from this outlaw court, so I’m going to hand it off to one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys:

Which means we have to hope there are still a few people on that bench who understand what the First Amendment says. I don’t have any faith, but what are you gonna do? Slate and Reform Austin have more.

The injury totals from AstroWorld

A lot of people were seriously hurt at that event.

More than 700 people were seriously injured during November’s Astroworld Festival tragedy, according to new court documents filed in Harris County this week.

Plaintiffs attorneys Jason Atkin, Richard Mithoff and Sean Roberts notified 11th Judicial District Judge Judge Kristen Brauchle Hawkins that they’d conducted a survey of people affected by the lethal Astroworld tragedy, which claimed the lives of 10 concertgoers late last year, including a 9-year-old boy and 14-year-old boy and a 16-year-old girl.

According to the attorneys’ survey, some 732 people filed claims tied to injuries requiring significant medical treatment. An additional 1,649 claims were tied to injuries that required less extensive treatment, and they were also reviewing 2,540 claims for injuries where the severity was not fully ascertained.

The filing provides the latest and most complete picture, so far, of the toll of the Astroworld Festival, a local music festival which drew tens of thousands of visitors to Houston from across the region and the rest of the country.

[…]

The defendants in the lawsuit, Live Nation Worldwide, Scoremore Mgmt, ASM Global, Travis Scott, and others, generally deny the allegations, court records show.

One of the companies, Contemporary Services Corporation, has come under additional criticism, after a man successfully jumped onstage during a comedy show in Los Angeles last week and attacked Dave Chappelle.

Scott — who pleaded guilty to reckless conduct after urging fans to rush the stage during a 2015 show in Chicago and to a charge of disorderly conduct for similar behavior during a 2017 show in Arkansas — has consistently denied wrongdoing and asked to be removed from the lawsuits.

See here for the most recent update. The deaths of the ten concertgoers have been the headline of this story, but the sheer number of people that were badly injured would be grounds enough for the litigation that has followed. We can and should have investigations and task forces to look into what happened and why, but the discovery process is going to tell us a whole lot about this tragedy that we otherwise would not have known.

Two judges sanctioned by Judicial Conduct Commission

Not a good look, and really bad timing for one of them.

A pair of Harris County civil court judges have been sanctioned for behavior in their courtrooms, with one judge allowing the shackling of attorneys and another erupting into fits of rage during a trial.

The reprimand applies to Judge Barbara Stalder in the 280th Family Protective Order Court for holding an attorney in contempt during a February 2020 hearing and then ordering the bailiff to shackle him to a chair in the jury box, according to State Commission on Judicial Conduct documents. A week later, the judge did the same with another attorney.

The commission also ordered that Judge Clinton “Chip” Wells in the 312th Family District Court be admonished and undergo two hours of education on how to appropriately conduct himself for courtroom outbursts of anger aimed at lawyer Teresa Waldrop during an April 2019 divorce trial.

Stalder could not be reached Friday as the commission’s ruling from April 20 was made public. Wells acknowledged that his actions were wrong.

“I made a mistake and I’m not hiding from that,” said Wells, who is facing Waldrop in the Democratic runoff election. “My behavior was not acceptable.”

You can read on for the details – as I said, it’s not a good look for either of them. Stalder was defeated in the March primary, so her situation is short-term no matter how you look at it. Wells is in the May primary runoff, and as it happens Waldrop is his opponent. I know from previous correspondence that she has pursued this matter for some time – the precipitating event was in April of 2019, so you can do the math.

I received judicial Q&A responses from Wells and Waldrop, so consult those if you still need to know more. I know these procedures take time, and I know that the State Commission on Judicial Conduct tends to release their orders in groups on a regular rather than ad hoc basis, but it would have been nice to have known all this before we voted in March, especially given the Chron’s grievous lack of endorsements in non-criminal court races. You don’t have to hold this against either Judge Wells or Judge Stalder if you don’t want to – it would be perfectly defensible to conclude that their merits outweighed these incidents, or that they were still better than their opponents, or that this was just one bad day on the job, or whatever. Obviously, fair minds may disagree on that. All I’m saying is that I’d have preferred to have had as full a picture as possible before I voted. Given that Stalder lost her primary and that Waldrop led Wells 46-28 in March, perhaps it wouldn’t have made any difference. It still would have been nice.

More State Bar disciplinary stuff

A new twist, as a new player enters the picture.

Best mugshot ever

The Texas State Bar has filed a suit in Williamson County district court against First Assistant Attorney General Brent Webster for his involvement in the state’s lawsuit seeking to overturn the results of the 2020 election, alleging Webster committed professional misconduct by making false and misleading statements in the petition.

A similar disciplinary suit is expected against Paxton, who reiterated Friday his contention that the group is targeting him because it disagrees with his politics. As of Friday afternoon, no suit had been filed.

Texas’ 2020 suit before the U.S. Supreme Court was almost immediately tossed, and Trump’s own Justice Department found no evidence of fraud that could have changed the election’s outcome. The bar is treating the case as a frivolous lawsuit as it seeks sanctions including possible disbarment for the two public officials.

“I stand by this lawsuit completely,” Paxton said on Twitter. “I am certain that the bar will not only lose, but be fully exposed for what they are: a liberal activist group masquerading as a neutral professional association.”

Then-Solicitor General Kyle Hawkins, the state’s chief litigator who resigned about a month after the election challenge was tossed, was notably absent from the filing, though Hawkins never explained why, raising questions about whether he supported the legal challenge. Solicitor generals are typically involved in all major appellate litigation.

[…]

The bar complaints against Paxton and Webster alleged that their petition to overturn the 2020 election was frivolous and unethical, and that it includes statements that they knew to be false. In Webster’s case, it is clear that the bar agrees.

“Respondent’s representations were dishonest,” the suit states. “His allegations were not supported by any charge, indictment, judicial finding, and/or credible or admissible evidence, and failed to disclose to the court that some of his representations and allegations had already been adjudicated and/or dismissed in a court of law.”

The suit also alleges that Webster “misrepresented” that Texas had “uncovered substantial evidence,” raising doubts about the integrity of the election and had standing to sue before the U.S. Supreme Court. The four battleground states that Texas sued — Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin — were then forced to have to spend time, money and other resources responding to these claims, it said.

The suit does not specify what type of punishment the bar recommends for Webster.

The suit against Webster was sparked by a March 2021 complaint by Brynne VanHettinga, an former member of the bar who described herself as a “citizen concerned about fascism and illegal overthrow of democracy.” VanHettinga could not be immediately reached Friday.

See here and here for some background. Looking at that Trib story that I based yesterday’s post on, I see it also includes a couple of paragraphs about the action against Brent Webster, who replaced Jeff Mateer after he was purged as a whistleblower against Paxton, and who co-authored the self-exoneration report from that saga. I was not aware of any State Bar complaints against Webster in this matter – the two against Paxton were filed after the VanHettinga complaint against Webster. A Google News search on VanHettinga’s name only yielded the Chron and Trib stories. You can see what a challenge it is to keep up with all this.

As for the Paxton piece of it, this is more of the story I blogged about yesterday. The main thing to learn, which the Trib story also noted, is that there hasn’t yet been a lawsuit filed against Paxton. It sounded like that would be filed in Travis County when it happens, but maybe this means it will happen in Williamson instead. Since it seems that the judge will be selected from the broader judicial administrative region, it’s not clear that where the trial itself is matters.

Federal lawsuit filed over Abbott’s border arrest fiasco

Meant to post this last week.

Three private defense attorneys, representing 15 migrant men arrested under Gov. Greg Abbott’s border operation, have filed a federal lawsuit seeking to end the governor’s policy of arresting migrants on criminal trespass charges, which the suit argues is racially discriminatory and infringes on the federal government’s immigration authority.

The lawsuit is the first to challenge Abbott’s Operation Lone Star in federal court, though defense attorneys have raised similar arguments in ongoing state litigation. The federal suit, filed Wednesday in the Austin-based U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, asks the court to scrap the governor’s border initiative altogether and order the release of migrants arrested under what it calls a “separate criminal prosecution and detention system.”

“The criminal process is rife with civil rights violations that have led to extreme, outrageous delays in cases that often end in dismissal or non-prosecution,” the lawsuit states, alleging state authorities filed “fraudulent probable cause affidavits,” failed to appoint attorneys for some defendants, and waited too long to file charges for numerous migrants.

Under orders from Abbott, state troopers and National Guard troops have arrested more than 3,000 migrant men since last July for allegedly trespassing on private property along the border. The operation has allowed Texas officials to jail migrants without running afoul of legal precedent that largely prevents states from enforcing federal immigration law.

The federal suit argues, however, that the entire program — including the trespass arrests — is “intended to rival or supplant federal immigration policy” and “interferes with federal enforcement priorities.” It argues that while the Biden administration has ordered immigration authorities to prioritize the most serious offenders, such as those with violent criminal history, Operation Lone Star “targets any and all suspected aliens without regard to dangerousness.”

Defense attorneys have used a similar argument in a pending state lawsuit that seeks to dismiss the cases of more than 400 migrants arrested under Texas’ border initiative. That lawsuit is modeled after an earlier case in which a Travis County judge tossed the trespass charge against Jesús Alberto Guzmán Curipoma, an engineer from Ecuador who was arrested in September.

Curipoma and his attorneys, Angelica Cogliano and Addy Miro, are also part of the federal lawsuit filed Wednesday.

