Thursday, February 23, 2017

From the US House of Representatives: Presidential Vetoes 

A summary of the history of vetoes.

- Click here for it.

Article I, section 7 of the Constitution grants the President the authority to veto legislation passed by Congress. This authority is one of the most significant tools the President can employ to prevent the passage of legislation. Even the threat of a veto can bring about changes in the content of legislation long before the bill is ever presented to the President. The Constitution provides the President 10 days (excluding Sundays) to act on legislation or the legislation automatically becomes law. There are two types of vetoes: the “regular veto” and the “pocket veto.”

The regular veto is a qualified negative veto. The President returns the unsigned legislation to the originating house of Congress within a 10 day period usually with a memorandum of disapproval or a “veto message.” Congress can override the President’s decision if it musters the necessary two–thirds vote of each house. President George Washington issued the first regular veto on April 5, 1792. The first successful congressional override occurred on March 3, 1845, when Congress overrode President John Tyler’s veto of S. 66.

From GovTrack: A review of the 2015–2016 Congress, the last Congress of the Obama Administration

A summary of the 114th Congress

- Click here for the article.

The 114th Congress, the session that ran from January 3, 2015 through January 3, 2017, was historic. Republicans regained control of the Senate for the first time in eight years. After four years in which Republicans controlled the House, President Obama for the first time faced a Congress where both chambers were run by the Republicans. Yet some pieces of meaningful legislation were still enacted, and there were many others which didn’t quite cross the finish line due to election-year caution or presidential vetoes, but should be viewed as trial runs for successful versions to come in 2017–18 under President Trump.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

A grab bad of items from Congress

Sen. Susan Collins said she thinks the Intelligence Committee could subpoena President Donald Trump’s tax records as part of its investigation into Russian interference in last year’s election if that’s where the evidence leads. “I don’t know whether we will need to do that,” the Maine Republican said Wednesday. “If it’s necessary to get to the answers, then I suspect that we would.”

- Brat Gets an Earful at Virginia Town Hall.

Judging by the reaction of the crown, Rep. David Brat, R-Va., might not have accomplished his mission in a town hall meeting on Tuesday. Brat was heckled and booed in a restaurant conference room in Blackstone when he defended President Donald Trump and his stances on health care and immigration, The Associated Press reported. “People are very nervous and anxious after the Trump win,” Brat said. “So my goal tonight is to help allay some of those anxieties.”

- Supreme Court Nominee Gorsuch’s Hearings to Begin March 20.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley announced Thursday that the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch will begin March 20. Grassley's office indicated in a statement that the opening statements will take place on Monday, March 20, and Gorsuch will face the committee the following day. The hearings are expected to last three to four days and include testimony from outside experts.

From NBCNews: Assault Weapons Not Protected by Second Amendment, Federal Appeals Court Rules

This will very likely end up in the Supreme Court.

- Click here for the article.

Maryland's ban on 45 kinds of assault weapons and its 10-round limit on gun magazines were upheld Tuesday by a federal appeals court in a decision that met with a strongly worded dissent.
In a 10-4 ruling, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, said the guns banned under Maryland's law aren't protected by the Second Amendment.
"Put simply, we have no power to extend Second Amendment protections to weapons of war," Judge Robert King wrote for the court, adding that the Supreme Court's decision in District of Columbia v. Heller explicitly excluded such coverage.
Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, who led the push for the law in 2013 as a state senator, said it's "unthinkable that these weapons of war, weapons that caused the carnage in Newtown and in other communities across the country, would be protected by the Second Amendment."
"It's a very strong opinion, and it has national significance, both because it's en-banc and for the strength of its decision," Frosh said, noting that all of the court's judges participated.
Judge William Traxler issued a dissent. By concluding the Second Amendment doesn't even apply, Traxler wrote, the majority "has gone to greater lengths than any other court to eviscerate the constitutionally guaranteed right to keep and bear arms." He also wrote that the court did not apply a strict enough review on the constitutionality of the law.
"For a law-abiding citizen who, for whatever reason, chooses to protect his home with a semi-automatic rifle instead of a semi-automatic handgun, Maryland's law clearly imposes a significant burden on the exercise of the right to arm oneself at home, and it should at least be subject to strict scrutiny review before it is allowed to stand," Traxler wrote.
National Rifle Association spokeswoman Jennifer Baker said, "It is absurd to hold that the most popular rifle in America is not a protected 'arm' under the Second Amendment." She added that the majority opinion "clearly ignores the Supreme Court's guidance from District of Columbia v. Heller that the Second Amendment protects arms that are 'in common use at the time for lawful purposes like self-defense.'"

