Stay or Go?

Sorry for being a little bit late on this, but this is still really big news. As expected, Governor Perry called a second special session. The session begins on July 1st. It will be confined, for now, to the issues that did not pass the 1st Special Session (Transportation, Juvenile Criminal Justice and Abortion).

The Texas Tribune has the whole story on this. There is a lot up in the air about how all this is going to go. First, the 2/3 rule in the Senate may be back in play. As Texas Monthly explains, Dewhurst has only scrapped the coveted rule for redistricting sessions. Seeing as that redistricting is no longer on the table, it might be a harder sell. I still think it will be scrapped, Tuesday night taught as that Dew and his boys have absolutely no respect for the rules and decorum of the Senate.

The real topic, and the one to which the video is based off of, is how the Democrats, specifically the Senate Democrats, will deal with a bill much like SB5 being introduced in this upcoming session. I, for one, have always been a proponent of the “get-your-keister-over-to-New-Mexico-asap” method. Now that abortion has been brought up on Day 1, rather than Day 15 or so, it will be much, much harder to break the bill.

The eyes of the nation –no, the world– are now on Texas. With this new bill, there will be thousands upon thousands of protesters fighting every step of the way. That is, if the Senate Democrats show up to work. So the real question is will they stay and fight?

“No Freedom ’til we’re Equal”

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The New York Times reports that the United States Supreme Court, in a pair of 5-4 decisions, handed two victories on Constitutional principles to the gay and lesbian community. First, in the case of Hollingsworth v. Perry, the Court declined to rule on the merits of the constitutionality of Proposition 8. In determining the plaintiffs lacked standing to appeal the ruling, the Court vacated the Appeals Courts’ judgment and remanded with an order to dismiss. The net effect of this will be that the District Court’s ruling will stand, with gay marriage set to resume in California, and only California, in about a month. In that case, the Government of California declined to appeal a district ruling throwing out Prop 8. Accordingly, private groups intervened on the plaintiffs’ behalf. The Court ruled this was not acceptable.

The other case, United States of America v. Windsor, has the larger effect, especially upon Texas and the rest of the country. In that case, two women were legally married by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ laws, but under the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), their marriage was not recognized by the Federal Government. When one of the spouses died, her widow has not able to be exempted from Estate Taxation under federal statutes. She sued the United States in federal court. A few years later, the Supreme Court issued this ruling.

First, like the Hollingsworth case, the Court had to determine whether there was standing to appeal both the District and Appeals Court decisions in this case. Representing the United States in this case, originally, was the Obama administration. However, soon after President Obama had his change of heart, stopped being an intolerant, homophobic bigot and entered the 21st century, the administration stopped defending the law. Picking up the slack was the legal counsel for the Republican controlled House of Representatives. The court ruled this was OK.

Next, ruling on the merits, the Court held 5-4 (Kennedy joining the liberals) that Section 3 of DOMA is unconstitutional. Section 3, for those who are not familiar, is the provision which allows the Federal Government to not recognize same-sex couples legally married in their respective states, and therefore deny them federal benefits of marriage (like filing a joint tax return).

This all seems simple enough, except it has some profound implications for the entire country, including this State. If a couple, legally married in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, moves to Texas, may they continue filing joint income tax returns? Will the Federal Government continue recognizing them as married even though their new State does not? These are questions for future litigation.

In an interesting local twist to this big national issue, the issue has made its way into relevance to this year’s Mayoral election. The Houston Chronicle reports that Mayor Parker made extensive comments about the ruling, lauding the court, and commending the progress which has occurred in the nation. The Parker also was extremely politically active on Wendy Davis’ filibuster, including hosting a watch party, which I had the pleasure of attending.

Parker’s campaign is attempting to make an issue out of the fact that Ben Hall is not commenting on these issues. They even attempt to coin a phrase on these laconic actions, “Strange Silence.” I am split over whether or not I agree with them that this should be an issue. On one hand, like I’ve been saying for nearly a year, Mayor Parker has gone completely, unapologetically liberal.  “Gone Bullworth,” as the capitol insiders call it. I really like this type of Mayor, but recognize that not everyone does that. Mayor White would never make a statement on one of these things, and I really liked his Mayoralty. It’s just a different style.