[…]

The federal lawsuit further alleges that migrants are routinely arrested under Operation Lone Star without probable cause, in violation of the Fourth Amendment, and based on their perceived ethnicity and immigration status, resulting in “systemic discrimination.” The attorneys cited arrest affidavits filed by Department of Public Safety troopers that refer to detainees as Spanish or Hispanic and undocumented, or reference their country of origin.

Such statements “suggested that the individual’s perceived ethnicity was relevant to the DPS trooper’s understanding that that person was not welcome on the property,” the lawsuit reads.

The suit seeks monetary damages of $18,000 for each day that migrants were “unlawfully incarcerated or unlawfully re-incarcerated,” amounting to $5.4 million.

Much of the language from the lawsuit mirrors that of a complaint filed by civil rights groups with the U.S. Department of Justice last December, in which the groups urged the Biden administration to investigate Operation Lone Star. The Justice Department has yet to step in against Abbott’s initiative.

Meant to include this in that big roundup of border and legal stories, but I just missed it. My bad and my apologies. I don’t have anything to add other than I’m rooting for these plaintiffs and I’d like to see the Justice Department get off its ass and address that complaint from December.

Paxton whines about the disciplinary process he selected

My head hurts.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, the state’s top lawyer, said Friday the state bar was suing him for professional misconduct related to his lawsuit challenging the 2020 presidential election.

“I have recently learned that the Texas State Bar — which has been waging a months-long witch-hunt against me — now plans to sue me and my top deputy for filing Texas v. Penn: the historic challenge to the unconstitutional 2020 presidential election joined by nearly half of all the states and over a hundred members of Congress,” Paxton said in a statement released on social media. “I stand by this lawsuit completely.”

A few hours after saying he was being sued by the bar, Paxton’s office announced an investigation into the Texas Bar Foundation for “facilitating mass influx of illegal aliens” by donating money to groups that “encourage, participate in, and fund illegal immigration at the Texas-Mexico border.” The foundation is made up of attorneys and raises money to provide legal education and services. It is separate from the State Bar of Texas, which is an administrative arm of the Texas Supreme Court.

Representatives for the Texas Bar Foundation could not immediately be reached for comment. Trey Apffel, executive director of the State Bar of Texas, said the bar and the foundation are privately funded and don’t receive taxpayer funds.

“The foundation is separately funded through charitable donations and governed by its own board of trustees,” Apffel said. “While we are unsure what donations are at issue here, we are confident that the foundation’s activities are in line with its mission of enhancing the rule of law and the system of justice in Texas.”

Paxton, an embattled Republican seeking a third term, said state bar investigators who now appear to be moving on a lawsuit against him are biased and said the decision to sue him, which comes a week before early voting in his GOP runoff for attorney general, was politically motivated. He is facing Land Commissioner George P. Bush in the May 24 election.

“Texas Bar: I’ll see you and the leftists that control you in court,” he said. “I’ll never let you bully me, my staff or the Texans I represent into backing down or going soft on defending the Rule of Law — something for which you have little knowledge.”

In fact, the investigation into Paxton has been pending for months. Last July, a group of 16 lawyers that included four former state bar presidents filed an ethics complaint against Paxton arguing that he demonstrated a pattern of professional misconduct, including his decision to file a federal lawsuit seeking to overturn the 2020 presidential elections in battleground states where former President Donald Trump, a Paxton ally, had lost. The attorneys said the lawsuit was “frivolous” and had been filed without evidence. The U.S. Supreme Court dismissed it, saying Texas had no standing to sue.

In March, the investigation moved ahead and Paxton was given 20 days to decide whether he wanted a trial by jury or an administrative hearing to resolve the complaint.

On Friday, a spokesperson for the state bar said the group had not been notified of a decision. Jim Harrington, a civil rights attorney and one of the lawyers who filed the ethics complaint, said he also had not been notified of a trial but that Paxton would have received notification.

“I was as surprised as you were to see that tweet this morning,” Harrington said.

See here for some background. You may note that happened in early March, almost two months ago, which is considerably more than 20 days. I don’t know if time moves more slowly in this context or if there just wasn’t any mechanism to enforce the decision Paxton had to make. Whatever the case, he made it and now he’s fundraising off of it. At least that much is par for the course, at least for him. While this case will be heard in Travis County, the judge who oversees it will be selected from the Texas Judicial Branch’s administrative region, which is a fairly large area. I don’t know how any of that works, either – this whole thing is kind of a black box. But it’s moving along, which is more than we can say for some other messes involving Ken Paxton.

UPDATE: Via email, a statement from the Texas Bar Foundation:

“The Foundation is extremely disappointed to learn that AG Paxton has decided to use taxpayer dollars on a fruitless exercise. Had AG Paxton taken the time to come and speak with us rather than issue a press release, I am confident that he would have found no wrongdoing on the part of the Foundation. Nevertheless, the Foundation is happy to cooperate and provide the AG’s office with documents and information relevant to the investigation.

Thousands of Texans have had their lives changed because of grants received from the Texas Bar Foundation. General Paxton is misinformed. The Foundation does not receive funding from taxpayer dollars. To the contrary, our grants are made possible by the generosity of Texas lawyers. We receive voluntary contributions from the Fellows of the Foundation, and those contributions enable the Foundation to award millions of dollars in grants. We will proudly continue to award grants to much-needed charities throughout Texas going forward.”

There’s a story in today’s Chron that has more information than this Trib story. I’ll do a separate post on that.

Abbott sees another opportunity to hurt children

He is definitely making this a habit.

Gov. Greg Abbott wants to “resurrect” a court challenge over a 1975 Texas law withholding state funds from school districts for kids who were not “legally admitted” into the United States. That law was struck down by the Supreme Court in 1982.

He made the remarks in an interview Wednesday on the Joe Pags radio show.

“The challenges put on our public systems is extraordinary,” Abbott said before referencing Plyler v. Doe, the ruling that overturned the Texas law. “I think that we will resurrect that case and challenge this issue again because the expenses are extraordinary and the times are different than when Plyler v. Doe was issued many years ago.”

In that case, the court ruled that “education has a fundamental role in maintaining the fabric of our society,” and withholding it from the children of immigrants in the country without paperwork “does not comport with fundamental conceptions of justice.” People living without documentation in the country remain people “in any ordinary sense of the term” and are thus entitled to the same basic rights as anyone else in the country.

We’re going to see a lot more of this, because people like Abbott have realized that SCOTUS is now a cheat code for achieving whatever policy ends they want, without having to legislate them. You could say that the policy he seeks to achieve here is the reversal of one that had been done via the court and not the legislative process. The difference is that the litigants in the Plyler case had to win on the merits and could have lost. They didn’t get to count on having a majority on the court that was ideologically on their side and willing to use their power towards that end.

If you can’t see what a public policy disaster it would be, not to mention a moral catastrophe, to prevent children from getting an education, I’m really not sure what to tell you. As Stace says, it’s yet another reason to vote Abbott and the rest of his crew out of office in November. TPM, Daily Kos, the Texas Signal, and Amanda Marcotte have more.

Ken Paxton totally lied about gender affirming care

I know, I’m as shocked as you are.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton relied on false claims, exaggerations and errors to conclude that gender-affirming medical care constitutes child abuse, a report by university-level medical experts has concluded.

Paxton’s legal opinion on transgender care, issued in February, formed the basis of Gov. Greg Abbott’s directive requiring Child Protective Services to investigate all reports of families with children who are receiving gender-affirming care.

But the report published Monday by medical and legal experts at Yale University and the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center said Paxton’s opinion was so full of errors and false claims that it appeared to have been “motivated by bias” and crafted to reach a predetermined goal: denying medical care to transgender youths.

“The repeated errors and omissions in the AG Opinion are so consistent and so extensive that it is difficult to believe that the opinion represents a good-faith effort to draw legal conclusions based on the best scientific evidence,” the report’s executive summary said.

“These are not close calls or areas of reasonable disagreement,” the report added. “The AG Opinion … ignores established medical authorities and repeats discredited, outdated, and poor-quality information.”

[…]

Monday’s report focused on puncturing a central premise behind Paxton’s legal analysis: that the surgical removal of genitals and reproductive organs is standard medical care offered to transgender pediatric patients.

“In fact, the authoritative protocols for medical care for transgender children and adolescents, which define what we term ‘gender-affirming care,’ specifically state that individuals must be over the age of majority before they can undergo such surgery,” the study said.

In Texas, the age of majority is 18.

Paxton also falsely implied that puberty blockers — medication meant to delay physical changes to give transgender youths time to consider more permanent options — and hormones are given to young children, the report said.

“In fact, the standard medical protocols recommend drug treatments only for adolescents — and not prepubertal children,” the study said.

The authors — three medical doctors and three doctors of psychology — all treat transgender children and adolescents in daily clinical practice and hold positions at major medical schools, the report said. A law professor rounded out the study’s team.

Their report criticized Paxton for presenting a “warped picture of the scientific evidence” by exaggerating potential risks and ignoring evidence of the benefit that such care provides in the treatment of gender dysphoria, the distress caused when a person’s body does not match their gender identity.

“The standard medical protocols were crafted by bodies of international experts based on a solid scientific foundation and have been in use for decades. Thus, treating gender dysphoria is considered not only ethical but also the clinically and medically recommended standard of care,” the report said.

You can read the report if you want. It will surely be helpful if you need to have a conversation with someone for whom facts and science and expertise still matter. The thing to remember here is not that Ken Paxton was unable to understand this, or didn’t have access to people who could explain it to him. This was about affirming a worldview and appealing to an identity, for the purposes of maintaining and enhancing political power. As such, while it’s always good to have the facts at hand, this isn’t about the facts. It’s not going to be for as long as the Republican Party is like this. All we can do is try to win elections, and then once we have done that use the power we’ve gained from them to do good things. Easier said than done, I know, but here we are.

