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June 8th, 2021:

Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman stepping down

Interesting.

Eva Guzman

Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman is resigning from her post effective Friday.

She informed Gov. Greg Abbott of the decision in a letter sent Monday. The news was first reported by the Houston Chronicle.

“With utmost gratitude for the opportunity and gift of public service, I write to inform you that I am resigning from my office,” Guzman wrote in her letter to Abbott, a copy of which was obtained by The Texas Tribune. “It has been the honor of a lifetime to answer this high calling.”

Guzman, a Republican, was appointed to the post in 2009 by then-Gov. Rick Perry as the first Hispanic female on the court. She ran for a full six-year term the next year before winning reelection in 2016. Her second term would have ended Dec. 31, 2022.

Before Perry appointed her to the high court, Guzman served on the 309th District Court in Harris County and the Houston-based Fourteenth Court of Appeals.

[…]

In her letter to Abbott, Guzman did not state a reason for her resignation, fueling speculation that she may have aspirations to run for another office during the 2022 election cycle.

Her resignation will create a vacancy on the state’s highest civil court, which Abbott will be able to fill with an appointment. The court is currently occupied by all Republicans.

I’ll get to the Chron story in a minute, but first two things to note. One is that Guzman was the high scorer in the 2016 election, winning 4,884,441 total votes. That’s over 75K more than the next highest candidate (Debra Lehrmann), and 200K more votes than Donald Trump. She was the strongest Republican in Latino districts, which is not a surprise. If she is running for something else, she will be harder to beat than most. Two, note that at every step of the way – district court, 14th Court of Appeals, Supreme Court – she was appointed first, and ran for a full term later. She’s far from unique in this, of course, I just noted it in this story. The ability to fill judicial vacancies is an underrated power of the Governor’s office. One does wonder what all the incumbent Republican judges and justices who are ready to step down and take a higher-paying job will do when the Democrats finally take that office.

And it usually is for a payday, if it’s not for retirement, when a judge or justice steps down like this. In this case, as that Chron story notes, the speculation is that she wants to run for something else.

One race that Guzman could be contemplating began heating up last week: the Republican primary for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s seat. Land Commissioner George P. Bush — whose uncle, former Gov. George W. Bush, first appointed Guzman to the 309th District Court in Harris County in 1999 — opened up his campaign last week.

AG makes the most sense, at least in the abstract. I mean, she’s not going to run for Ag Commissioner. The question to me is, does she get into the “I Will Gladly Debase Myself For Donald Trump’s Endorsement” sweepstakes, or does she position herself as the non-Trump candidate, with actual accomplishments and conservative bona fides? This is where I admit I’m giving this speculation the side-eye. It’s hard to imagine, at this late date and with no record of sucking up to Trump in the past, that she could out-sycophant either Ken Paxton or George P. Bush. It’s also hard to imagine that there’s enough Republican primary voters who will prefer a non-Trump candidate in this – or almost any – race. I mean, you know who else didn’t do so well in that CD06 special election? Mike Wood, the anti-Trump Republican in that race, who got a whopping 3.2% of the vote. Eva Guzman would do better than that, but I see her as the odd person out in a three-or-more-way race. There’s no evidence that there’s a constituency for that kind of candidate, and as noted it’s awfully late for her to claim to be The One True Trump Candidate. Maybe I’m missing something – maybe she thinks the Lege will draw a Congressional district for her – but I don’t see how this makes sense. We’ll see if I’m right.

What are the limits on limiting vaccination requirements?

News item #1: Carnival will require COVID vaccinations for all passengers cruising from Galveston:

Carnival Cruise Line today announced plans to begin cruising from the Port of Galveston on July 3.

Cruises will be open to customers who are fully vaccinated, meaning that they can show proof that they received their final dose of vaccine at least 14 days before the cruise begins.

“The current CDC requirements for cruising with a guest base that is unvaccinated will make it very dificult to deliver the experience our guests expect, especially given the large number of families with younger children who sail with us,” Christine Duffy, president of Carnival, said in a press release. “As a result, our alternative is to operate our ships from the U.S. during the month of July with vaccinated guests.”

The Carnival Vista will begin operations on July 3, followed by the Carnival Breeze on July 15.

