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March 8th, 2016:

Precinct analysis: 2016 Democratic Presidential primary

I love the smell of precinct data in the morning, don’t you? Here’s a breakdown of the Democratic Presidential primary vote for Harris County:


Dist   Bernie Hillary  Bernie%   Hill%
======================================
126     2,315   4,649   33.04%  66.35%
127     2,621   4,905   34.54%  64.64%
128     1,756   3,532   32.46%  65.30%
129     3,425   5,247   39.24%  60.12%
130     2,376   3,692   38.89%  60.44%
131     2,481  10,874   18.40%  80.65%
132     2,619   4,547   36.26%  62.95%
133     2,980   5,561   34.79%  64.92%
134     5,588  11,759   32.11%  67.57%
135     2,672   4,892   35.10%  64.27%
137     1,824   3,374   34.76%  64.30%
138     2,500   4,093   37.68%  61.70%
139     2,711  10,826   19.81%  79.12%
140     1,312   4,145   23.58%  74.50%
141     1,453   8,499   14.46%  84.57%
142     2,086   9,663   17.53%  81.20%
143     2,037   6,403   23.47%  73.78%
144     1,336   3,044   29.83%  67.96%
145     2,749   5,403   33.11%  65.07%
146     3,089  11,078   21.62%  77.52%
147     4,819  12,743   27.20%  71.91%
148     3,901   7,365   34.24%  64.64%
149     2,079   5,523   27.04%  71.84%
150     2,595   4,994   33.96%  65.36%

Percentages don’t add up to 100 because of the other candidates, whose totals I didn’t show. I’ve said before that races that aren’t close seldom offer interesting precinct data. That’s the case here, where Hillary Clinton took over 70% of the vote in Harris County. There was some variation – as has been the case around the country, Clinton dominated in the predominantly African-American districts, while Sanders’ six best districts were all Republican-held, and no coincidentally predominantly Anglo. Beyond that, there’s not a whole lot to say. Clinton lost the county in 2008, though she did do well in Anglo and Latino districts (apologies for the formatting on that one; I was still using Movable Type back then, and the code apparently didn’t port that well to WordPress). Different year, different result. I’ll look at the Republican Presidential primary tomorrow.

Supreme Court to decide just how stupid our tax system is

Oh, goody.

BagOfMoney

The Texas Supreme Court on Tuesday will hear arguments in a case that could deliver a multi-billion windfall to struggling oil and gas producers by taking a major bite out of state tax revenue.

The issue before the justices may sound arcane: Are metal pipes, tubing and other equipment used in oil and gas extraction exempt from sales taxes? But a yes to that question, brought by a Midland-based driller, could trigger a flood of refunds that would wipe out the state’s projected $4 billion budget surplus, Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar warns.

“This one’s as big as they come,” the Republican said in an interview. “The neon light lights up, because of the sticker shock.”

Southwest Royalties, a subsidiary of Clayton Williams Energy, filed its lawsuit in 2009, just before improved technology unleashed a surge of oil production that transformed the U.S. energy landscape. Susan Combs, Hegar’s predecessor, was named in the original lawsuit, which has wound through the court system for years.

[…]

Granting the exemption would affect more than the company’s tax bill, Hegar argues in court filings. It would “impose a severe financial penalty on Texas taxpayers” amounting to $4.4 billion in 2017, and $500 million each year after that as companies around the state seek to cash in, according to estimates compiled in 2012.

On Tuesday, the justices will parse the language of a sales tax exemption for goods and services used in the “actual manufacturing, processing, or fabrication of tangible personal property,” and consider how that description relates to the mechanics of petroleum extraction.

The case hinges on whether certain extraction equipment — like casing, pipes, tubing and pumps — fits the definition cited in the exemption.

[…]

Ideally, judges decide such cases only on their merits, experts say, but the budget impact can factor into their decision-making.

Warnings from the comptroller’s office already seem to have helped its cause in this case.

At a hearing in 2012, Travis County District Judge John Dietz said he would rule in favor of Southwest Royalties, only to later reverse his position in a written decision.

The driller suggests that a Wall Street Journal article quoting dire warnings from Combs swayed the judge.

An appeals court in Travis County upheld Dietz’s written decision, backing the comptroller’s interpretation due to “a lack of clarity” in the way lawmakers wrote the exemption.

Hegar cited those earlier rulings in expressing confidence that Texas would ultimately prevail.

“The state’s legal arguments are 100 percent valid,” he said in an interview. “The law is not on the side of those asking for the tax refund.”

But Dietz’s initial inclination may have telegraphed that Southwest’s arguments are “pretty strong,” Dale Craymer, president of the business-backed Texas Taxpayers and Research Association and a former chief revenue estimator for the state, told the Tribune earlier this year.

See here for the background. Just a reminder, it is well within the Lege’s power to clear this up. Now maybe the Supreme Court will bail them out, and maybe if they don’t some other case will jump up and bite the state’s bottom line in the bottom. And again, the Lege could fix it if they wanted to. I think we both know how that’s going to go.

Is there anything more to the Rick Perry case?

I’m dubious.

Corndogs make bad news go down easier

Corndogs are not subject to double jeopardy

The special prosecutor in the abuse-of-power case against Rick Perry said Thursday he still hasn’t decided whether to drop the matter a week after the state’s highest criminal court ordered that the indictment against the former governor be dismissed.

Special prosecutor Michael McCrum of San Antonio said he and his co-counsel, David Gonzalez, “are looking into it, because we owe that to the people of this State, and because we just witnessed an activist court create new law for a public official indicted for public corruption. So, we must take time to carefully review this.