I’m just going to say this one thing about the pending evisceration of abortion rights

Chris Tomlinson gets at the issue but doesn’t take it all the way.

The Supreme Court’s apparent decision to allow state lawmakers to make women’s health care choices puts chief executives in a tough spot, forcing them to choose between their employees’ rights and right-wing backlash.

Disney’s recent experience defending LGBT rights against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s demagoguery will sadly encourage cowardice.

Millions of Texans are waiting to hear how their employee health insurance will handle abortion coverage when the procedure becomes a first-degree felony punishable by life in prison.

Texas Republicans have made banning abortion their marquee issue for decades. In addition to prohibiting government health insurance from paying for abortions, the Legislature also banned state-regulated plans from covering them.

Employers of 60 percent of Americans with company-sponsored health insurance, though, use self-funded plans. These are exempt from state regulations, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a health care research organization. Only 14 percent of self-funded plans exclude some or all abortions.

Polling shows 59 percent of Americans think abortion should be legal under all or most circumstances, according to Pew Research.

After Gov. Greg Abbott allowed Texans to privately prosecute other Texans who seek an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, many companies stepped up. Amazon, Citigroup, Salesforce, Apple, Bumble, Levi’s, GoDaddy, Match, and Hewlett Packard Enterprise, have all promised to help employees get abortions outside Texas.

“We are pro-woman. We will support a woman’s right to make health care decisions for herself, even if that means traveling out of state. It’s an investment that’s not just right, but good business too,” Curtis Sparrer, a principal at Houston-based PR firm Bospar told me in an email.

The company will pay for travel and other expenditures should a Bospar staff member need reproductive health care banned in any state where they live, Sparrer added.

“We want other companies and PR agencies to join the fight, especially since many are composed of women and are led by women. The rights of women are not just on the line,” he added. “As someone who credits his same-sex marriage to the legacy of Roe, I am imploring my colleagues and friends to end their silence and speak truth to power.”

Taking a stand on anything, though, is becoming more perilous for corporations and executives who would rather generate profits than controversy. Employees, especially younger workers, expect their company’s leadership to reflect their values.

“More than half of consumers will buy or advocate for brands based on their beliefs, while six in 10 employees will choose employers based on shared beliefs and values,” according to Edelman, a global PR firm. “A stunning 81 percent of respondents want CEOs to be front and center discussing public policy.”

The first thing to realize is that the forthcoming overturn of Roe and Casey is the beginning, not the end. Next up will be a nationwide ban on abortion, for which Senate Republicans are already writing a bill. Now that they will no longer have to pretend that this has anything to do with women’s health, rape and incest exceptions will go away, and it won’t be just doctors who are targeted for arrest and prison. I guarantee you, lowlife creeps like Briscoe Cain cannot wait to throw women in jail for anything that looks like an abortion. Lizelle Herrera was not an aberraion.

If you think I’m being alarmist, go find a copy of that draft opinion and read it for yourself. Note carefully the section in which Sam Alito claims that this opinion is only about abortion and not all of those other things that people like him despise and want to get rid of, like the previous SCOTUS decisions on same-sex marriage and contraception and “sodomy”. I will remind you that most if not all of the justices who have signed onto Alito’s opinion also swore under oath during their Senate confirmation hearings that they considered Roe to be “settled law” and that they respected precedent. There’s no reason at all to believe anything that a known liar says.

So get mad, get organized, and get everyone you know who has the same concerns as you to vote. Businesses are going to have to do more as well, if they actually do care about their employees. But it’s on us, to vote and to put pressure on the people we’ve voted for to act. The clock has struck midnight. What are we going to do about it?

Providers’ federal lawsuit against SB8 is officially buried

From last week.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday ended a legal challenge to Texas’ nearly total ban on abortion brought by providers across the state, closing out a contentious court battle that reached the U.S. Supreme Court.

The appeals court dismissed the remaining challenge in the suit after the Texas Supreme Court in March said state licensing officials are not responsible for enforcing the abortion ban and therefore cannot be sued.

A three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit in January asked the state’s high court to resolve this central question to the case, an unusual move made at the request of attorneys for the state that was expected to significantly delay or end the challenge.

[…]

In December, a divided U.S. Supreme Court dismissed all but one challenge in the lawsuit brought by abortion providers. Justices allowed a narrower case, targeting state licensing officials, to proceed in Texas courtrooms.

But Tuesday’s action by the 5th Circuit officially dismisses the case.

It was all over but for the shouting when the State Supreme Court ruled that state medical licensing officials do not have authority to enforce SB8, but the real villain as always was the Fifth Circuit, which engineered the result it wanted. Like I said, the fix was in from the beginning.

As the story notes, there are two more active lawsuits to watch, one by abortion funds against several anti-abortion organizations and individuals, and one by Wendy Davis. I feel like the former is more promising than the latter, but who knows. A state judge had previously ruled that SB8 was unconstitutional but for reasons still unclear declined to issue an injunction against it; I suppose that could change at some point. Until then, here we are.

UPDATE: Yes, I’m aware of the leaked draft opinion that eviscerates Roe v Wade. I maintain that the Fifth Circuit is the prime villain of this story, given how they completely disregarded normal procedures, but SCOTUS’ villainy cannot be overstated either.

Debtors’ court

This is not good.

In this court and others in Bexar County, debt collection lawsuits more than doubled from 2012 to 2020.

“I’m trying to manage this behemoth, but there are some guidelines I have to follow as well,” said Roger “Rogelio” Lopez Jr., justice of the peace for Bexar County Precinct 4, who operates out of the Loop 410 courthouse.

Similar scenes are playing out from Houston to Dallas to Fort Worth as debt collectors sue a skyrocketing number of Texans over claims of unpaid credit cards, medical bills, student loans and other debts, a Houston Chronicle examination has found.

Debt collection lawsuits filed statewide have exploded by 73 percent from 2012 to 2021, according to a Chronicle analysis of data from the Texas Office of the Court Administration.

For the first time in history, the 374,000 debt lawsuits filed in the Lone Star State last year made up nearly half of all civil cases in Texas, which include traffic tickets, landlord evictions and small claims such as disputes between neighbors. The crush of debt cases raises concerns that overwhelmed Texas civil courts can’t adequately review each lawsuit and deliver justice while juggling higher-priority cases, consumer advocates say.

That means judges face pressure to move debt lawsuits quickly to keep their dockets manageable. With only minutes to review cases, judges can miss important details, consumer advocates say. The rapid-fire justice puts a sharp focus on whether defendants can get a fair shake, said Mary Spector, professor of law at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

“Any public perception that the courts are merely rubber-stamping for the creditors is bad for the system,’’ said Spector, who directs a law clinic that works on behalf of consumers in debt litigation.

Texas adopted key provisions that have spurred debt collectors to crank out more cases in recent years.

From 2012 to 2020, state lawmakers passed legislation that gave debt collectors more flexibility to file cases in justice of the peace courts, where filing costs are lower and it takes less time to move cases on the docket. The changes, which included actions by the Supreme Court of Texas to revamp the debt collection process in civil courts, ultimately made it cheaper and faster for debt collectors to win judgments, consumer advocates said.

The Supreme Court of Texas, which is responsible for adopting processes and rules to ensure that state courts are efficient and fair, has been alarmed by the rise in caseloads, Chief Justice Nathan L. Hecht told the Chronicle.

“You need to worry about it,” Hecht said. “This is where the public meets the justice system.”

To address those concerns, the Legislature ordered the state Supreme Court to publish new rules that will require debt collectors to provide additional notification to debtors of their rights, he said. The rules take effect May 1.

Big corporations have high-powered attorneys to manage their interests. When they have a problem, they can ask for help from the Supreme Court. Hecht said they also can lobby the Legislature to prompt changes in state law.

“But this is about the little guy,” he said. “What the justice system has to do is to provide justice for the people who come to it. We want everybody walking away from the court saying, ‘Well, thank God for the court. I may have lost, you know, I wish that had not happened, but I got a fair shake.’ That’s why it’s so important to work on these cases.”

A Chronicle review of dozens of court documents, observations of legal proceedings and an examination of statewide data found that:

  • Last year, 45 percent of lawsuits filed in the state’s civil courts were against Texans for debt, according to data supplied to the Chronicle by the Texas Office of the Court Administration, the state agency that collects the data and operates under the direction of the Supreme Court. In 2017, debt lawsuits represented 30 percent of all civil filings.
  • Harris County saw a similar trend. Last year, debt collectors filed nearly 68,000 lawsuits in the county, an increase of 111 percent from 2015.
  • Cases settled by default judgment have increased since 2012. That means more cases are decided with defendants not present to fight a claim, and the court cannot weigh both sides equally before making a judgment. The number of default judgments in the Houston region and other large Texas counties totaled nearly 74,000 cases in 2021, an increase of 86 percent from 2012.
  • No court in the state has seen a more dramatic increase in debt suits than justice of peace courts. JPs, as they are known, preside over weddings, misdemeanors and truancies. Many JPs are not lawyers. Of the hundreds of thousands of debt collection lawsuits filed in Texas in 2021, 80 percent were in JP courts.

There’s a lot more, so read the rest. Hopefully, the new rules will help, but this seem like a much deeper issue than that. Obviously, a lot of this is societal – poverty, access to attorneys, the ability to take time off from work to attend court hearings, and so on – and there’s not much the courts can do about that. But they can do their part to make sure the playing field inside the courthouse is level, and they need to do that. And the Lege needs to revisit this as well.

