In re Campbell

There is man named Robert Campbell on Texas’ death row, who is scheduled for execution this upcoming Monday. He was convicted of an especially heinous 1991 robbery-rape-murder, for which he was given Texas’ ultimate penalty: death. Campbell has argued a number of objections since that time, explaining in part why he was languished on death row nearly in a state of limbo for so long. Namely, he has contended that he received inadequate counsel at trial. Anecdotally, his new attorneys point to the fact that his original defender was from Conroe, not Houston (where his trial took place), and only provided rudimentary petitions and appeals, stuff that could basically just be copied off the internet.

However, while litigating this issue, another can of worms, so to speak, arose. Campbell’s IQ, according to a recent test, is 69, far below the threshold for mental retardation. In the 2002 case of Atkins v. Virginia, the US Supreme Court ruled that those who have been explicitly defined by their state of mentally retarded. The intellectual handicaps are to be treated like youth or any other mitigating factor, in that it does not serve as evidence of being unable to comprehend the difference between right and wrong, but serve as a rationale to not levy the full punishment. The problem with this is that States can define mental retardation any way they so choose. Enter Campbell: with an IQ of 69. The problem is that the State contends this is not tantamount to the needed intellectual handicap for clemency.

Click here to see what the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled on this matter!

Civil Affairs: McCutcheon

Nearly two weeks ago, the United States Supreme Court ruled, in a closely divided case — McCutcheon v. FEC — that political donors have the right to give a certain amount of money to as many candidates as they like. Previously, federal law had prevented a donor from providing the maximum donation ($2,600 for a candidate, $5,000 to a political action committee and $32,400 to a political party) to more than roughly 19 candidates or 15 PACs. Now, those donors can give those aforementioned individual limits to as many candidates, committees and interest groups as they wish.

The 5-4 decision rested upon the assertion that, under the First Amendment, money is tantamount to speech. Using that assumption, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that, despite its unpopularity, the right to give money to as many politicians as you choose is fundamentally constitutional. Of course, spending money should not be a universal right like worship or speech because not everyone has the pocketbook needed.

“Money in politics may, at times, seem repugnant to some, but so too does much of what the First Amendment vigorously protects,” Roberts wrote in a decision joined by the four other justices nominated by Republican presidents. “If the First Amendment protects flag burning, funeral protests, and Nazi parades — despite the profound offense such spectacles cause — it surely protects political campaign speech despite popular opposition.”

PLEASE SEE THE REST OF THIS COLUMN AT THE DAILY TEXAN!

Civil Affairs: Facts

CIVIL AFFAIRS

When is a lie a lie and when is it a political conviction made in good faith? Recent flare ups in Washington and the Texas gubernatorial election show that sometimes the two are interchangeable. Unfortunately, our political system has grown to accept its participants’ fibs, sometimes with strange results.

For example, about two weeks ago, the popular crafts chain store Hobby Lobby was in the news after its suit against the federal government reached the Supreme Court. The store was arguing against a provision in the Affordable Care Act, known by some as Obamacare, that requires employers to provide free or reduced-cost contraception to their employees. Citing religious liberty, the owners of the privately held corporation refused to do this, which triggered the lawsuit.

At first glance, a suit such as this, about corporate personhood and religious liberty, would appear to be a good-faith dispute made over legitimate political convictions. The problem with this is that Hobby Lobby does not actually cite categorical opposition to contraception as the basis for its lawsuit. Instead, it cites a belief that many forms of contraception, including some pills and intrauterine devices, are tantamount to abortion. Scientifically speaking, this is simply not true, as no evidence exists that indicates these methods end a pregnancy after fertilization. In fact, most evidence decisively shows that IUDs — or the other birth control methods Hobby Lobby cited, such as Plan B — are contraceptives and not abortifacients.

PLEASE SEE THE REST OF THIS COLUMN AT THE DAILY TEXAN!