From the Pew Research Center: 5 facts about crime in the U.S.

File this under fact checking.

Number 3 might be the most important fact listed.

- Click here for the article.

Donald Trump made crime-fighting an important focus of his campaign for president, and he cited it again during his inaugural address in January. With the White House and Justice Department announcing steps to address violence in American communities, here are five facts about crime in the United States.

1- Violent crime in the U.S. has fallen sharply over the past quarter century.
2 - Property crime has declined significantly over the long term
3 - Public perceptions about crime in the U.S. often don’t align with the data.
4 - There are large geographic variations in crime rates.
5 - Many crimes are not reported to police.

From the National Law Journal: Order to Reveal Detainee Names May Grow List of Plaintiffs Challenging Travel Ban

More checking and balancing of the Trump Administration from the courts.

- Click here for the article.

A Brooklyn judge's ruling for the Trump administration to produce a list of travelers who were detained under a controversial travel ban it issued in January may help plaintiffs' attorneys in the New York case challenging the ban to grow their clients' ranks.
Eastern District Judge Carol Bagley Amon ruled on Tuesday that the government has until 5 p.m. on Thursday to submit the names of all those held by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents under the Trump administration's executive order from 9:37 p.m. on Jan. 28, when Eastern District Judge Ann Donnelly issued a ruling to stay deportations, to 11:59 p.m. on Jan. 29.
In a news release, Healy Ko, a law student intern for Yale Law School's Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic, said Amon's order was an "important step in the fight to repair the damage done" by the executive order.
"We are aware of reports that CBP officers deliberately ignored the court's order in the hours after the decision came down, and are confident that the court's decision will help to identify individuals that were unlawfully removed and provide them a chance to return to the United States," Ko said.
In addition to counsel from Yale Law, the plaintiffs are also represented by the National Immigration Law Center, the International Refugee Assistance Project, the American Civil Liberties Union, the New York Civil Liberties Union, and Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton.
The Justice Department did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
Amon's order partially granted a motion to compel filed by the plaintiffs, who include doctors, refugees and students affected by the order. The plaintiffs have also moved for class certification, but there has been no ruling on the motion.
The plaintiffs' motion to compel also contained a proposed order for the government to return any individuals who were removed from the United States as part of the order.

- Click here for the Judge Amon's Wikipedia page.

From the Texas Tribune: Judge: Texas can't kick Planned Parenthood out of Medicaid

Here's a current example of cooperative and/or coercive federalism - depending on your ideological point of view.

- Click here for the article.