A roundup of border and lawsuit stories

Too much news, not enough time…

New federal lawsuit seeks to halt Texas’ border trespassing arrests, give more than $5 million to illegally detained migrants.

In a new challenge to Gov. Greg Abbott’s controversial border security crackdown, a lawsuit filed Wednesday is asking a federal court to shut down Texas’ system of arresting migrants en masse along the Texas-Mexico border, and make the state pay more than $5 million to men who were illegally imprisoned under the system.

The lawsuit comes nearly a year after Abbott first ordered Texas police to arrest men suspected of illegally crossing the border on misdemeanor trespassing charges. The practice skirts constitutional restrictions that bar states from enforcing federal immigration law, and the lawsuit claims it discriminatorily targets mostly Black and Latino migrant men, usurps federal authority and is carried out in a way that violates the detainees’ rights.

“Under the guise of state criminal trespass law but with the explicit, stated goal of punishing migrants based on their immigration status, Texas officials are targeting migrants,” the filing stated. “Hundreds of those arrested have waited in jail for weeks or months without a lawyer, or without charges, or without bond, or without a legitimate detention hold or without a court date.”

Abbott’s trespassing initiative has drawn numerous state and local court challenges since it began in July, but this appears to be the first time attorneys are opposing it in federal court and seeking compensation for migrants swept into the governor’s “catch-and-jail” system. State and federal Democratic lawmakers and civil rights groups have also called on the U.S. Department of Justice to intervene in the Republican governor’s operation, but the federal administration has not acted.

The lawsuit was filed in federal district court in Austin by three private attorneys on behalf of 15 individual migrants and is asking for a class certification to include everyone arrested under Abbott’s trespassing initiative. The migrants are suing Abbott, the directors of the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, as well as Kinney County, a rural border county which accounts for the large majority of trespassing arrests, and its sheriff.

The complaint asks the court to find that the operation violates federal law and order the state to stop the arrests. It also argues each migrant illegally detained so far should be given $18,000 for each day they were imprisoned beyond what is allowed by state law. The attorneys said it is a typical amount awarded by courts in cases of over-detention. They estimated the total cost would be around $5,400,000.

Previously, state district judges have found that hundreds of men were detained illegally after trespassing arrests, locked in prison for more than a month without any charges filed against them in violation of state law. Lawyers have argued the practice is still occurring. Wednesday’s filing also alleges men have been held for days or weeks after they post bond, their charge is dropped or their sentence is complete.

This is one possible way to get this heinous activity stopped. I don’t know if it’s the most likely way to succeed, but it is the most direct.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sues Biden administration over asylum plan.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed his 11th immigration-related lawsuit against the Biden administration Thursday, asking a judge to block a plan to let asylum officers, rather than immigration judges, decide whether to grant some migrants’ asylum claims at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The new plan, scheduled to take effect May 31, “upends the entire adjudicatory system to the benefit of aliens,” the lawsuit says.

Earlier this year, the Biden administration finalized its plan to overhaul the process for migrants seeking asylum. The plan is supposed to reduce the average wait time for asylum-seekers to receive a decision in their case from five years to six months. As of March, immigration judges had nearly 1.7 million pending cases — the largest backlog in the country’s history, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.

Under the new process, asylum-seekers could be released into the country pending the outcome of their cases instead of being held in custody. If a migrant apprehended at the border claims they could be persecuted or tortured if they return to their home country, the asylum officer would decide if they have a credible claim. If the officer declines an asylum claim, migrants could appeal to an immigration judge.

“The current system for handling asylum claims at our borders has long needed repair,” Alejandro Mayorkas, the Department of Homeland Security secretary, said in a statement in March when the plan was finalized. “Through this rule, we are building a more functional and sensible asylum system to ensure that individuals who are eligible will receive protection more swiftly, while those who are not eligible will be rapidly removed.”

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Amarillo overseen by Judge Matthew J. Kacsmaryk, also argues that the new plan violates the Constitution’s appointments clause because asylum officers are members of the general civil services and are not appointed like judges are.

[…]

Texas has filed nearly two dozen lawsuits in Texas-based federal courts, most of them led by Paxton, against the Biden administration over everything from federal mask mandates to the administration’s decision to halt the long-disputed Keystone XL pipeline. Trump-appointed judges have heard 16 of the cases and ruled in favor of Texas in seven. The other nine are pending as of March 15.

The state’s favorite targets have been Biden’s immigration policies, which have sparked seven of the 20 lawsuits in Texas courts. Paxton’s office has also sued the administration in Washington, D.C., federal courts and joined lawsuits led by attorneys general from other states.

Another day, another Trump judge. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you what is likely to come next. There’s plenty that the Biden administration could and should have done differently with immigration policy, but nearly everything he has tried to do has run into this kind of legal obstacle. It would be nice if Congress were to act, but that’s just not in the cards.

Judge orders Biden administration to send Central American migrants to Mexico rather than their home countries.

A federal judge in Louisiana on Wednesday temporarily blocked the Biden administration from increasing the number of deportations of some Central Americans back to their home countries and ordered the administration to instead send them to Mexico under an emergency health order used to expel migrants from the country, including asylum-seekers.

The judge also set a May 13 hearing to decide whether to block the administration from canceling the health order, known as Title 42. The judge indicated in the order that he plans to block the Biden administration from lifting Title 42 altogether.

During a phone call with reporters on Tuesday, a Biden administration immigration official was asked about the Louisiana judge’s impending order and said the administration plans to comply with it but remarked, “We really disagree with the basic premise.”

The Biden administration had announced that it will stop expelling migrants under Title 42 starting May 23 and instead go back to detaining and deporting migrants who don’t qualify to enter and remain in the U.S.

On April 3, Arizona, Missouri and 19 other states filed a lawsuit in the Western District of Louisiana, asking District Judge Robert R. Summerhays, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, to stop the Biden administration from ending Title 42.

Then on April 20, Fox News reported that the Biden administration had stopped using Title 42 for some migrants from certain Central American countries and instead was deporting them to their home countries. The next day, Arizona’s lawyers asked Summerhays to block the Biden administration from deporting those migrants and instead expel them to Mexico.

“A major media outlet reported that ‘Border Patrol is not using the Title 42 public health order to remove many migrants from the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador,’” Arizona’s request to the judge says, quoting the Fox News article.

Immigration officials had stopped expelling some single adult migrants from those countries under Title 42 and instead processed them under Title 8, a law that allows agents to deport migrants to their home countries without a court hearing. Deportations to those countries had historically accounted for 5% of cases. After the move to process migrants under Title 8, those cases increased to 14%, and the judge has ordered the government to aim for a return to that lower historic rate.

“We’re in a strange world right now where Greg Abbott is giving free bus rides to migrants and [Arizona Attorney General] Mark Brnovich has forced [the Department of Homeland Security] to deport fewer people,” said Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, an analyst with the American Immigration Council, a Washington, D.C., group that advocates for immigrants, referring to the Texas governor’s program that transports asylum-seeking migrants to the country’s capital.

See here for the background. I don’t even know what to say about this one. I do know that Texas filed its own lawsuit over Title 42. At least that makes sense to me.

U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments on whether Biden can toss Trump’s “remain in Mexico” policy.

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday morning on whether the Biden administration can scrap a Trump-era policy that forces asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico as their cases make their way through U.S. immigration courts.

During two hours of arguments, the lawyers largely focused on a central question: Does the executive branch have the sole authority to set U.S. immigration policies?

The case reached the Supreme Court after a federal district judge in Texas last year ruled that the Biden administration violated immigration law by not detaining every immigrant attempting to enter the country. U.S. District Judge Matthew J. Kacsmaryk ordered the Biden administration to restart the Migrant Protections Protocols, also called “remain in Mexico,” which the Trump administration first implemented in January 2019 and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas canceled in June 2021.

That decision led Texas and Missouri to sue the Biden administration in April 2021, arguing that canceling MPP violated administrative law and that without the program, human trafficking would increase and force the states to expend resources on migrants — such as providing driver’s licenses, educating migrant children and providing hospital care.

The Biden administration argued it has the discretion to end the program and that it was not an effective way to deal with migrants seeking asylum.

[…]

The court’s liberal justices brought up the issue that the lower court’s decision has forced the White House to enter into a deal with Mexico — which has to agree to receive migrants sent over the border through MPP — when presidents historically have had broad authority on foreign policy issues.

“It puts the United States essentially at the mercy of Mexico,” Justice Elena Kagan said. “Mexico has all the leverage in the world to say, ‘Well, you want to do that, you want to comply with the court’s order? Here are 20 things that you need to do for us.’ Or maybe Mexico says, ‘No, we’d like to see you squirm and not be able to comply with the court’s order.’”

Elora Mukherjee, director of the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic at Columbia Law School, said the justices will have to wrestle with the fact that at any point Mexico could change its mind on whether it wants to continue to accept migrants expelled from the U.S. through the program.

“How can a court require the secretary for the Department of Homeland Security to dump busloads of people into Mexico if Mexico doesn’t comply?” she said.

Note that this is the same judge as in the second story. Do we let federal district court judges dictate foreign policy, which is what this is, or is that something Presidents are still allowed to do? I guess we’ll find out.

Gov. Greg Abbott asks for private donations to bus migrants to D.C. after criticism for using taxpayer money.

On Sunday, Gov. Greg Abbott appeared on Fox News touting a program he’s been pushing for weeks — sending migrants who enter into Texas to Washington, D.C., by charter bus.