“As expressed by the judge’s dissent filed this week, however, the (high) court’s opinion offers little, if any, direction to the district court on how to react to this new law. So, we owe it to the people to be careful and prudent as to how we respond,” McCrum said.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ordered the indictment to be dismissed last week in a decision by Presiding Judge Sharon Keller, who said the charge violated the constitutional separation of powers because it stemmed from a Perry veto — an executive power.

[…]

The state had said — and lower courts agreed — that it was too early in the case to address Perry’s arguments against another charge alleging abuse of official capacity, saying according to precedent, that only could occur after evidence was heard at a trial.

That’s because Perry’s arguments in general said the abuse-of-power law was unconstitutional as applied to his circumstances.

Keller’s opinion, however, put Perry’s separation-of-powers complaint in the same special category as claims against double jeopardy — being tried twice for the same crime.

Such claims are allowed to be raised before trial “because the rights underlying those claims would be effectively undermined if not vindicated before trial,” Keller wrote.

In Perry’s case, she wrote, “When the only act that is being prosecuted is a veto, then the prosecution itself violates separation of powers.”

Her opinion ordered the indictment dismissed, an outcome joined by five other justices on the nine-member court and opposed by two.

See here for the background. McCrum hasn’t said what his next step might be, and it’s not clear to me that there is one other than finishing up the paperwork. I’m not a lawyer, though, so maybe there is still a rabbit in the hat somewhere. I think the CCA got this decision wrong, but like it or not they are the end of the line. At some point we need to accept that and move on.

SCOTUS also blocks Louisiana anti-abortion law for now

Forgot to note this over the weekend.

Right there with them

Right there with them

The Supreme Court handed down a brief order Friday allowing four Louisiana abortion clinics to reopen after they were closed due to a recent decision by a conservative federal appeals court.

Last week, an especially conservative panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit handed down an “emergency” decision permitting an anti-abortion Louisiana law to go into effect. Under this law, physicians cannot perform abortions unless they have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital — an increasingly common requirement masterminded by an anti-abortion group that drafts model bills for state legislatures. A challenge to a similar Texas law is currently pending before the justices.

The Supreme Court’s order temporarily suspends the Louisiana law, effectively preventing the Fifth Circuit’s Wednesday decision from taking effect. Only Justice Clarence Thomas explicitly dissented from the Court’s order.

Monday’s order from the Supreme Court is not surprising — indeed, the most surprising thing is that the Fifth Circuit permitted the Louisiana law to briefly take effect despite clear signals from the Supreme Court that they should not do so. The justices twice stayed Fifth Circuit decisions permitting Texas’ similar, if more comprehensive, anti-abortion law from taking effect. The first time, the Supreme Court issued a partial stay permitting two clinics to be exempt from Texas’s new credentialing requirements for abortion doctors. The second time, the justices handed down a more comprehensive stay of what may be the Fifth Circuit’s most aggressive anti-abortion decision.

See here and here for a bit of background. ThinkProgress then goes on to explain why this order from SCOTUS is different from every other order from SCOTUS.

Friday afternoon, the Supreme Court handed down a very brief order allowing several Louisiana abortion clinics to reopen after a conservative federal appeals court forced them to shut down. Yet, while the Supreme Court’s order was very short — only slightly more than a paragraph long — it contained 14 more words than such an order normally would. And those 14 words appear to be a direct swipe at the appeals court that shut down Louisiana’s clinics in the first place.

[…]

Just one week before the Supreme Court heard these arguments, however, the Fifth Circuit handed down another anti-abortion decision. In June Medical Services v. Gee, the Fifth Circuit granted an “emergency” motion reinstating a Louisiana law that was expected to shut down all but one of that state’s abortion clinics. The Louisiana law at issue in June Medical Services closely resembles a provision of the Texas law at issue in Whole Woman’s Health.

The Fifth Circuit’s order in June Medical Services was surprising, largely because the Supreme Court had already dropped some pretty big clues that a majority of the justices disapprove of the Fifth Circuit’s decisions forcing abortion clinics to close. Among other things, the justices stayed the Fifth Circuit’s Whole Woman’s Health decision pending the Supreme Court’s own resolution of the case — effectively enabling many Texas abortion clinics to remain open that would be closed if the Fifth Circuit’s order were still in effect.

Nevertheless, the Fifth Circuit decided not to take the hint that Texas-style attempts to shut down clinics should be placed on hold. Instead, the Fifth Circuit claimed in June Medical Services that it was free ignore this hint because, when the Supreme Court stayed Whole Woman’s Health, it did so in a brief order without explaining its reasoning. “No guidance can be gleaned from the Supreme Court’s vacating portions of the stay without explanation,” according to the lower court, “as we cannot discern the underlying reasoning from the one-paragraph order.”

Which brings us back to the 14 significant words in the Supreme Court’s most recent order. “Consistent with the Court’s action granting a stay in Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole,” that order begins, the Fifth Circuit’s order reinstating the Louisiana law is vacated.

These 14 words are a subtle spanking, but they are a spanking nonetheless. They directly contradict the Fifth Circuit’s claim that it can ignore the Supreme Court’s previous stay orders if the lower court “cannot discern the underlying reasoning” behind those orders. And they rebut the Fifth Circuit’s logic on its own terms. Why shouldn’t lower courts allow Texas-style abortion restrictions to go into effect in the future? Because halting these laws is “consistent with the Court’s action granting a stay in Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole.”

So there you have it. ThinkProgress admits that one can over-read meaning into these situations, but coming off the way oral arguments for the HB2 case went, it’s hard not to feel a teeny bit of optimism. Not too much – let’s not get irrationally exuberant here – but a little. RH Reality Check and Slate have more.