On the one hand, that sounds not only eminently sensible – I mean, cruise ships are often called “floating petri dishes”, and I say that as someone who has enjoyed going on a couple of cruises – it’s something that the cruise industry itself may see as existential. Who would want to put themselves in an extremely enclosed space with hundreds if not thousands of possibly virus-shedding people if they didn’t have to? Who would want to work under those conditions? If there’s one activity that scores near the top of the scale on “non-essential services” and “high-risk for COVID spread”, it’s going on a cruise. Who in their right mind would not want to encourage, if not outright mandate, cruise passengers being vaccinated before getting on board?

Hold that thought while we note news items #2, As Carnival requires vaccines for cruisers, Abbott to sign ban on ‘vaccine passports’.

Texas businesses cannot require their customers to prove their COVID-19 vaccine status under a bill soon to be signed by Gov. Greg Abbott.

The measure, Senate Bill 968, outlaws so-called “vaccine passports” and prevents businesses from asking consumers to show their vaccine cards to receive services. Abbott had issued a similar executive order in April, though that applied only to state agencies and other organizations that receive public funding.

“I’m signing a law today that prohibits any business operating in Texas from requiring vaccine passports or any vaccine information,” Abbott tweeted Monday. “Texas is open 100 percent without any restrictions or limitations or requirements.”

The Senate approved the measure unanimously in April, and the House passed it by a vote of 146-2 in May. Because it earned two-thirds support in both chambers, the bill will take effect immediately after Abbott signs it.

Any business that does not comply with the law “is not eligible to receive a grant or enter into a contract payable with state funds.” State agencies may also “require compliance … as a condition for a license, permit, or other state authorization necessary for conducting business in this state.”

It should be noted that SB968 is a much larger bill that has to do with disaster preparedness and response – it has sections on things like personal protection equipment contracts, a disease prevention information system, wellness checks for medically fragile individuals, and more – so while it does impose this restriction on “vaccine passports”, it’s very much not just about that.

That said, the answer to my rhetorical question is “Republican governors”. Florida’s top madman Ron DeSantis imposed a similar ban on cruise ships that depart from that state. As the story notes, the cruise industry operates in multiple states and in international waters – the ships themselves fly under various foreign flags. Also, too, the specific term “vaccine passports” is basically meaningless now, no such thing currently exists. But one way or another, we have an irresistible force careening into an immovable object. Something is going to have to give, and unless one side or the other backs down, it will surely be up to the federal courts to sort this out. In the meantime, if you yearn to party on the high seas again, check the fine print on your cruise contracts. The Press and the Trib have more.

UPDATE: One more thing to consider:

In other words, this is more hot air than anything else. Still likely to be fought out in court, but the stakes may not be as high as you think.

Supreme Court upholds Houston historic preservation ordinance

Blast from the past.

The Texas Supreme Court has upheld Houston’s ordinance regulating the preservation of historic districts, after residents argued it was an illegal zoning measure.

Two homeowners in the Heights challenged the law, arguing that it constituted zoning and therefore required a ballot measure approved by voters to take effect. Houston, the largest city in the country without zoning, requires voter approval to implement it.

Supreme Court justices declined on Friday to back that argument, though, affirming lower court rulings that the ordinance is not extensive enough to be considered a zoning regulation, and it does not regulate how people use properties.

“In sum, the Ordinance does not regulate the purposes for which land can be used, lacks geographic comprehensiveness, impacts each site differently in order to preserve and ensure the historic character of building exteriors, and does not adopt the enforcement and penalty provisions characteristic of a zoning ordinance,” Justice J. Brett Busby wrote in the opinion.

[…]

Houston adopted the ordinance in 1995, allowing the city to establish historic districts and requiring owners there to get approval to modify, redevelop or raze properties. If a city board declined a property owner’s application, though, the owner could wait 90 days and get a waiver to proceed with the desired changes, a gaping loophole that rendered the ordinance toothless.

The city revamped the ordinance in 2010 under then-Mayor Annise Parker, ending the waivers and making the regulations more enforceable. It allows only for modifications that are compatible with the area’s architecture, as defined by the Houston Archaeological and Historical Commission. Some backers of the ordinance since have argued the board does not uniformly apply its rules.

The lawsuit over this was filed in 2012. I confess, I had not given it a moment’s thought since then. For those of you who are interested in this sort of thing, now you know how it turned out.