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August 14th, 2021:

Harris County gets its restraining order against Abbott

Step one.

A judge in Travis County on Friday granted Harris County a temporary restraining order, blocking Gov. Greg Abbott’s ban on local COVID-19 restrictions.

The decision by Judge Jan Soifer of the 345th Civil District Court provides legal cover for the county health department, which Thursday issued a mask mandate for schools and day care centers at the direction of County Judge Lina Hidalgo.

“While this decision is temporary, it’s a victory for residents in Harris County who are concerned about this public health crisis,” County Attorney Christian Menefee said in a statement. “We need every tool at our disposal to stop the spread of COVID-19, including masks and other measures that are proven to slow the spread.”

A handful of area school districts, including the Houston, Spring, Aldine, Galena Park and Galveston Independent School Districts, have issued mask mandates. Others said they were waiting to see how the legal battles between the state and local officials are resolved.

[…]

[Harris County Judge Lina] Hidalgo on Aug. 5 moved the county to its highest pandemic threat level, which urges unvaccinated residents to stay home and avoid unnecessary contact with others. She said masks are particularly important in schools because children under 12 cannot yet be vaccinated, which health officials agree is the best defense against COVID-19.

Harris County’s order also requires schools to notify parents when a student comes into contact with someone who tests positive for the virus; the Texas Education Agency advises but does not mandate this.

“At this point, public health interventions like masking, contact tracing and notifications in schools remain (children’s) only protection against the virus,” Hidalgo wrote in a letter to superintendents Tuesday.

In his lawsuit, Menefee said the governor had exceeded the authority given to him by the Texas Disaster Act of 1975, which, he argued, allows Abbott to suspend laws only in certain circumstances.

Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton, who was also named in the suit, are almost certain to appeal. The pair pledged in a joint statement Wednesday to sue any “school district, public university or local government official” who violates the governor’s executive order.

Randall Erben, a professor of the University of Texas School of Law, said Abbott has broad powers under the Disaster Act. This situation is unique, said Southern Methodist University law professor Nathan Cortez, because the governor is attempting to limit, rather than enhance, the government’s response to a disaster.

See here for the background, and here for a story about what other area ISDs are doing. I can’t blame any of them for waiting to see how the litigation winds up before changing course, though I would strongly encourage them to be as forcefully on the side of protecting their students and teachers and staff as much as possible.

As noted before, Abbott and Paxton are now appealing the lower court orders that allowed for the mask mandates to go forward for now. So far that isn’t going well for them, either, though that comes with an asterisk:

Yeah, we know that’s where this is going, and there’s no particular reason to be optimistic. It should also be noted that a district court judge in Tarrant County issued a TRO blocking the Fort Worth ISD’s mask mandate in response to a suit filed by some parents. That was a Republican judge, though there was more to the case than just the executive order. It’s not hard to see the partisan split, though. Still, every loss Greg Abbott suffers, even if transitory, is worth it.

Still no quorum, and no Dem legislators rounded up yet

And I’m still not sure what exactly will happen when and if a law enforcement officer stumbles across one of the wayward legislators.

The hunt for missing Democratic Texas House members escalated late Thursday and Friday, as the sergeant-at-arms and law enforcement visited some of the absentees’ homes with the aim of bringing them to the Capitol.

Earlier this week, Republican House Speaker Dade Phelan issued civil arrest warrants for 52 Democrats who have refused to report to the House for a month now, depriving the Republican majority of the 100-member quorum needed to vote on legislation during two special sessions.

The warrants allow law enforcement to order, and even escort, members back to the chamber. But given that they are not guilty of a crime, members are not at risk of going to jail.

The first step in the search came Wednesday, when the sergeant-at-arms stopped by the Democrats’ Capitol offices and left copies of the warrants with their staffs.

On Thursday and Friday, law enforcement visited the homes of at least a few Austin Democrats, with the aim of bringing them back to the chamber, but found none of them.

[…]

Rep. Jon Rosenthal, D-Houston, returned to Texas last week but has not disclosed his location. He said Friday that he was unaware of any widespread effort to “physically collect folks” and was for the most part going about his life.

“I’m certainly not running around wearing Jon Rosenthal campaign gear or anything like that,” he said. “But I feel comfortable being outside and doing the things that normal humans do.”

An engineer by training, Rosenthal said he was still having meetings with constituents by phone or Zoom, as he has throughout much of the pandemic.

“I wouldn’t engage in anything like this if it wasn’t such an important, fundamental core issue,” he said.

Also Friday, Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, urged the Justice Department in a letter to intervene in Texas and determine that Abbott and Republican lawmakers were engaging in a civil rights conspiracy and violating Democratic members’ constitutional rights by using the threat of a civil arrest to compel attendance. The process for restoring a quorum is outlined in rules of the House that were unanimously adopted by members, including the Democrats, in the spring.

Johnson said he’d spoken with Black lawmakers — Reps. Jasmine Crockett of Dallas, Joe Deshotel of Beaumont and Ron Reynolds of Missouri City — and all of them supported Justice Department intervention.