U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks ruled Tuesday afternoon that Texas clinics affiliated with Planned Parenthood can continue to care for patients under the state’s Medicaid program, a phew-worthy victory for reproductive rights advocates and a loss for the state's GOP leaders.
In a 42-page ruling, Sparks wrote that the state's arguments in the case were "the building blocks of a best-selling novel rather than a case concerning the interplay of federal and state authority through the Medicaid program."
"After reviewing the evidence currently in the record, the Court finds the Inspector General, and thus [the Texas Health and Human Services Commission], likely acted to disenroll qualified health care providers from Medicaid without cause," the ruling read. "Such action would deprive Medicaid patients of their statutory right to obtain health care from their chosen qualified provider."
The ruling comes more than a year after Planned Parenthood first sued Texas to stay in the joint federal-state health insurance program for the poor and disabled. Texas had begun the process of kicking Planned Parenthood out — even though its participating clinics provided reproductive health care and cancer screenings, not abortions — in October 2015. But the state did not send a final notice to those providers until December 2016. The affiliates in the lawsuit include Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast and Planned Parenthood of South Texas.
. . . Shortly after the ruling, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a news release he was disappointed with the decision and plans to appeal. He said the videos provided sufficient evidence and "exposed a brazen willingness by Planned Parenthood officials to traffic in fetal body parts."
"No taxpayer in Texas should have to subsidize this repugnant and illegal conduct," Paxton said. "We should never lose sight of the fact that, as long as abortion is legal in the United States, the potential for these types of horrors will continue.”
In court, Planned Parenthood attorneys argued that not allowing the reproductive health provider to stay in the Medicaid program, which is largely funded by the federal government, would severely curb access to care for poor Texas men and women seeking preventive and sexual health services. The attorneys also argued that the state did not have the capacity to deliver these services in the same way Planned Parenthood does and reiterated that state and federal law already prohibit taxpayer dollars from being spent on abortion services.

- Click here for the ruling.
- Click here for Judge Sparks' Wikipedia page.

Monday, February 20, 2017

From GovTrack: A constitutional amendment to reapportion House seats based on citizenship, not residency.

Here's focus on a resolution introduced to change a key component of the Constitution.

- Click here for the article.

Seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are apportioned based on the number of residents of each state. That includes undocumented immigrants, green card holders, and other non-citizens. House Joint Resolution 30, introduced by Rep. Steve King (R-IA4), is a proposed constitutional amendment that would change House apportionment to be based upon citizenship instead of residency.
What the constitutional amendment would do
A 2015 Congressional Research Service report analyzed the effect such a change would produce, using 2013 citizenship figures. Compared to the current numbers, California would lose four House seats, while Texas, Florida, and New York would each lose one. Louisiana, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Virginia would each gain one seat. The total of 435 seats in the House is fixed by a 1929 law.
The report also adds: “Using citizenship status to apportion the seats in the U.S. House of Representatives tends to benefit states with smaller immigrant populations and cost states with larger immigrant populations.” This is likely the real motivation here, as King has also introduced the Birthright Citizenship Act, which would end the policy of automatic citizenship to anybody born on U.S. soil regardless of parental citizenship.
The bill failed in years past, but the tide may turn under Trump
Rep. Candace Miller (R-MI10), who served until this past year, introduced a similar amendment three times before, in 2005, 2007, and 2009. If cosponsors are any indication, the idea actually became less popular by the year, as the amendment received 37 cosponsors, then 31 cosponsors, and 28 cosponsors. The resolutions proposing the amendment never received a vote in the House Judiciary Committee, and no member of Congress introduced it after that — until this year.
But now has the tide turned? The populist election of President Trump and a newly emboldened and more-conservative Republican congressional majority are resulting in new policies taken against non-citizens such as a Muslim refugee ban and withholding federal funding from sanctuary cities.

Texas Republicans like President Trump

And they suddenly like the direction the country is headed.

Big surprise. Both stories are from the Texas Tribune.

- UT/TT Poll: A new president, popular with Texas Republicans.

- UT/TT Poll: A change in party control prompts a change in Texans’ moods.

From Mother Jones: Trump Expected to Sign Executive Orders Hitting the EPA

I'm posting this because it contains the following quote:
"I read the constitution of the United States, and the word 'environmental protection' does not appear there."

- Click here for the article.