Accordingly, I’m not going to “deduct points” from Hall for declining to comment on these topics. Besides, Parker hasn’t always been the best about keeping up with national trends. Abortion and gay marriage have absolutely nothing to do with what the Mayor does, although germaneness hasn’t stopped Hall from bringing up issues before (Education, anyone?). That being said, I am happy that Parker has involved herself in the issues. Let’s focus on the national issue.

OH MY GOD

It’s just after 1 o’clock in the morning at press time, and we still do not know if SB5 passed or not. Yes, it was that close. Let me run through the timeline, and then I will discuss the current implications as well as the future ones.

At roughly 4:30, I posted my last update about the filibuster. At that time, Senator Wendy Davis (D-Forth Worth) was still going strong in her dilatory measure. This continued until 10:07PM, when Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) made a Point of Order against Davis for an alleged violation of the rules of filibuster following two sustained points (three strikes and you’re out). For what it is worth, the 1st point was for allegedly not being germane to SB5 when she discussed Planned Parenthood funding. The second strike was for allegedly receiving undue comfort when Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) helped her to adjust a back brace. The third strike was for allegedly not being germane to SB5 when making a comparison to last session’s Sonogram Law. At 10:39PM, the Lieutenant Governor sustained the third point of order. This caused a massive eruption of booing from the gallery.

Shortly after this, Senator Kirk Watson (D-Austin) was able to gain control of the floor on an Appeal of the Chair’s ruling, which is debatable, and thus, filibusterable. After a series of lengthy parliamentary inquiries eat up time, Watson is given the floor at about 11PM. For what it is worth, the Senate rule on ending filibusters only applies if there are 3 violations pertaining to undue comfort OR 3 violations pertaining to non germane material, but not a mixture. Thus, Dewhurst completely ignored the rules.

Watson began his own mini-filibuster. Finally, at about 11:30, the presiding officer (Dewhurst had since left the floor), Senator Robert Duncan (R-Lubbock) allowed a motion on the previous question while Watson was still talking. For all intent and purposes, this was an egregious and open defiance of the Senate’s rules on filibusters.

Democrats continued to make dilatory motions until about 11:45, but it looked like passage would be achieved in the next few minutes. Then, a miracle happened. The thousands of people in the Capitol lost their tops. All hell broke loose. The noise drowned out the chamber for the next 15 minutes, until sine die.

However, in the last few seconds of the session, the Republicans made a desperate attempt to pass the legislation. Anyone watching the livestream could tell that this vote took place at 12:02 AM, after the end of the session. In fact, the TLO website said it took place on “June 26th” until it mysterious changed. No seriously, here’s the tweet from the Texas Tribune.

At press time, the Senate still hasn’t adjourned. Here are the facts: (1) there was a vote on SB5 and (2) it occurred after Midnight. However, seeing how many of the rules have been tossed out the window already, I see no reason to think it won’t again.

Obviously, SB23 and SJR2 (Youth Sentencing and Transportation) did not pass, so there is a very good chance that Rick Perry will call the Legislators back into a Second Special Session. As I have suggested before, if SB5 is deemed to have not passed, and if Abortion is once again added to the call, the Democrats shouldn’t even bother showing up to this one.

Also, and I need to say this a few times, but way to go Senator Davis! The eyes of the world were truly upon her tonight and she did fantastic. Also, a little shout out to Kirk Watson. Sen. Watson really helped to save the day at the end, and we all know that he isn’t good under pressure.

I’ll have more on the implications tomorrow morning. Until then, good night and good luck.

Abortion Restrictions Texas

 

UPDATE: And this is 2AM, y’all. Dos Centavos is reporting, via twitter, that SB5 is dead. That it did not pass in time.

