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September 17th, 2021:

Federal judge will fast-track mask mandate ban lawsuit

I’m ready.

Federal District Judge Lee Yeakel said Wednesday morning he intends to fast-track a lawsuit filed on behalf of 14 Texas schoolchildren with disabilities who allege that Gov. Greg Abbott’s ban on mask mandates breaks federal law by discriminating against them because they are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.

In Wednesday’s hearing, Yeakel denied a request for a temporary restraining order that would have barred Texas from enforcing Abbott’s order until Oct. 6, when the case is scheduled for trial.

Yeakel said he needs more information about the case before he will be ready to make a ruling.

The delay will allow the judge to hear from witnesses and see other evidence in the case. No matter what his decision on the case, Yeakel said he expects it to be appealed to higher courts — possibly as far as the U.S. Supreme Court.

“I think the issues in this case are extremely important,” Yeakel said.

In legal filings and in court, lawyers for the 14 children argued that Texas’ mask mandate prevents school districts from making reasonable accommodations for children with disabilities, in violation of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. They also said it preempts the federal American Rescue Plan, the COVID-19 relief package signed into law by the president earlier this year, which they said provides discretion for school districts to follow federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations.

[…]

The lawsuit is against Attorney General Ken Paxton, Abbott and Abbott’s Texas Education Agency. The order was defended in court Wednesday by lawyers from Paxton’s office.

The crux of their defense was that the lawsuit was improper because none of the defendants are the right people to sue over Abbott’s mask order. They said the proper people to sue would be those who are enforcing the law, but no one is actually enforcing it, so there’s no one to sue.

“(Abbott’s order) doesn’t stop the plaintiffs from doing anything. They can say, think, do whatever they want. It does not regulate their conduct, it regulates the conduct of local officials,” said Todd Dickerson, an assistant attorney general, adding that there is “no credible threat of enforcement” from the local district attorneys who are supposed to enforce it.

See here and here for the background. The “you can’t sue me” dodge was a key component of Abbott’s claim/admission that he has no power to enforce the mask mandate ban, and has been a part of the defense that he and Ken Paxton have put forward in the various lawsuits against them over the ban. As such, it’s not a surprise to see it turn up here – this is becoming a foundational piece of their governance, which is that no one can hold them accountable for anything. But as the plaintiffs point out, for a guy who claims he can’t enforce Abbott’s mask mandate ban order, he sure is suing a lot of people to do just exactly that. So which one is true? We’ll see what the judge makes of it.

Planned Parenthood gets injunction against Texas Right to Life

It’s a start.

Right there with them

A district court in Travis County granted a temporary injunction on Monday, which will stop an anti-abortion group from being able to sue Planned Parenthood centers under SB 8, the so-called “heartbeat bill.”

Planned Parenthood affiliates in Texas filed a request for a temporary injunction on Sept. 2 against Texas Right to Life, an anti-abortion nonprofit and its associates. Planned Parenthood wanted to stop the group from suing abortion providers and health care workers at its centers in Texas.

The court ruled Monday that Texas Right to Life has “not shown that they will suffer any harm if a temporary injunction is granted” and that Planned Parenthood has “shown that they have a probable right to relief on their claims that SB 8 violates the Texas Constitution.” Planned Parenthood also has “no other adequate remedy at law,” the court said.

The court said the injunction will remain in effect until a final ruling; a trial on the merits of the case was set by the court for April 2022.

See here for the background. CNN has some more details.

This order applies only to Texas Right to Life and is part of a larger — and piecemeal — approach by abortion rights advocates to try to blunt the effect of the law. Other short-term temporary restraining orders are in place against other anti-abortion advocates, and more permanent injunctions are being sought in those cases.

[…]

In a court hearing Monday, Julie Murray, the attorney for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, told the judge that the organization is currently “complying with SB8 precisely because of the overwhelming threats of litigation” and that a temporary injunction “will not restore abortion services … but it will prevent and reduce the litigation exposure and constitutional harms that [Planned Parenthood] will experience.”

The parties spent nearly two hours coming to an agreement about the terms of the injunction.

I would like to know more about the “other short-term temporary restraining orders in place against other anti-abortion advocates”. I was going to suggest a massive wave of litigation by pretty much every provider, doctor, affiliate, advocate, and anyone else who felt threatened by SB8, but maybe that is already happening. Obviously, we want to get a sweeping federal injunction against this travesty, which would cover all of the contingencies, but who knows how long that could take, and it would be at the mercy of the Fifth Circuit, so fire away on all cylinders in the meantime. If these guys want to live by the lawsuit, let’s see how they like being on the other end of it. Axios has more.

The Republican AG primary just got bigger

The more, the more miserable.