But this time, Abbott asked Texans to personally contribute their own money to pay for the trips.

The decision to crowdfund the free bus trips for migrants is a new development from when he initially announced on April 6 that it would be paid for by Texas taxpayers. At the time, Abbott proudly presented the trips as a tough-on-immigration act of defiance against the Biden administration.

But the shift to ask private donors to pay for the charter buses comes as his plan has been increasingly praised as an act of generosity by Democrats, immigration rights groups and even the migrants who rode the buses, while those further to Abbott’s right politically have panned it as a misuse of taxpayer dollars that incentivizes migrants to cross into Texas.

“Congratulations to Governor Abbott,” Texas Rep. Gene Wu said Tuesday in a tweet. “Word will be passed from community to community that if you can just get to Texas, the Governor there will pay for your transportation anywhere in the USA.”

[…]

Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University, said the governor may be trying to escape blowback.

“I think it’s a quiet way of protecting himself from criticism that he’s using taxpayer dollars to provide free transport for undocumented immigrants,” Jones said. “Many conservatives pounced on him as all hat and no cattle, in that he was talking tough but in the end all his busing was going to do was provide a free trip for undocumented migrants to the East Coast that they otherwise would have had to pay for or that liberal nonprofits would have had to pay for.”

Abbott’s office has said at least 10 buses have arrived in the nation’s capital, but his office has not provided costs for the trips or the total number of migrants who have been transported.

During the 30-some-hour coach bus ride, passengers were provided with meals, the migrants said. Many of the buses’ passengers said they had saved up thousands of dollars just to arrive at the border and had little money left by the time they arrived in Texas.

“We are very thankful for all the help that has been given to us,” Ordalis Heras, a 26-year-old Venezuelan asylum-seeker, said earlier this month to the Tribune, hours after arriving in Washington on Abbott’s first bus from Del Rio. Heras, like many other passengers, had intended to travel north of Texas anyway.

“Frankly, we did not have the money to get here otherwise, so we are very thankful for the help,” she said.

A picture is worth a thousand words.

And finally:

With the approval of Republican state leaders, Gov. Greg Abbott on Friday pulled nearly half a billion dollars from various state agency budgets to fund the swelling cost of deploying thousands of National Guard troops to the southern border.

The $495 million transfer comes weeks after Texas military leaders warned they would soon run out of money to fund the 10,000-member deployment under Abbott’s border initiative, known as Operation Lone Star. More than 6,000 National Guard soldiers are stationed along the border to help state troopers apprehend and jail migrants suspected of trespassing on private property.

State lawmakers last year allotted more than $400 million for the Texas Military Department to participate in the operation over the current two-year budget period, part of a $1.8 billion spending package that is also paying for a surge in Department of Public Safety troopers to the border region.

But in late January, facing funding shortfalls just several months into the fiscal year, Abbott and GOP state leaders shifted about $480 million from three state agencies to fund the National Guard deployment. The additional transfer Friday means it will cost Texas more than $1.3 billion to keep National Guard soldiers stationed along the border through the end of the fiscal year in August, more than triple the amount originally budgeted.

In all, Texas’ border security budget now stands at about $4 billion for the current two-year cycle, roughly five times the amount spent in 2019-2020. State leaders will need to drum up additional funds to keep National Guard soldiers stationed at the border beyond August.

Your tax dollars at work. You can do something about that this November.

The “That’s right, you’re not from Texas” legal gambit

Tony Buzbee, y’all.

The legal trouble that Deshaun Watson is facing in Houston already is threatening to get in the way of his new job in Cleveland.

Lawyers for the 22 women who are suing Watson last week filed a notice of their intention to take his pretrial deposition testimony on five different days in early May at the Houston office of Watson’s attorney, Rusty Hardin. But Hardin is fighting it, noting that the NFL quarterback recently changed jobs after being traded by the Houston Texans to the Cleveland Browns.

“Mr. Watson recently moved out of state and currently lives in Ohio,” said a document submitted by Hardin’s firm in court Friday. “He also has a full-time job that requires his presence in Ohio Monday through Friday. As a result, Mr. Watson is not available for depositions in Texas on the dates unilaterally noticed by Plaintiffs. Counsel for Mr. Watson offered multiple dates for Mr. Watson’s deposition that were rejected by Plaintiffs’ counsel.”

Hardin has filed a motion to quash those depositions, leading to a court hearing set for next week in Houston, where Judge Rabeea Collier could decide the matter.

If the implication of this is unclear, Pro Football Talk explains it for you.

First, Watson’s presence is “required” only for the offseason program. Second, it should be fairly easy to schedule the depositions for the window of six weeks or so between the end of the offseason program and the start of training camp.

Third, Buzbee knows well what he’s doing. He’s trying to exert even more settlement pressure on Watson by making the process as big of a pain in the butt as possible. And, yes, it would be much better for Watson if he simply settled the cases. But Buzbee knows this, which will serve only to make the price of settlement higher.

In other words, come to the table for a settlement agreement, or I’m going to keep trying to drag you back to Houston as often as possible for depositions and whatnot, which will be annoying to you and your new team and really wouldn’t you rather just settle already? We’ll see if it works.

We finally see that Manfred letter to the Yankees

The Chron headline is blaring, but I kind of think we already knew most of this stuff.

Major League Baseball fined the New York Yankees $100,000 in 2017 for using their replay room and dugout phone to steal their opponent’s signs during the 2015 and 2016 seasons in what commissioner Rob Manfred described as a “material violation” of rules governing the replay room.

The ruling was in a letter that Manfred sent to Yankees general manager Brian Cashman on Sept. 14, 2017.

[…]

The two-page document provided few specifics and rehashed much of what Manfred already acknowledged in a Sept. 15, 2017 statement, one in which he disciplined the Red Sox for using their replay room to decode signs and warned “future violations of this type will be subject to more serious sanctions, including the possible loss of draft picks.”

The Astros continued to use their electronic sign-stealing scheme and trashcan banging at Minute Maid Park despite the warnings. Owner Jim Crane fired manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow after the system became public in Jan. 2020. The league also fined the franchise $5 million and took away its first and second-round draft picks in 2020 and 2021.

Manfred’s letter to Cashman helped to reinforce two long-held beliefs: electronic sign-stealing predated the Astros’ infamous trashcan banging scheme and ran rampant throughout the sport before stricter enforcement arrived in Sept. 2017. Multiple players across baseball have acknowledged it since the Astros’ punishments were levied and they became pariahs. No other publicly known sign-stealing schemes — including the one detailed in Manfred’s letter to Cashman — approach the severity of Houston’s trashcan banging scheme.

[…]

According to the letter, a Yankees baseball operations assistant admitted to league investigators that he provided information about opponent’s signs to members of the team’s replay room during the 2015 and 2016 seasons.

The staffer’s name is redacted in the letter. The Boston player, who had played for the Yankees earlier in his career, is also not named.

The staff in the replay room “physically relayed the information” to the Yankees dugout, but the letter did not specify how it happened. The team also tried its tactics during road games, according to the letter. At ballparks where the dugout was farther from the replay room, the Yankees sometimes used a dugout phone line to “orally provide real-time information” about the opponent’s signs, the letter said.

Manfred wrote that the Yankees’ wrongdoing “constitutes a material violation of the replay review regulations” and had “the same objective of the Red Sox’s scheme that was the subject of the Yankees complaint.”

In his public statement on Sept. 15, 2017, Manfred acknowledged that the Yankees “had violated a rule governing the use of the dugout phone” during a season prior to 2017.

“The substance of the communications that took place on the dugout phone was not a violation of any rule or regulation in and of itself,” Manfred said in that announcement. “Rather, the violation occurred because the dugout phone technically cannot be used for such a communication.”

Both the 2017 Astros and 2018 Red Sox were cited for sign-stealing schemes that originated in the team’s replay room. The Astros ran a far more egregious operation: positioning a camera in center field at Minute Maid Park, pointing it at the catcher and banging trashcans to relay the signs he flashed to Houston hitters.

Manfred’s letter to Cashman mentioned nothing about cameras. It also does not accuse the Yankees of illicit activity after Sept. 15, 2017 — the day Manfred promised harsher punishment for sign-stealing.

The 2018 Red Sox scheme was “far more limited in scope and impact” than the Astros’ 2017 actions, according to the league’s findings. Alex Cora, Boston’s manager that season, incurred a one-year suspension for only his actions as the Astros’ bench coach in 2017.

See here for the previous update. Going back through my archives, the first mention of this letter was from 2020, and most of what happened since then was related to the Yankees’ efforts to keep it under wraps. I don’t see any specific mention of the Yankees being accused of some form of sign stealing, but there was definitely the assumption all along that multiple teams had at least dipped a toe in those waters, with more than a little suspicion thrown at New York. The key thing, which we did know from the beginning, was Manfred’s warning to teams in 2017 that any further violations will be treated more harshly. Which is what happened to the Astros and to a lesser degree to the Red Sox.

So if you’re an Astros fan and you want to feel smug about this and go on about Yankee hypocrisy, go for it. You’ve got all the evidence you need. Just know that some of the dunking I’ve seen on Facebook has largely boiled down to “we cheated better than you did!” which really isn’t all that compelling if you ask me. I’m sure you can do better than that. If you’re a Yankees fan, the best response is along the line of “yeah, but when MLB said ‘no, seriously, cut it out’, we did and you didn’t”. And then we can go on hating each other as usual, which is the natural order of things in sports. Everybody wins!

Abbott and Patrick ask SCOTx to take up Paxton’s whistleblower appeal

They sort of have a point, but they should still butt out.