The filibuster begins…

Per the above video, the epic filibuster has begun in the Texas Senate. As I mentioned last night, Sen. Eddie Lucio (D-Brownsville), the one anti-woman Democrat, switched votes to prevent suspension of the rules. This held true all the way through about 11AM this morning, when the 24 hour rule was satisfied and the Senate was free to take up the bill. Shortly thereafter, Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Forth Worth) began her filibuster.

For those of you who are not familiar with this saga, here is a brief overview. After failing to pass any regulatory measures on abortion in the Regular Session of the 83rd Session (January-May), Governor Perry added “abortion” to the call of the Special Session that began on May 27th and ends at midnight today (June 25th). An omnibus anti-abortion bill, SB5, was drafted by Republicans in the Legislature. The bill does four things: (1) bans abortion after 20 weeks, (2) requires abortions be performed in “ambulatory surgical centers,” (3) requires abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles, and (4) requires to abortion doctor to administer in person most all of the drugs. The second and third rules are the most damaging, and a study by the Texas Democratic Party insinuated it would close 37 of the 42 abortion clinics in the State. That would leave 1 clinic in San Antonio, 1 in Austin, 1 in Dallas and 2 in Houston. 0 in the Valley, 0 in East Texas, 0 in the heartland, 0 in the panhandle, 0 in the west, 0 in El Paso, 0 in Fort Worth. For the record, El Paso to San Antonio is 550 miles.

The bill passed a Senate committee on June 14th, and the entire Senate passed the bill shortly thereafter, but without the 20 week ban. The bill started fanning the flames on June 21st, when the House State Affairs Committee held a hearing on the bill. Hundreds, if not thousands, of women showed up to testify until the middle of the night, when the Chairman of the Committee finally, abruptly, cut off debate. The committee passed the bill early the next day. Last Sunday, the House brought up the bill for passage, and the Democrats tried their hardest to delay debate as long as they could. By the time the bill made it out of the House, it was 11AM on Monday and the 20 week ban had been reintroduced to the bill, requiring the legislation to return to the Senate.

The Senate normally requires a bill to sit for 24 hours before it takes up the legislation. Accordingly, the Senate could not take up SB5 until 11AM this morning. The Republicans, twice, attempted to thwart this by voting to suspend the rules. However, this requires a 2/3 majority. As such, the Democrats were able to block this suspension.

Accordingly, the Senate took up the bill at 11AM Tuesday morning, with just 13 hours left to go in the Special Session. Shortly thereafter, Sen. Wendy Davis began filibustering the bill and that is what she is still doing.

At press time it is about 4:30. Senator Davis has been filibustering for about 5.5 hours, with about 7.5 hours left to go. Here’s to hoping –err, praying– she does not back down.

Off the Kuff and Brains & Eggs each have more.

In re Shelby

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The New York Times reports that the United States Supreme Court, in the case of Shelby County v. Holder, has struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, but upheld Section 5. For those of you who are not familiar, Section 5 is the more contentious provision, which requires certain predominantly Southern States to have their voting and election procedures precleared by the Federal Government, specifically the Department of Justice. Section 4 is the formula that the law uses to determine who requires approval under Section 5. Under current law, Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia, as well as about half of North Carolina’s county, are covered under Section 5. The court ruled, 5-4 in usual fashion, that the formula was outdated and that enforcement of the law would be enjoined until Congress could revise it.

For all intent and purposes, this guts and kills the Voting Rights Act for the time being. The important part is that, when the Democrats retake the Congress, it will be reauthorized. Brains and Eggs has more on the big picture. However, there will be some local implications for the time being.

The Houston Chronicle, in its coverage on the issue, reveals that the Texas state government was wasting no time getting down to [Jim Crow] business. Attorney General Greg Abbott immediately commented that the Voter ID Act would take effect immediately. Progressive groups will still be positioning against the measure as a violation of the Constitution.

The Texas Tribune reports that the Department of Public Safety has recently announced it will be handing out free “Voter Identification cards.” This has done to avoid the critique that an identification was a de facto poll tax. To obtain these identification cards, however, would still be stupidly burdensome for indigent individuals to make their way to the suburbs for the DPS office.