Secret execution drugs, Part III

As some may recall, I noted last week that a Civil District Judge in Austin blocked the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s recent move to get a secret dose of drugs used for lethal injections, obtained from compounding pharmacies that wished to remain anonymous. The next day, after a summary affirmation by a Court of Appeals, the Texas Supreme Court put forward a writ of mandamus that stayed the ruling. Given that the plaintiff in this case only has a few more days on this planet absent judicial intervention, a stay is tantamount to upholding an arguably especially cruel death sentence.

Accordingly, the next step was to Federal Court. Early today, Judge Vanessa Gilmore, a Federal District Judge based in Houston (Southern District of Texas), ordered the TDCJ to disclose the particulars about both the contents and sources of the execution drugs. Gilmore, a nominee of President Clinton who has served since 1994, is somewhat more progressive on 8th amendment issues than her colleagues. Therefore, unsurprisingly, as the Houston Chronicle reports, the order was quickly overturned by the Federal Appeals Court. The fifth circuit Court of Appeals, as many will remember, is one of the most fiercely conservative courts in the land. Most all of the judges were nominees of Reagan or the second Bush, and Obama’s administration has been largely tepid in its willingness to put new Judges on the bench, despite many vacancies.

Click here to read more, including what to do next!

Fifth Circuit upholds HB2

The Texas Tribune reports that HB2, the omnibus anti-abortion bill passed last year and famously filibustered by Wendy Davis, has been upheld as constitutional by the Fifth Circuit, a Federal Appeals Court with jurisdiction over Texas. A three-judge panel, consisting of two appointees of George W. Bush and one of Ronald Reagan, unanimously endorsed the constitutionality of the bill. Among the provisions challenged in this case were one requiring the abortion doctors to receive admitting privileges at a nearby hospital and another requiring inducing drugs to be taken in person the day before. Both requirements have been deemed as excessive by pertinent doctoral societies and otherwise repudiated by medical professionals as simply opaque ways of closing abortion clinic. Since the passage of this law, a plethora of clinics west and south of San Antonio  have shut their doors.

Not challenged in this ongoing lawsuit is the 20 week ban on abortion. A fourth provision, arguably the most controversial, that requires clinics to adhere to the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers does not go into effect until later this year and thus was not challenged. Back in October, a Federal Judge (another Bush appointee) in Austin ruled components of the law unconstitutional. However, a few days later, the Fifth Circuit stayed this ruling.

Click here to read more, including what to do next!

Hobby Lobby case

First off, I invited my readers to gloss over profiles in both The New York Times and The Washington Post, which were both penned today on the infamous Hobby Lobby case. The case, which reached oral argument at the United States Supreme Court today, namely revolves around the “contraception mandate” in Obamacare. What this provision does, simply put, is to require employers cover birth control on their employee health insurance. However, big exceptions have been made for both religious institutions (i.e., churches) and non-profits with some religious influence (e.g., Catholic Schools or Hospitals). Today, Hobby Lobby –a privately run for-profit corporation– (along with another similar business) argues that it violates both the 1st Amendment and Federal Statutes to compel it to cover specific forms of birth control for their employees.

However, this is where the woeful misinformation of the mainstream press becomes all too pervasive. The argument Hobby Lobby makes IS NOT that they refuse to condone the casual sex allegedly resulting from contraception, it all has to do with abortion. Hobby Lobby specifically is condemning both emergency contraception (Plan B) and Intrauterine Devices (IUD), arguing they occur after fertilization, thus ending a unique life. The problem with this, of course, is that neither drug actually causes abortion.

 

Click here to read more!

Texas gay marriage ban struck down

The Texas Tribune reports that Federal Judge in San Antonio has struck down Texas’ constitutional ban on gay marriage. The decision, written by Judge Orlando Garcia (an appointee of President Clinton), found the provision inconsistent with the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, which mandates equal protection and due process under law. Judge Garcia has served on the Federal Judiciary since 1994, and previously served both as a Justice on the State Court of Appeals (1991 to 1994) and as a member of the Texas House of Representatives (1983 to 1991). Both were elected offices he held as a Democrat.