Best mugshot ever

Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on Monday urged the Supreme Court of Texas to take up Attorney General Ken Paxton’s appeal to throw out a whistleblower lawsuit against him.

The appeal is Paxton’s latest attempt to avoid a trial after eight of his former top deputies accused him of bribery and abuse of office in late 2020. Within seven weeks of their complaint to authorities, all eight had either been fired or driven to leave the agency. Four of the fired employees later filed a whistleblower lawsuit against Paxton saying they were fired in retaliation for their complaint and have asked to be reinstated to their jobs. Paxton denies wrongdoing.

Paxton, a Republican, has fought that lawsuit, claiming that the state’s whistleblower law — which covers public employees, appointed officials and governmental entities — does not apply to him because he is an elected official. A district court and an appeals court have ruled against Paxton’s lawyers and said the lawsuit could move forward. But in January, Paxton’s lawyers asked the Texas Supreme Court to reconsider the matter and throw out the case.

Paxton’s lawyers argue that allowing whistleblowers to sue the attorney general for firing them could hamper the executive power that the state constitution gives him. It is the same argument two lower courts have already rejected after hearing from the whistleblowers’ lawyers, who argue that siding with Paxton would take away whistleblower protections for employees trying to report the misconduct of an elected official.

Lawyers for the governor’s and lieutenant governor’s offices did not indicate whether they agree with Paxton’s argument. The two Republican state officials filed friend of the court briefs asking that the high court take up the case because it is relevant to statewide governance and to the powers of an executive office under the Texas Constitution. Because of that, lawyers for the offices argued the case should be considered by a statewide court and not by the local courts that have already rejected Paxton’s argument.

The two lower courts were filled by Democrats. The Texas Supreme Court is made up of nine Republicans.

See here for the background. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to argue that the state’s high court should weigh in on this question. They could, I suppose, simply issue an order denying the appeal request on the grounds that they’re fine with the lower courts’ rulings. Most cases never get close to the Supreme Court. Indeed, one of the themes I saw in the judicial Q&A responses I got from 1st and 14th Court of Appeals candidates in 2018 and 2020 was precisely that those courts are often the last word on a lot of consequential cases. SCOTx has no obligation to take this up. It’s easy to see why they might want to, but in the end it would be unremarkable if they didn’t.

It’s also easy to see that what Abbott and Patrick want is for a court full of Republicans to have the final word, since I’m sure they don’t consider the lower courts to be valid in the same way. One could perversely assert that only a rejection from the all-Republican Supreme Court will settle this matter in a way that might shut up Paxton and his sycophants, though perhaps the Court of Criminal Appeals would beg to differ.

One more thing:

An attorney whose firm represented Paul, the friend and campaign donor to Paxton, also urged the Supreme Court Monday to weigh in on the case, saying it “presents far reaching consequences for our state government.”

Statewide officials like Paxton need to be able to fire or retain employees based on whether they help advance their goals, wrote Kent Hance, founding partner of the Austin-based law firm Hance Scarborough.

“Inferior officers are carefully chosen by an elected official to provide competent policymaking advice in line with the policymaking goals as defined by the elected official,” Hance wrote. “This works well when the goals are in line with the advice, but what happens when they are at odds?”

A political action committee for Hance’s firm — the HS Law PAC — donated $25,000 to Paxton in June 2020, after he intervened in litigation involving Paul, as Hearst Newspapers reported.

Lawyers for one of the whistleblowers pointed to the donation this week.

“Only somebody as shameless as Ken Paxton would get a lobbyist whose firm donated $25,000 to Paxton while it was representing Nate Paul companies to ask the Texas Supreme Court to re-write the Texas Whistleblower Act,” lawyers TJ Turner and Tom Nesbitt said in a statement. They declined to comment on the briefs by Abbott and Patrick.

Hance did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but managing partner Jay Stewart, who is trustee of the PAC, has told Hearst it operates independent of the firm’s litigation section and that the donation had nothing to do with any cases.

Yeah, that’s a pretty good summary of Texas politics. Political donations never have anything to do with getting the political outcome we prefer. Who would ever think such a thing?

Looks like Texas didn’t even have to sue to keep Title 42 from ending

A different Trump judge already put it in the bag for them.

A federal judge in Louisiana plans to temporarily block the Biden administration from ending Title 42, a pandemic-era health order used by federal immigration officials to expel migrants, including asylum-seekers, at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The temporary restraining order is expected in a lawsuit brought by Louisiana, Arizona and Missouri after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced it would let the order expire May 23. The details of such a restraining order were not available late Monday.

“The parties will confer regarding the specific terms to be contained in the Temporary Restraining Order and attempt to reach agreement,” according to minutes from a Monday status conference in the case.

See here for the background. Sure is convenient to have a Trump judge for all purposes, isn’t it? Daily Kos has more.

Lawsuit filed over Llano County libraries

This is going to be something to watch.

Seven Llano County residents filed a federal lawsuit Monday against the county judge, commissioners, library board members and library systems director for restricting and banning books from its three-branch public library system.

The lawsuit states that the county judge, commissioners and library director removed several books off shelves, suspended access to digital library books, replaced the Llano County library board with community members in favor of book bans, halted new library book orders and allowed the library board to close its meetings to the public in a coordinated censorship campaign that violates the First Amendment and 14th Amendment.

The plaintiffs — Leila Green Little, Jeanne Puryear, Kathy Kennedy, Rebecca Jones, Richard Day, Cynthia Waring and Diane Moster — insist their constitutional rights were violated when public officials censored books based on content and failed to provide proper notice or an avenue for community comment.

When the plaintiffs attempted to check out several removed books, they said, they were denied access.

“Public libraries are not places of government indoctrination. They are not places where the people in power can dictate what their citizens are permitted to read about and learn,” the lawsuit states. “When government actors target public library books because they disagree with and intend to suppress the ideas contained within them, it jeopardizes the freedoms of everyone.”

Plaintiffs’ lawyer Ellen Leonida said she plans to file a preliminary injunction this week to get books back on shelves and access to the digital library distributor, OverDrive, reinstated while the lawsuit is pending. Leonida also wants the lawsuit to serve as a warning that small groups like the one in this case cannot control the availability of books without legal resistance.

“They can’t censor books, unequivocally, based on viewpoints that they disagree with,” Leonida said.

[…]

In November, Bonnie Wallace, who eventually became the vice chair of the new Llano County library board, emailed Llano County Judge Ron Cunningham with a list of 60 books on Krause’s list that were available in Llano libraries, according to emails referenced in the lawsuit and obtained by The Texas Tribune. Later that day, Cunningham directed library system director Amber Milum to remove “all books that depict any type of sexual activity or questionable nudity.”

In addition to library books’ removal, Cunningham told librarians to stop ordering new publications in November, according to the lawsuit.

Listed as the lawsuit’s defendants were Cunningham; Llano County Commissioners Jerry Don Moss, Peter Jones, Mike Sandoval and Linda Raschke; Milum, the library director; and library board members Rochelle Wells, Rhonda Schneider, Gay Baskin and Wallace.

I had to reread this and then check Google to make sure I got this right: We are talking about the PUBLIC LIBRARIES in Llano County, not the school libraries. Do you want Commissioners Court deciding what books you can read? I didn’t think so. Here’s some local coverage with more details.

The lawsuit, “Little et al v. Llano County et al,” is a direct result of recent actions taken by Llano County officials within the library system, including the recent removal of books from library shelves, switching the library system’s online reading services from OverDrive to Bibliotheca, the dissolution and creation of the county’s Library Advisory Board, and the March 9 termination of the head librarian of the Kingsland Branch Library.

The lawsuit is being filed on behalf of plaintiffs Leila Green Little, Jeanne Puryear, Kathy Kennedy, Rebecca Jones, Richard Day, Cynthia Waring, and Diane Moster, all of whom are Llano County residents and users of the library system.

[…]

The complaint claims county officials violated the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights laid out in the First Amendment, which protects freedoms of speech, religion, assembly, and the press.

Some examples outlined in the legal document are the removal of 12 books, including “In the Night Kitchen” by Maurice Sendak, “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents” by Isabel Wilkerson, and “Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen” by Jazz Jennings; the suspension of new book acquisitions; and the decision to discontinue use of the online reading service OverDrive, which now operates as Libby.

The complaint also states that the rights laid out in the Fourteenth Amendment, which guarantees U.S. citizens the right to due process, are being violated.

That part of the complaint argues that the aforementioned actions were done secretively and without due process as laid out in the county’s adopted policies and guidelines published by the Texas Library Association and other industry experts. It also references the county Library Advisory Board’s recent decision to close meetings to the public.

“Bringing legal claims under both the First and Fourteenth amendments allows Plaintiffs to ask the judge not only to order defendants to put banned books back on the shelves and reinstate OverDrive access, but also to mandate certain procedural protections be put in place to ensure that defendants can’t engage in this kind of censorship again in the future,” said Amy Senia, an associate with BraunHagey & Borden.

Evidence provided in the legal document includes direct quotes from emails and other correspondence sent between county officials, advisory board members, and library staff.

The story provides a PACER link to court documents. You lawyers out there, please weigh in on this one. There was a recent Washington Post story about how the fervor for banning books in schools had metastasized into doing the same at public libraries, with Llano County as the focus; there’s a reprint of it here. My favorite detail is that the “new library board stacked with conservative appointees” includes several people who don’t even have library cards. Because of course they don’t. I think you can guess how I’ll be rooting in this one. Daily Kos and the Chron have more.