See here and here for some background. The NAACP intervention is spurred in part by some yahoos offering a bounty to police officers for catching the Dems, which is very much the sort of thing no one should be encouraging. Again, I have no idea how this all plays out. How much does law enforcement even care about this? And what is the plan if and when they find someone? I don’t think anyone knows. I think when a police officer happens to encounter one of the quorum busters, no one has a clear idea of what happens next. I mean, given that it’s not a criminal warrant and there’s no threat of arrest, what is to stop the legislator from just walking away? All of this is completely half-baked, and is headed for a farce. Whatever the Republicans think they’re going to get out of this, I doubt they will be satisfied.

Census data is out

Get ready, there’s about to be a whole lot more legislative activity.

Setting the stage for what is expected to be a bruising battle over political representation, the results of the 2020 census released Thursday showed that Texas’ explosive growth over the past decade was again powered by people of color.

And it is the state’s cities and suburbs that are booming, with Texas home to three of the country’s 10 largest cities and four of the fastest-growing.

Texas gained the most residents of any state since 2010, and its Hispanic population is now nearly as large as the non-Hispanic white population, with just half a percentage point separating them. Texas gained nearly 11 Hispanic residents for every additional white resident since 2010.

Texans of color accounted for 95% of the state’s population growth. The 2020 census puts the state’s population at 29,145,505 — a 16% jump from 25.1 million in 2010. Hispanic Texans were responsible for half of that increase.

Non-Hispanic white Texans now make up just 39.8% of the state’s population — down from 45% in 2010. Meanwhile, the share of Hispanic Texans has grown to 39.3%.

The Hispanic population’s approach to becoming Texas’ largest demographic group marks a significant milestone ahead of this year’s redistricting, during which state lawmakers will draw new political maps divvying up seats in Congress and the state House and Senate in what will no doubt be an intense and protracted fight over political control of the state for the next decade.

Texas Republicans hold every lever of power to try to lock in or even expand their majorities at the state Capitol and in Congress. But they will be working to redraw the state’s political maps while confronting the demographic reality that the state is growing in ways that put the party’s stranglehold in question.

[…]

The state’s growth has been concentrated in diverse urban centers that serve as Democratic strongholds and suburban communities, several of which have either already turned blue or are trending in that direction. Since 2010, 44% of the state’s growth took place in its five largest counties — Harris, Dallas, Tarrant, Bexar and Travis. All 10 of the state’s fastest-growing counties in the last decade were suburban.

Hays County — between Austin and San Antonio — experienced the most growth, doubling its population in the last decade.

You can click over and look at the charts and the interactive map, but the key to all this is the growth in the cities and suburbs, which have been the drivers of Democratic strength as well. I have no doubt the Republicans will have some tricks up their sleeves, but this is the big challenge for them. Remember, even as 2020 is cast as a Democratic failure for not gaining more seats, the map went from 95-55 in 2012, with a lot of stability over the first three elections of the decade, to a big shift in 2018 and a realistic vision of Democratic control, even if that turned out to be illusory.

I’ve said before, I don’t know yet what the Republicans’ risk appetite will be. The more they are comfortable with drawing themselves 53-47 districts instead of 60-40 districts, the more seats they can draw for themselves. The downside to that strategy is obvious, but that’s the decision they have to make.

Meanwhile, Houston did some growing this past decade as well.

Houston’s population grew nearly 10 percent in the last decade, fueled by large gains in the number of Latino and Asian residents that will shape the political future of Texas for years to come.

With 2,304,580 residents as of April 1, 2020, Houston remains the fourth-largest city, still lagging behind Chicago’s 2,746,388, according to 2020 census data released Thursday after a grueling, unprecedented effort to collect comprehensive data on the nation’s population in the midst of a global pandemic.

Houston’s 9.8 percent growth rate from 2,099,451 residents in 2010, however, was only second only to Phoenix’s 11.2 percent among the top 10 largest cities in the U.S. The Bayou City was also second in terms of raw population growth, adding 205,129 residents in the last decade. Only New York City ranked higher, adding 629,057 people.

One of the only areas in the region that shrank was the white population. Notably, Houston’s white population fell about 30 percent in the last decade, from 1,060,492 people in 2010 to 739,873 in 2020. The decline was smaller —5 percent — in Harris County as a whole.

“There’s a net out-migration of non-Hispanic whites from urban cores like Houston and Dallas and moving out into suburban rings, and at the same time you have this international migration occurring, and a lot of that is going to be people who are Hispanic and also Asian,” Texas Demographer Lloyd Potter said.

The story didn’t cite numbers for Harris County, but the map in that Trib piece tells me that it increased by 15.6%, from just under 4.1 million to over 4.7 million. Among other things, we will see if Harris County gets its 25th legislative seat back. We will have some answers soon:

T-minus 18 days and counting. The San Antonio Report has more.