Scott Pruitt will almost certainly be the next head of the Environmental Protection Agency. The Oklahoma attorney general's nomination is expected to sail through the Senate—possibly as soon as Friday—despite Democrats' protests that he is unfit to lead an agency that he has repeatedly sued. The administration has already imposed a freeze on the EPA's social media, halted its rulemaking, and reportedly mandated that all agency research be reviewed by a political appointee before being released to the public. But next week, once Pruitt is sworn in, the real frenzy will begin.
According to Reuters, President Donald Trump plans to sign between two and five environmental executive orders aimed at the EPA and possibly the State Department. The White House is reportedly planning to hold an event at the EPA headquarters, similar to the administration's rollout of its widely condemned travel ban after Defense Secretary James Mattis took office. While we don't know what, exactly, next week's orders will say, Trump is expected to restrict the agency's regulatory oversight. Based on one administration official's bluster, the actions could "suck the air" out of the room.
Trump may have hinted at the forthcoming orders in his unwieldy press conference on Thursday. "Some very big things are going to be announced next week," he said. (He didn't make clear whether or not he was referring to the EPA.)
Former President Barack Obama's array of climate regulations, including the Clean Power Plan limiting power plant emissions, are certainly high on conservative activists' hit list. So, too, is the landmark Paris climate deal, in which Obama agreed to dramatically cut domestic carbon emissions and provide aide to other countries for clean energy projects and climate adaptation. The EPA's rule that defines its jurisdiction over wetlands and streams is also a prime target. As attorney general, Pruitt launched lawsuits against a number of these regulations.
"What I would like to see are executive orders on implementing all of President Trump's main campaign promises on environment and energy, including withdrawing from the Paris climate treaty," said Myron Ebell, who headed Trump's EPA transition and recently returned to the Competitive Enterprise Institute, in an email to Mother Jones.

From C-Span: Presidential Historians Survey: 2017

Just in time for Presidents Day.

This is the first with Obama - he ranks 12th according to the historians

- Click here for the list.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

From the Texas Tribune: Federal judge sanctions Texas in voter registration lawsuit

More on both voter registration, and conflict between the state of Texas and the national government.

- Click here for the article.

A federal judge has ordered sanctions against the state of Texas for blowing past deadlines and ignoring a court order to hand over thousands of pages of documents in a lawsuit challenging its voter registration practices.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office’s “months-long delay” in producing the documents “has been disruptive, time consuming, cost consuming” and has burdened plaintiffs in the lawsuit, U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia of San Antonio wrote in an order signed Thursday. Garcia ordered the state to pay some of the plaintiffs’ legal fees, including those tied to the sanctions request.
The Texas Civil Rights Project last March sued on behalf of four Texans who allege the Department of Public Safety denied them the opportunity to cast a ballot — and violated federal law — by failing to update their voter registration records online.
The group, hoping for quick action during the 2018 election cycle, argued in a motion for sanctions last month that foot-dragging from Paxton’s office was hampering its case. State lawyers turned over less than 2 percent of the 55,000 requested pages by Jan. 17 — a court-ordered deadline set after Texas asked for several extensions.

A very worthwhile rant

So to be completely honestly I can rant on and on about a number of things, but I guess Ill just pick one for this assignment. I'm going to complain about makeup companies and their shade ranges. Now I know that every single makeup company cannot have a shade for every single skin color in the whole universe but come on now. There are so many makeup brands that come out with foundation or concealer that only have like 6 colors and are only for white people. Like its getting ridiculous. There are so many brands of foundation I would love to buy but their darkest color is called “deep” but I'd really actually just for someone with a tan. I take it very offensively because they are making it seem like the black community doesn't wear are up as much so let's just not even give them shade options. Now I'm not saying give one for every shade of black there is but at least make an effort to have some options for the darker complexions. You know what works my nerves even more than not having darker shades at all? It is when the brand comes out with a shade that says “deep” or “ebony” but it is my skin color… like I am not even that dark that is absolutely ridiculous. That's just being stupid because in what world is a light skin person considered deep or ebony.

From the Monkey Cage: Trump wants voter registration investigated. This is how 20 states are already doing it.

Here's a topic that bridges 2305 and 2306.

- Click here for the article.

In a Wednesday morning tweet, President Trump returned to his campaign refrain of widespread electoral problems and called for “an investigation into voter fraud, including those registered to vote in two states.”