UPDATE: Speaking of school libraries, there’s some action on that front as well.

The ACLU of Texas last week sent a letter accusing San Antonio’s North East Independent School District of violating the First Amendment by permanently banning 110 books from its school libraries last month.

The April 20 letter, first reported locally by the Express-News, also accused the district of violating its own polices with the book removal. The ACLU demands that the district return the tomes to its shelves, apologize for its “grave missteps” and commit to educating its students on the United States’ “history of racism.”

“All books recommended for removal must be placed back on North East ISD shelves as swiftly as possible,” the ACLU writes. “If the district seeks to review any books for removal in the future, it must follow its written policy for doing so.”

I’ll keep an eye on that as well.

Texas sues to stop the end of Title 42

Just another day at the office of destruction for Ken Paxton.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration on Friday to halt the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from lifting Title 42, a pandemic-era health order used by federal immigration officials to expel migrants, including asylum-seekers, at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Title 42, which was enacted in March 2020 by the Trump administration, has been used 1.7 million times to expel migrants. Many of them have been removed multiple times after making repeated attempts to enter the U.S.

The CDC has the authority to enact orders like Title 42 under the 1944 Public Health Service Act, which gives federal officials the authority to stop the entry of people and products into the U.S. to limit the spread of communicable diseases. Part of the reason the agency is planning to lift the order soon is that COVID-19 cases have been decreasing and vaccinations have become widely available. The order is set to expire on May 23.

Paxton’s lawsuit argues that the Biden administration didn’t follow the administrative procedure laws needed to halt Title 42. The suit adds that if the Biden administration follows through with lifting the order, Texas will have to pay for social services for the migrants who enter the country.

“The Biden Administration’s disastrous open border policies and its confusing and haphazard COVID-19 response have combined to create a humanitarian and public safety crisis on our southern border,” the lawsuit says, which was filed in the Southern District of Texas in Victoria.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, who is named as a defendant in the lawsuit, said on Thursday during a virtual event with the Council on Foreign Relations that health orders are not immigration policies.

“You don’t use a health law to deal with a migration challenge. You use migration laws to deal with migration challenges. You can’t use the cover of health to try to deal with a migration challenge,” he said.

[…]

The state has filed at least 20 other lawsuits in Texas-based federal courts, most of them led by Paxton, against the Biden administration over everything from federal mask mandates to halting the long-disputed Keystone XL pipeline. Judges appointed by former President Donald Trump have heard 16 of the cases and ruled in favor of Texas in seven. The other nine are pending, as of last month.

A majority of these lawsuits have been filed in courts in which the judge was appointed by Trump.

I mean, we could just wait until the combination of Democratic cold feet and empty both-siderism appeals forces Biden to back off anyway, but Paxton has never been one to wait for things to happen when he can find a friendly Trump judge to make them happen for him. Looks like I picked a bad day to quit sniffing glue. The Chron has more.

New bail bond rules survive initial court challenge

There are a couple of stories all rolled into this, so my apologies for any confusion.

A ruling by a Harris County judge Friday will allow a recently-approved policy requiring bail bond agents to charge some defendants a 10 percent minimum to start Saturday after a last-minute lawsuit tried to stop it from happening.

Court records filed Friday showed a bail bondsman sued Harris County as an attempt to stop the new rule, which would require agents like her to charge defendants jailed on violent offenses a 10 percent minimum to secure their freedom after an arrest. But in court over Zoom late Friday afternoon, Judge Cory Don Sepolio rejected a temporary restraining order request, allowing the rule to take effect.

“The Bail Bond Board adopted this rule after hearing directly from the families of victims of violent crimes, community organizers, and law enforcement. Their decision was supported by Harris County Commissioners Court and leaders of both political parties,” a statement from Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee read. “I’m pleased with the court’s decision today to reject the request for a temporary restraining order that would have blocked this rule from being implemented.”

Regarding the temporary restraining order request getting rejected, Kevin Pennell — the plaintiff’s lawyer — said in an email Friday he had no comment.

The lawsuit follows the approval by the Harris County Bail Bond Board to require bondsmen to take in 10 percent or more of the surety bond minimum — set by a judge or magistrate — to make it more difficult for violent offenders to leave jail and go on to commit more crime. The proposed rule stemmed from concerns that defendants were being released on bail fees lower than the 10 percent and then being forced into payment plans.

[…]

The bail board, as the lawsuit points out, is designed to oversee the bonding business in Harris County. Up until March, the board primarily approved and renewed bail bondsman licenses. The Harris County Attorney’s Office determined that the board can do more than that and Commissioners Court passed a resolution urging its members to adopt rules regulating the minimum that a bondsman must collect to secure a defendant’s release from jail.

The board passed the rule April 13 after a failed vote the month prior.

I didn’t write about the initial failure of the board to pass a rule requiring that bail bond companies must charge a minimum of ten percent of whatever bail had been set. Bail band companies had been lowering that percentage from what had once been seen as a de facto standard of ten percent because of the misdemeanor bail reform. With fewer people needing bail bonds because fewer people were being assessed bail, bail bond companies saw their revenues decline and so they looked for new customers by lowering their fees so as to entice those who were still being required to pay bail but couldn’t afford their fees. It’s a complicated story. The Harris County Bail Bond Board, on its second attempt, passed a rule that made the ten percent minimum a requirement, and in response a bail bond company owner filed a lawsuit to stop it.

All About Bail Bonds owner Sunya Claiborne, plaintiff in the lawsuit, contends that her business is at stake because the minimum charge requirement is “classic price fixing and a per se antitrust violation without any grant of state authority to displace competition,” according to court documents. The county and Claiborne’s lawyers are expected later on Friday to debate whether a temporary restraining order and injunction should be granted.

“She reasonably fears that, unless she complies with these unlawful rules, her license will be suspended or revoked,” the lawsuit reads. “But if she does comply with them, she will be participating in an illegal price fixing scheme and violating her customers’ privacy rights.”

[…]

The new rule is at odds with how Claiborne, whose license the board renewed ahead of the most-recent vote, plans to conduct her business, according to the court documents.

“She intends to offer competitive pricing of less than 10% of the face amount of the bond to consumers who desire to purchase a bail bond for themselves, or their loved ones charged with a designated offense and qualify for reduced payment terms,” the lawsuit continued.

As a bail agent for the corporate surety Allegheny Casualty Co., she also worries that the new rule will put her at odds with the insurance company — which she fears could violate customer privacy. Part of the new rule requires that bail bondsmen have to report the premium amount collected ahead of the defendant’s release. The bondsmen would also have to report how the premium was paid and who paid it.

Premiums are, in some cases, documented in the public record. Affidavits of surety to surrender principal often list the premium and are filed by bail agents as an attempt to cut ties with a defendant’s bond, usually after a new charge. In filing the form, bail agents ask deputies to take the defendant into custody, while they keep the defendant’s bail deposit and stop being responsible for the person in the eyes of the court.

I’m pretty sure this is not what antitrust law was intended for, but what do I know? The initial request for a temporary restraining order was denied on Friday, and there will be a hearing for a temporary injunction on May 6. I don’t expect that to be any more successful, but we’ll see.

Courts keep turning the Yankees down

Time to give up and move on, y’all.

The New York Yankees keep taking losses in court.

A federal appeals court has denied the team’s latest attempt to keep a 2017 letter from Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred detailing alleged sign-stealing by the Yankees.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit turned down the Yankees’ request for an en banc hearing of an earlier court decision affirming a U.S. District Court Judge’s ruling that the letter be unsealed.

En banc hearings, which are rarely granted, ask the circuit court’s 13 active judges to rehear the case. The appellate court’s March 21 ruling was made by a three-judge panel.

NJ.com reported Thursday the letter could be unsealed in a week. The Yankees’ only legal recourse at this point would be to seek a Supreme Court review.

“We’re disappointed in the Court of Appeals’ decision, but we respect it,” Yankees president Randy Levine told NJ.com. “But I believe that it’s going to lead to a lot of unfair results down the road.”

The Yankees have claimed making the letter public would result in “severe reputational damage.”

See here and here for the background. I follow a lot of dumb stories on this blog, and this is one I’m ready to stop following. I don’t know what could possibly be in that letter the team has fought so hard to keep under wraps, but at this point if one was inclined to believe it must be something terrible, I’d be hard pressed to argue against you. Either there really is something damaging in there, or they have a greatly over-inflated sense of their own importance. Possibly both. Can we please just rip this band-aid off and get on with our lives? Thanks.

Biden administration to appeal airplane mask mandate order

Good.

U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration said on Tuesday it would appeal a judge’s ruling ending a mask mandate on airplanes if public health officials deem it necessary to stem the spread of COVID-19.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to whom the administration was deferring, said that it would continue to study whether the mandates were still needed. The mandates apply to planes, trains and other public transportation and, prior to Monday’s ruling, had been due to expire on May 3.

“We will continue to assess the need for a mask requirement in those settings, based on several factors, including the U.S. COVID-19 community levels, risk of circulating and novel variants, and trends in cases and disease severity,” a CDC spokesperson said in a statement on Tuesday.

The Justice Department said it would appeal Monday’s ruling by U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle that the 14-month-old directive was unlawful, if the CDC determined the mandate was needed to protect public health.

See here for the background. For what it’s worth, the public still supports masking on airplanes. Airlines and their employees have not been very fond of it, which is understandable given the amount of petulance and rage they have had to deal with from unhinged mask-haters. Maybe they shouldn’t be so quick to let any of those folks back on board, but that’s just my opinion. It’s true that airplanes have excellent filtration and ventilation, which make them pretty safe from a COVID transmission perspective, though not entirely. And getting on and off the airplane, not to mention being in the airport, is much riskier. Masking up is still your best bet. Slate and Vox have more.