Judge Garcia also stayed his own ruling, pending appeal. Attorney General Greg Abbott, one of the key defendants in this case, released a somewhat brief statement on the subject, wherein he declared his intention to appeal the case to the Federal Appeals Court. Of note is just how lightly Attorney General Abbott tread on the subject. Among his quotes were that there were “good, well meaning people” on either side of the issue. In my opinion, that was the most telling tidbit on the subject, to see hard-right Republicans such as Abbott realize and accept the inevitable, that this issue is not going away.

Click here to read the full story!

Davis for gay marriage

The San Antonio Express-News reports that, earlier today while addressing the paper’s editorial board, State Senator Wendy Davis (the presumptive Democratic nominee for Governor) explicitly announced her support for gay marriage for the first time. Further, she expressed her opposition to continued support of Texas’ Defense of Marriage Act against suits in Federal Courts and called on her opponent, Attorney General Greg Abbott, to stop defending what she called an unconstitutional law.

It’s my strong belief that when people love each other and are desirous of creating a committed relationship with each other that they should be allowed to marry, regardless of their sexual orientation,” Davis told the paper. “I think it’s important, and I think that people across this country are evolving on [gay marriage] and moving in a direction that demonstrates support for it, so I think it is time to re-open that conversation and ask Texans where they are on it to see if that’s something that we might change legislatively if it doesn’t happen constitutionally.”

The news quickly reached back to Abbott’s campaign, who were very keen to criticize the Davis campaign. A spokesperson called support for gay marriage “the latest whim of the day,” and blasted Davis for instituting “Obama-style” approach to politics. For better or for worse, the idea of state officials picking not a defend state laws or provisions is a tradition that has recently been explicitly condoned by the Supreme Court, specifically in the 2013 case of Hollingsworth v. Perry, wherein both the Governor and Attorney General of California declined to defend the constitutionality of Prop 8.

Click here to read more!

Wendy Davis’ new stances

First off, a twofer from the Houston Chronicle. First, the announcement that State Senator Wendy Davis, the presumptive Democratic nominee for Governor, supports both the approval of medical marijuana and its decriminalization for general use. This position would be seen as remarkable for a Texas Democrat who has a history of somewhat overly cautious behavior on these contentious issues. However, a couple of weeks ago, Governor Rick Perry announced his support for limited decriminalization, thereby making the issue much less toxic in the general political landscape. It is worth noting, however, that Attorney General Greg Abbott –the likely Republican nominee for Governor– has not reflected the Governor’s opinion, and those Republicans vying to be the next Lieutenant Governor are actively opposing it.

Davis also said she lacked any “philosophical” objections to legalization, but she did say wanted to “see how this experiment plays out in other states is probably advisable before I could tell you for sure.” The comments were made in an on-the-record interview with the Editorial Board of The Dallas Morning News. It is a good example that, no matter what positions Davis may take that are incongruous with the base, she still has a few tricks up her sleeve.

Click here to read more about stances on Pre-K & abortion!

VRA could get fixed (in Texas)

The Dallas Morning News reports that a new bipartisan bill introduced in Congress to resurrect the floundering Voting Rights Act would include strong new protections against racial meddling in Texas. As the sagacious may recall, back in June the US Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to gut Section 5 of the Voting Right Act, which required the States of Jim Crow to get any election updates precleared by the Federal Government. The Court declared that the world had changed since the advent of this act in the 1960s, and that racism had been vanquished, thus exclaiming that such an antiquated formula was unconstitutional. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the dean of the Court’s liberal minority and the author of a scathing dissent in this case, compared it “throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”

The Court’s blow to the Voting Rights Act was all the more harmful because it expected Congress to simply pick up the slack and fix the law by provided a new coverage formula for the aforementioned preclearence based on modern statistics. However, getting Congress to do anything is easier said than done. Accordingly, it was a very good sign yesterday when Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) and Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) introduced a bill that would revive the coverage formula based on those States with recent VRA violations (i.e., Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi & Texas).

Click here to read more!