Within hours, it was revealed that at least five people close to Trump — daughter Tiffany, son-in-law Jared Kushner, adviser Stephen K. Bannon, treasury nominee Steven Mnuchin and press secretary Sean Spicer — are registered to vote in more than one state.
They are not alone. A 2012 Pew Charitable Trusts report estimated that 2.75 million Americans were on the voter rolls in more than one state and that 1.8 million dead people remained on the rolls.
Like Trump’s family members and associates, these are people who registered to vote legally, but when they moved or passed away, their names were not deleted from voter lists.
It’s not illegal to be registered to vote in more than one state, but it is illegal to vote more than once. By holding more than one registration, a voter could conceivably drive across state lines to cast ballots in different places. Or a voter could request an absentee ballot in one state and vote in person in another state. Such scenarios, even if only a few instances have actually occurred, concern many Americans.
Whose responsibility is it to ensure that voter lists are accurate?
Is it the job of the voters? When they move and register in a new state, should they remember to contact the clerk’s office in their former state to cancel their registration? Should relatives or friends of a person who just passed away be charged with notifying the county clerk?
Some diligent Americans do this. But most expect that the state will find out about a move or a death through government records. This is where the system breaks down.

From the Pew Research Center: A basic question when reading a poll: Does it include or exclude nonvoters?

In some 2305 sections we've been discussing polling. Here's an important reminder of what can throw polls off.

- Click here for the article.

The early days of a new presidential administration produce not just a blizzard of news but a blizzard of numbers. Pollsters of all stripes race to get and report Americans’ first impressions of their new president. But, frustratingly, those reports don’t always match up as precisely as the Type A among us might wish.
Take the past three weeks of polling on President Donald Trump. Depending on the poll, Trump’s approval rating between Feb. 5 and 13 could have been as high as 53% or as low as 39%. So which was it?
There are a number of possible reasons for polls arriving at different estimates – from the mode used to collect data to how people are selected for a survey – but here we’ll tackle one of the most basic: Did the poll include or exclude the 45% of adult Americans who didn’t cast a vote last November?

From the Houston Chronicle: HOUSTON Lawmaker's bill reopens debate over $105M Astrodome parking plan - Lawmaker requires voter approval; local government calls it 'micromanaging'

We covered the initial proposal - which did not require additional revenue, meaning no need for voter approval - in the fall. Here's the latest.

- Click here for the article.

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett voiced concern Tuesday that a bill filed by a veteran state senator jeopardizes the county's plan to revitalize the Astrodome, adding that county representatives would continue to try to persuade legislators to support the $105 million project.
Emmett said state Sen. John Whitmire's bill, the Harris County Taxpayer Protection Act, was misleading and that Whitmire's statements that some Astrodome renovation funds could be spent on Minute Maid Park or the Toyota Center were "demonstrably incorrect."
"This bill is an example of state government making it more difficult for local government to do its job," Emmett said.

Whitmire's bill would require voter approval for a county plan to spend $105 million to raise the floor of the iconic, domed stadium and create 1,400 parking spaces and space for events or festivals.
Emmett, a Republican, said the county would delay a "comprehensive analysis of future operation and maintenance needs at NRG Park" until the bill's fate were decided. NRG Park includes the 52-year-old Astrodome, NRG Stadium, home of the Houston Texans and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, and event venues NRG Arena and NRG Center.
At a press conference Tuesday in Austin, Whitmire and other state senators from the Houston area gathered to express their support of legislation that would effectively block - or at least delay - Emmett's plan.

For more: More on the Whitmire Astrodome bill.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

From the Austin American-Statesman: Texas conservatives launch next fight on religious liberty

More evidence of Texas' traditionalistic political culture. This sets up a constitutional conflict: The First Amendment vs the Equal Protection Clause.

- Click here for the article.

Conservative Republican senators and representatives Wednesday unveiled a dozen bills designed to protect religious practice, including efforts to allow Christians to opt out of serving gay couples if same-sex marriage violates their beliefs.

Unlike the 2015 session, when efforts to approve broad constitutional amendments to protect religious practice fell far short, the bills filed thus far focus on specific issues and were the result of a concerted effort to “make sure that religious liberty bills are at the forefront this session,” said state Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth.