Rep. Matt Krause

Attorney General Ken Paxton just got another Republican primary challenger, but this time it is someone who has been close to him for years: state Rep. Matt Krause.

The Fort Worth lawmaker and founding member of the House Freedom Caucus says he is running as the “faithful conservative fighter,” hoping to bring a similar conservative ideology to the position that Paxton is known for — but without the legal troubles that have dogged him for most of his time in office.

“I think Texas needs — and wants — an attorney general who can give his or her full focus to the job,” Krause said in an interview with The Texas Tribune.

[…]

Krause is the third serious primary opponent to announce against Paxton. The field already includes Land Commissioner George P. Bush and Eva Guzman, the former justice on the Texas Supreme Court.

Krause said he is “not sure either one of them could win a primary.”

But the most remarkable aspect of his candidacy may be that unlike Bush and Guzman, Krause has been a friend of Paxton and political ally. They served in the Legislature together from 2013-15, and Krause endorsed Paxton early in the 2014 primary for attorney general.

Whatever. Krause is the most Paxton-like of the other candidates, but as a State Rep he will have the least name recognition among them, and if you don’t think that matters in a statewide primary, you haven’t been paying attention to recent primaries. Krause doesn’t have much money – the Trib story says he had about $100K on hand in his July filing – and that’s the fastest route to getting voters to know who you are. He’s giving up a seat he won by nine points in 2020 – it was eight points in 2018, and 20 points in 2020, before Tarrant County took its big step towards Democrats – which makes me wonder if he’s not confident about his future post-redistricting. He may also just think he’s the only one that can beat Paxton, and that in turn may be a reflection of the belief that Paxton is a weak link for the Republicans.

Along those lines, and coincidentally just before Krause’s announcement, the Chron profiles the two Dems who seek to oust Paxton, or whoever does that in the Republican primary.

Two candidates are so far vying for the Democratic nomination: Joe Jaworski, 59, a mediator and former Galveston mayor, and Lee Merritt, 38, a nationally recognized civil rights attorney.

Both of the Democrats have emphasized the need to bring integrity back to the attorney general’s office. It’s a line of attack that Paxton’s Republicans challengers are putting front and center, as well.

“Of course, I was saying that before George Bush was, but I welcome his perspective,” Jaworski said. “I mean, of all offices, for Christ’s sake, the attorney general’s office needs to be above reproach.”

[…]

If elected, Jaworski said he plans to push for policies that increase voter access to the polls, support the Affordable Care Act, expand Medicaid and legalize cannabis. Jaworski, like Merritt, says the attorney general’s office is wasting tax dollars on investigating rare voter fraud cases.

“We don’t have a voter fraud problem; we have a Ken Paxton problem,” he said. “He is using this as an ideological pivot for his base and to justify whatever few prosecutions he can muster.” Jaworski said Paxton should instead be doing more to address gun violence, adding “people are actually dying in those instances.”

Both Merritt and Jaworski have said they would create a civil rights division within the office.

Merritt, though he entered the race this summer, almost a full year later than Jaworski, has wasted no time fundraising. In the last reporting period that spanned July 7 to Aug. 6, Merritt raised more than $285,000, more than any Republican in the race, including Paxton.

Over the same period, Jaworski raised about $30,000, while Bush raised about $158,000 and Guzman raised $193,000. Paxton raised about $39,000, but the incumbent maintained the most cash-on-hand by millions at last count.

Merritt rose to prominence in recent years for taking on high-profile police accountability cases and representing families of Black Americans killed by police, including George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Atatiana Jefferson and Botham Jean. If elected, he would be the state’s first Black attorney general.

In 2017, online magazine The Root named Merritt the eighth-most-influential African-American between ages 18 and 45 in the U.S, three spots ahead of Beyoncé.

Having worked on criminal justice reform issues with attorneys general in other states, even Republicans such as Chris Carr of Georgia, Merritt said he could see a stark contrast between the work they were doing and what little Paxton has done.

For instance, Carr in May signed a law repealing the “citizen’s arrest” that was used as a defense in the fatal shooting of Arbery. Meanwhile, Merritt said, he sees Paxton’s office regularly allowing law enforcement to keep video evidence of police abuse of force outside of public view.

“It was that frustration of: The most basic responsibility of the attorney general is to uphold the constitution and protect life, liberty and property,” he said about his decision to jump in the race. “And we have an attorney general who has been completely asleep at the wheel, and people are dying.”

There’s more in the story about Jaworski, but he’s familiar to me, so I included more about Merritt. Both would be a vast improvement, and not just over Paxton. Who I still think is the favorite to emerge on the GOP side, almost certainly in a runoff. We’ll see what the next campaign finance reports look like.

Texas blog roundup for the week of September 13

The Texas Progressive Alliance honors the memory of those who died on 9/11/01 as it brings you this week’s roundup.

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