Wendy Davis sues over SB8

Interesting.

Wendy Davis

Former Texas State Sen. Wendy Davis, best known for her 13-hour filibuster of a 2013 abortion bill, has filed a federal lawsuit challenging Texas’ recent abortion law. The suit claims the law is “blatantly unconstitutional” and written to “make a mockery of the federal courts.”

The law, which went into effect in September and empowers private citizens to bring civil lawsuits against anyone who “aids or abets” in an abortion after fetal cardiac activity is detected, has led abortion clinics to stop providing the procedure after about six weeks of pregnancy.

Meanwhile, abortion funds — nonprofit advocacy groups that help pay for abortions and related expenses — have seen increased demand from pregnant Texans seeking care outside the state. This financial support has put these funds in the crosshairs of abortion opponents, who have claimed on social media and in legal filings that abortion fund donors, employees and volunteers are susceptible to lawsuits and criminal charges.

Davis, who was the Democratic nominee for Texas governor in 2014 and unsuccessfully ran for Congress in 2020, donates to and works with the Lilith Fund for Reproductive Equity, an Austin-based abortion fund, according to the lawsuit. She claims in the suit that these threats against donors and volunteers “have had a chilling effect” and stop her from associating with “like-minded people to express her views and achieve her advocacy goals.”

“Accordingly, she intends not to make any additional donations to Texas abortion funds until the Court provides clarity on this issue,” the lawsuit said.

She is joined in the suit by the Stigma Relief Fund, an abortion fund associated with abortion provider Whole Woman’s Health, and Marva Sadler and Sean Mehl, who both work for Whole Woman’s Health and serve on the board of the Stigma Relief Fund. Sadler and Mehl say in the suit that they have stopped donating to abortion funds “until the Court clarifies whether and to what extent [they] can face liability for doing so.”

They are suing state Rep. Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park, and three private citizens who have made efforts to bring lawsuits against abortion funds. Cain recently sent cease-and-desist letters to all the Texas abortion funds, accusing them of criminal conduct.

The lawsuit claims that the law violates the plaintiff’s rights to due process and free speech and asks the court to declare both this law and Texas’ older abortion law unenforceable.

“We are asking the courts today to stop the unconstitutional harassment of abortion funds by confirming S.B.8 cannot be used to silence donors with bogus threats,” Davis said in a statement. “More than that, we are asking the courts to stop the nightmare S.B.8 has created for Texans if they need abortion services.”

[…]

Last month, two abortion funds filed federal lawsuits against the anti-abortion advocacy groups that had threatened to bring lawsuits against them.

Recently, Cain claimed that the abortion funds could also face criminal charges under a Texas abortion statute that was declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1973. Cain claimed in his cease-and-desist letter that the law, which was never repealed by lawmakers, was recently reaffirmed when the state passed the new abortion law.

Davis’ lawsuit asks the judge to affirm that the old criminal statute is unenforceable and that the newer law is unconstitutional.

See here and here for more on the abortion funds’ lawsuits against two anti-abortion organizations plus two individuals. Those two individuals, plus a third person in addition to the twerp Briscoe Cain, are also defendants of this lawsuit, which you can download as a PDF here from the Quorum Report. Cain had been sent a letter accusing him of defamation after his claims that abortion funds and their donors were breaking the law; I do not know if there have been any further developments in that story.

The plaintiffs allege violations of the First and Fourteenth amendments, among other things. The claims about the First Amendment were interesting:

Because of Defendants’ threats concerning enforcement of S.B. 8 and the Criminal Abortion Ban against Texas abortion funds and their associates, Plaintiffs Sadler and Mehl intend to cease donating money to Texas abortion funds, including the Stigma Relief Fund, until the Court confirms that these laws are unenforceable because they violate the U.S. Constitution.

[…]

By threatening to chill abortion funds’ relationships with their donors, employees, and volunteers, Section 3 of S.B. 8 violates the freedom of expressive association protected by the First Amendment.

This leans into the SCOTUS holding that political contributions are free speech. I don’t doubt the zealots’ ability to double-speak their way out of this, but it’s a reasonable approach. Or at least I, a non-lawyer, think it is. I haven’t seen any commentary on Twitter, and neither Wendy Davis nor the Stigma Relief Fund have tweeted about this. We’ll see what happens. CNN has more.

Paxton threatens HISD over its COVID sick leave policy

We live in such stupid times.

Best mugshot ever

Attorney General Ken Paxton and Republicans in the Legislature are taking aim at Houston ISD, arguing that the district’s COVID sick day policy violates state law.

This academic year, Houston ISD is offering 10 additional days of paid sick leave to employees who are vaccinated against the coronavirus but test positive during the school year. Unvaccinated staff, however, must use personal leave time if they are infected.

In a nonbinding opinion last week, Paxton said the policy likely constitutes a “vaccine passport,” the documentation certifying a person’s vaccination status shown in exchange for “entry or services.” The GOP-led Texas Legislature last year outlawed such requirements for both private businesses and public agencies, and Gov. Greg Abbott issued a similar executive order banning the practice last summer.

“A court would likely conclude that, by offering additional paid leave only to those employees showing proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a medical exemption, the Houston Independent School District’s COVID-19 paid leave policy violates” the executive order, Paxton wrote.

Tejal Patel, a spokesperson for Houston ISD, said Paxton’s opinion “does not change the implementation” of the district’s paid leave policy. The last day of classes is just about seven weeks away.

“No court has ruled that the district’s policy of awarding additional leave days to vaccinated employees violates” the executive order, Patel said. “The district continues to evaluate its COVID protocols in our efforts to maintain a safe learning and working environment.”

The point of this was that since HISD couldn’t mandate that employees get vaccinated, they took the approach of incentivizing it by offering a reward to those who did. And it worked pretty well, as the story notes – over 20,000 of the district’s 24,000 employees have been vaccinated. In practice, this is no different than a million corporate wellness programs out there. The one I’m most familiar with offered a discount on your health insurance premium if you jumped through certain hoops, which ranged from things like taking a dumb survey to getting a blood test. If you participated – it was completely voluntary – you got a couple hundred bucks off the cost of your insurance for the year. This made sense for the insurer as well, as it (supposedly, at least) led people towards healthier lifestyles, which meant they’d pay out fewer claims.

So I struggle to see how one differs from the other. Except of course that we’re dealing with the extremely whiny snowflakes who refuse to get a COVID shot and who therefore must be catered to at every turn by politicians like Ken Paxton and Paul Bettencourt, who requested the opinion. God knows, we cannot deprive these special delicate flowers of anything. I approve of HISD’s response. So far, the school districts have done pretty well for themselves ignoring Paxton and Abbott. No guarantees here, and of course the Lege can deal with this next year if the Republicans remain in control, but for now I’d say keep on keeping on and hope for the best.

Second lawsuit filed over Galveston redistricting

Similar grounds, different plaintiffs.

Commissioner Stephen Holmes

A coalition of civil rights groups in Texas filed a federal lawsuit Thursday against Galveston County, alleging that the county’s redistricting plan intentionally discriminates against a growing minority population in the Gulf Coast community.

The complaint, shared first with CNN, marks the second lawsuit that seeks to overturn maps approved by the Republican majority on the county’s governing body. Last month, the Justice Department filed a federal lawsuit against the county on similar grounds — in a redistricting dispute that has garnered national attention.

The new lawsuit — brought by the Texas Civil Rights Project and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice on behalf of local branches of the NAACP and the Galveston League of United Latin American Citizens Council 151 — alleges that the new map diminishes the voting power of Black and Hispanic voters by splitting up the only majority-minority precinct.

The new map endangers the reelection of Stephen Holmes, the county’s only Black commissioner, who has served on the board for 22 years. Holmes is next on the ballot in 2024.

The lawsuit alleges the Republicans majority pushed through a “racially discriminatory map” that “largely took place behind closed doors.”

Sarah Chen, an attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project, called the map — and the process used by the Republican majority in the county to approve it — “egregious examples of people in power … exercising that power to dilute the votes of racial minorities.”

[…]

Both this lawsuit and the complaint by the Justice Department underscore the difficult legal terrain that voting rights advocates now face in challenging alleged discriminatory maps. This cycle marks the first round of redistricting since the US Supreme Court in 2013 gutted the so-called preclearance provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

That provision required states with a history of discrimination to first obtain the permission of the federal government or the courts before enacting new laws related to voting.

With those powers gone, the Justice Department’s lawsuit relies largely on another section of the federal voting rights law, Section 2, which puts the burden on the federal government to prove its case.

The lawsuit filed Thursday cites Section 2, but also argues that map violates the constitutional rights of Black and Latino voters to equal protection of the law.

Chen said civil rights groups are looking for “different pathways” in voting rights cases “because victory is never assured.”

See here and here for the background, and here for a copy of the complaint. The Texas Civil Rights Project, which is co-counsel along with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, has a tweet thread about this as well. I haven’t read through the two of them so I can’t say where they are specifically similar and different, but the coverage suggests they have overlap. It won’t surprise me if these two lawsuits are eventually combined. I remain less than confident that the plaintiffs will get the relief they seek given the hostility the federal courts have shown towards voting rights in recent years, but I will say that I’m old enough to remember a day when a white majority reducing the political power of communities of color for the reasons of “because we can, that’s why” was considered to be in poor taste. I feel like we should try to return to those days, but what do I know? Daily Kos has more.