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May 17th, 2016:

No indies

Not in Texas and not for President, anyway.

Will not be on the ballot

Will not be on the ballot

[Last] Monday was the deadline for independent candidates for president to get on the ballot in Texas.

Nobody showed up.

The Texas Secretary of State’s office, which administers elections, closed its doors Monday afternoon with no applications. And they would have noticed, too: Independent candidates have to submit their names along with petitions from 79,939 registered voters who, like the candidates themselves, did not take part in either the Republican or Democratic primaries.

That’s a pile of paper.

In the wake of Donald Trump’s imminent nomination as the Republican Party’s candidate for president, there has been some chatter in conservative ranks about a third-party candidate more palatable to the GOP establishment.

It’s getting late for that. The general election is in six months, and state deadlines for filing are starting to come up on the calendar.

As the story notes, a would-be independent candidate could possibly sue to get on Texas’ ballot, following the example of John Anderson in 1980. That presumes that such a candidate exists and has the wherewithal to file and successfully argue a lawsuit. And that presumes that such a candidate would want to be on the ballot in Texas, which if one is aiming to be the “not Trump alternative that unhappy conservatives can support” one probably does. (Mark Cuban has already declined to be that candidate.) Time’s a-wastin’, that’s all I’m saying. One can also file as an official write-in candidate, which is to say a write-in candidate whose votes actually get counted, but one should keep one’s expectations low if one chooses that path. The high-water mark for a write-in candidate in any Presidential race going back to 1992 is 9,159 votes in 2004 by Ralph Nader, and it’s fair to say he was better known than your average write-in would be. It was also worth 0.12% of the vote, so just a little bit short of a majority. But hey, dream big.

SCOTUS punts on birth control lawsuit

Wow.

Zubik v. Burwell was supposed to be an epic showdown over the power of religious objectors to limit the rights of others. A sequel to the Court’s 2014 decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, Zubik involved regulations expanding women’s access to birth control that the conservative justices appeared to endorse in Hobby Lobby — even as they struck down a more direct method of providing contraceptive coverage to working women.

At oral arguments, however, the four remaining conservatives seemed to have a change of heart. Even Justice Anthony Kennedy, the justice who signaled the loudest in Hobby Lobby that he would tolerate the kind of regulations at issue in Zubik, appeared openly hostile towards the Obama administration’s arguments. The case seemed to be barreling towards a 4-4 non-decision. If conservative Justice Antonin Scalia had not died last February, it is all but certain that the case would have ended in a crushing defeat for the administration and for many women who hoped to benefit from the administration’s birth control rules.

But that’s not going to happen — at least not yet. On Monday, the Supreme Court handed down a brief, three-page opinion that effectively punts the case until next year at the earliest (and, presumably, after someone has been confirmed to fill Justice Scalia’s seat). The opinion explicitly “expresses no view on the merits” of Zubik and a raft of related cases. Instead, it sends these cases back down to the lower courts to consider the views expressed by both parties in supplemental briefing requested by the justices themselves.

[…]

As the Supreme Court notes in Monday’s opinion, the administration “has confirmed that the challenged procedures ‘for employers with insured plans could be modified to operate in the manner posited in the Court’s order while still ensuring that the affected women receive contraceptive coverage seamlessly, together with the rest of their health coverage.’” However, that’s not the end of the story. The administration also explained to the Court that the justices’ proposed compromise may not work for employers that self-insure (that is, employers who pay out health claims directly to employees rather than joining them into a broader insurance pool).

In any event, the one thing that’s absolutely clear from the Court’s very brief, unsigned opinion inZubik is that it will not resolve any of the nuances of how employers should exempt themselves, what should happen to women who seek birth control after an employer exempts itself, and whether self-insurance or other situations present unique problems that call for a distinct rule. The Court wants this case to go away, at least for now.

See here for the background. This is just amazing. SCOTUSBlog provides some further analysis:

One reading of Monday’s developments was that the Court, now functioning with eight Justices, was having difficulty composing a majority in support of a definite decision on the legal questions. Thus, what emerged had all of the appearance of a compromise meant to help generate majority support among the Justices. With this approach, the Court both achieved the practical results of letting the government go forward to provide the contraceptive benefits and freeing the non-profits of any risk of penalties, even though neither side has any idea — at present — what the ultimate legal outcome will be and, therefore, what their legal rights actually are under the mandate.

Those uncertainties are now likely to linger through the remainder of President Obama’s term in office, which ends next January. The appeals courts may well order the filing of new legal briefs, and may hold new hearings, before issuing a new round of rulings on the controversy. However, the entire future of the ACA, including its birth-control mandate, may now depend upon who wins the presidential election this year and which party has control of Congress when it reassembles in 2017.

The three issues that the Court had agreed to rule on, and then left hanging at least for now, were whether the ACA mandate violates the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act by requiring religious non-profits that object to contraceptives to notify the government of that position, whether the government had a “compelling interest” in assuring cost-free access to contraceptives, and whether the move by the government to go ahead and arrange access to those benefits for those non-profits’ employees and students was the “least restrictive means” to carry out the mandate.

Doing on Monday much the same that it had done in several temporary orders at earlier stages of this controversy, the Court accepted that the non-profits already had given the federal government sufficient notice of their objection to the mandate, and that the government could use that notice as the basis for going ahead to provide actual access, at no cost, to the employees and students of those institutions.

The unsigned opinion that the Chief Justice announced included an attempt to explain why the Court was bypassing a definitive ruling on the legal issues. It cited the replies that both sides had filed, after the cases had been argued, in reaction to a suggested compromise plan devised by the Court.