Great, this just adds another reason for Governor Perry to call another Special Session.

Hall endorsed by Firefighters’ Union

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For some reason, Dr Hall’s campaign still doesn’t recognize our legitimacy. The HPFFA (Houston Professional Firefighters’ Association) has endorsed Ben Hall in a recent announcement. Although fake Ben Hall had broken the news on Friday, the official announcement did not come out until today. From a press release (THAT WE DID NOT GET):

“The women and men of the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association voted to support Ben Hall in the upcoming mayoral election. We believe Mr. Hall will better balance the needs of public and firefighter safety with fiscal responsibility. Mr. Hall believes in fair play and has the better vision to lead Houston into the future.

“The time has come to end Annise Parker’s three-year campaign against Houston firefighters. Aware of our top rating among city departments, we work hard to maintain the citizens’ trust, but the mayor’s antagonistic management style wastes city resources, damages our nationally recognized fire department’s reputation locally, and threatens to undermine the long-term financial security of firefighter families.

“Houston deserves a mayor who appreciates that Houston firefighters strive to deliver excellent service, be good stewards of city resources, and give back to the community. Ben Hall will be that mayor.”

Looks like the Firefighters still bear a lot of resentment for Parker firing Phil Boriskie all those years ago. As many people have previously noted, the Firefighters’ Union does not have a lot of sway in elections. They endorsed Fernando “14 percent” Herrera in 2011. This really is not, however, the “game changer” Hall had announced it to be. This was a given.

What probably was a little more interesting was that Bob Ryan, a prominent local attorney, was featured on Hall’s Facebook was an endorser. Immediately, and embarrassingly, Ryan called the Hall campaign out. “Unfortunately, this photo is incorrect. I am not endorsing Ben Hall for Mayor,” Ryan stated. Oops. Possibly worse, Hall did not immediately change his page. Brains and Eggs has the full story on the Ben Hall drama.

In the other side’s news, Annise Parker has gotten some recent endorsements of her own. She was endorsed by the Building Owners and Management Association, as well as the Lesbian PAC. Unlike her opponent, Parker’s campaign emailed me the press releases. Score for Annise! One high profile conservative group and one liberal group. In an interesting twist, Mayor Parker has also been advertising her strong opposition to SB5 and all that anti-abortion mumbo jumbo. Like I have been saying, Parker has taken off the gloves–she is unapologeticly liberal. We’ll see how it goes.

Fisher decision

The New York Times reports that the United States Supreme Court has come out with their ruling in the case of Fisher v. University of Texas. Many months ago, I wrote an op-ed on this topic. I wrote shortly before the Supreme Court heard arguments in the case, where I repeated the assertion made often in the media at that time, that a 5-4 division of the Court would have struck affirmative action as unconstitutional.

That was before the court heard arguments, however. As this decision approached, I became convinced the Court would render an exceedingly narrow opinion, pertaining only to Texas because of the 10% rule, in a nearly unanimous manner. For the first time in many, many years, I was right about one of these things.

The Supreme Court held 7-1 that the Fifth Circuit had, indeed, erred in their ruling. However, they attributed this to the Appeals court incorrectly not applying heightened scrutiny to UT’s affirmative action program.  6 Justices specifically held not to overturn Grutter v. Bollinger, the most recent Supreme Court opinion upholding affirmative action.

The Justices, for all intent and purposes, were actually divided into three groups. 5 Justices (Roberts, CJ., Kennedy, Breyer, Alito, Kagan, J.J.) held the opinion of the court, the thing with heightened scrutiny and what not. 2 Justices (Scalia and Thomas, J.J.) would have scrapped all affirmative action. Justice Ginsburg would have affirmed the Fifth Circuit’s opinion. The missing link, Justice Kagan, did not take part in the case since it was pending while she was the President’s Solicitor General.

This was especially interesting since Justice Kennedy was in the dissent of Grutter. While Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito were not on the Court in that year, Justices typically as conservative as them were dissenting in the previous case, like Chief Justice Rehnquist.

We’ll see how the Legislature deals with all this in 2015, though.