The Court on Monday interpreted those filings as containing concessions that move the two sides somewhat closer together, but at the least provided a basis for letting the federal appeals courts be the first to analyze the meaning and impact of those concessions. The Court expressed the hope that the two sides would use this new opportunity, in the appeals courts, to work toward common ground that would protect the religious sensibilities of the non-profit institutions at the same time that women of child-bearing age would not be deprived of contraceptive devices and methods.

“We anticipate,” the Court said, “that the courts of appeals will allow the parties sufficient time to resolve any outstanding issues between them.” That appeared to be an invitation for the lower courts at least to explore whether the two sides could reach agreement without prolonging the court battles. It conceded, though, that there may still be “areas of disagreement” between the two sides.

It may just be my cynicism showing, but I don’t expect any of the litigants to go seeking common ground. This was from the beginning an ideological fight, and they’re not going to settle for anything less than victory. As the Trib noted, the district court in Texas originally found for the plaintiffs, HBU and East Texas Baptist University, but the Fifth Circuit overturned that verdict. I have no idea what happens from here, but I look forward to a Supreme Court with either a Justice Merrick Garland or a President Clinton-named Justice getting the case again in the future. TPM, Dahlia Lithwick, Rewire, and Daily Kos have more.

Overview of the Harris County GOP Chair runoff

This is the Republican runoff I’m most interested in.

vote-button

Two years after wresting control of the Harris County Republican Party, Paul Simpson is facing an unexpected runoff challenge from political newcomer Rick Ramos in a race that again pits establishment fiscal conservatives against a group of socially minded GOP kingmakers.

Simpson finished second with 39 percent of the vote in March’s three-way primary, as Ramos and political novice Tex Christopher – neither of whom reported raising a penny – earned the remainder.

Caught off guard, several party activists and deep-pocketed donors have mobilized behind Simpson, as Ramos has leaned on the support of a trio of local power players: Steve Hotze, Gary Polland and Terry Lowry.

Both candidates painted the outcome of the low-profile race as crucial for the party’s future in Harris County, which recently swung majority-Democratic, according to Rice University’s Kinder Institute.

“We are a battleground county,” Simpson, a 61-year-old energy lawyer, said during a recent interview in his downtown office. “So, the only way we can keep Republican leadership in place is to be an effective party, and we weren’t for a long time.”

Ramos, a 45-year-old family lawyer, said the party needs to broaden its appeal among minority voters and get more involved in social policy fights.

“For the Republican Party to be able to go forward … we have to have more diversity. We have to be able to reach out to communities at large within our own county, and what worked 20 years ago, 30 years ago for the Republican Party is not going to work in the immediate future,” Ramos said. “I think we have to be more proactive, more innovative, and really give the party somewhat of a face-lift.”

The down-ballot race drew scarcely any attention amid the Super Tuesday hubbub, when about two-thirds of the Republican voters cast ballots for party chair.

Little appears to have changed ahead of the May 24 runoff, for which Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart said he expects just 50,000 Republican voters to turn out.

I was going to cast aspersions on Stanart’s estimate of GOP runoff turnout, partly because he so comically mis-estimated March turnout and partly because as is the case on the Dem side there’s not really anything to drive runoff turnout, but there were 40,547 GOP primary runoff votes in 2008, when there was even less to push people to the polls, so given that 50K seems quite reasonable. (The 2012 runoffs, which were all about Cruz v. Dewhurst for Senate, are not a viable comparison.) I don’t have anything to add to this story, as I don’t know the combatants and have no stake in the outcome, but like many people I was caught off guard by the March result and have been waiting for a Chron story on the race. This one does answer some of my questions, and it offers the hint of continued GOP infighting after whoever gets elected, which is always nice to contemplate. Beyond that, I’ll leave it to those who will vote in this race to offer up their thoughts on it.

Lawsuit filed over Uber/Lyft referendum language

Oh, for crying out loud.

Uber

Attorney Martin Harry filed a lawsuit — a draft of it was obtained by the American-Statesman — in Travis County state district court late Tuesday contesting the election’s outcome, alleging that the city violated election law by combining what should have been two ballot questions into one.

“I don’t think the voters knew what they were voting on,” said Harry, who is representing himself in the case.

He said voters should have been asked first whether they would like to keep or reject the city’s controversial 2015 ordinance and then whether they accepted Uber and Lyft’s replacement language. He also alleges that the ballot language drafted by the city staff did not match the instructions given by the City Council.

“While we are disappointed to be involved in litigation regarding last week’s election, and would rather be working with companies to help them provide safe and efficient transportation services, we are prepared to defend the lawsuit,” city Law Department spokesman Bryce Bencivengo said.

Lyft

The lawsuit left Austin-based election lawyer Buck Wood stunned.

“I truly have never seen anything like this in my 40-plus years of doing election law,” said Wood, who reviewed a copy of the draft complaint for the Statesman. “I don’t think the court has any jurisdiction to throw it out on the ballot language.”

He added, “I don’t think he’s got a lawsuit here.”

Harry’s lawsuit asks a court to block the city from enforcing the ordinance that the City Council approved in December — which requires fingerprint-based background checks of drivers with ride-hailing apps, among other measures — unless another election is held.

I don’t care about any of the legalistic argle-bargle here. I just have one simple question: Is there a sentient human being anywhere on the planet who was unaware during the leadup to this election that a Yes vote on Prop 1 is what Uber and Lyft wanted, and that a No vote on Prop 1 is what Uber and Lyft did not want? The millions of dollars that Uber and Lyft spent on this election – which by the way included a number of phony claims about Prop 1 – all carried the message of “vote Yes on Prop 1”. That in a nutshell is what this race was about, and as such it is all anyone needed to know. If this lawsuit goes anywhere, it will be an utter travesty.