“Religious liberties are the bedrock of what our state and our country were built on, and we want to make sure we are protecting those, preserving those and advancing those liberties as much as possible,” Krause said during a Capitol news conference.

Many of the bills have already attracted spirited opposition from critics who say they would authorize state-sanctioned discrimination.

“Religious liberty protections allow us to worship freely and to be vocal about what our religious beliefs are,” said Chuck Smith with Equality Texas. “But religious liberty does not allow me to exempt myself from laws or allow me to use my religious beliefs against other people. That’s discrimination, that’s not religious liberty.”

“There’s no discrimination here,” Krause said. “We’re just trying to open it up to where people can continue to work and do what they love to do in the way that they want to do it.”

One of the farthest reaching proposals, known as the First Amendment Defense Act, would not permit state or local governments to penalize people for acting on religious beliefs opposing gay marriage.

From the Houston Press: DA Ogg, Police Leaders Announce Landmark Marijuana Diversion Program

A product of the fact that county officials are elected by county voters.

- Click here for the article.

District Attorney Kim Ogg and heads of local law enforcement announced Thursday that, starting March 1, all police agencies in Harris County will no longer arrest people caught with four ounces or less of marijuana, and the DA's office will no longer be prosecuting those cases.

The remarkable move, which Ogg had championed throughout her 2016 campaign, pushes the third largest county in the nation to the forefront of marijuana reform in places where it is still illegal. Harris County will join only the Brooklyn County District Attorney's Office in New York in choosing to divert misdemeanor marijuana defendants away from jail entirely, saving taxpayers millions of dollars and saving thousands of people the lifelong burden of a criminal record.

Instead of being arrested and hauled off to jail, low-level potheads and casual smokers will instead be asked to take a four-hour decision-making class, at a cost of $150 (exceptions will be made for indigent people). Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo and Mayor Sylvester Turner joined Ogg in developing the landmark policy. It replaces former district attorney Devon Anderson's First Chance Diversion Program, which only applied to first-time offenders caught with less than two ounces, which Ogg had criticized as being too narrow.

“At 107,000 cases over the last ten years, we have spent in excess of $250 million dollars collectively prosecuting a crime that has produced no tangible evidence of improved public safety,” Ogg said. “Additionally, the collateral damage to our workforce is immeasurable — because what we have done is we have disqualified, unnecessarily, thousands of people from greater job, housing and education opportunities by giving them a criminal record for what is in effect a minor law violation.”

And of course, there's an effort to push back against the initiative.

- Houston Chronicle: Ogg under fire for new marijuana plan.

A nice and pointless rant - Animal naming scientists need to get their act together.

Animal names are stupid. So are the scientists that classify the animals. Who decided that whales belong in a category of mammals such as lions and bears and not with other aquatic animals? The whale is clearly a fish. It has fins, lives in the water, and swims. Who cares that its babies are born alive? That's not how we should be classifying animals. The only difference between a frog and a toad is warts. I guess the animal scientists wanted to receive credit for discovering a new species rather than tolerate the idea that a frog can have acne. We see a similar situation with crocodiles and alligators. One of the reasons experts say that crocodiles are different from alligators is that the 4th tooth on the bottom sticks out. So somebody looked at an alligator and decided that they discovered an entirely new species rather than thinking that the gator has messed up teeth. People have messed up teeth all of the time and we have to go get braces to fix it. Alligators cannot walk into an orthodontist and get braces, so they have to live with their imperfections. A loss of access to an orthodontist does not constitute a new species. Another thing that really bothers me is the color that scientists use to name animals. If you look at the red panda and the red squirrel you will come to my conclusion that they are not red. They are orange. Not red. Orange. Animal naming scientists need to get their act together.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Texas Attorney General in the news

Both form the Texas Tribune:

- Texas Attorney General first in country to file brief backing Trump travel ban.

Attorney General Ken Paxton issued an amicus brief Wednesday expressing his support of President Donald Trump's travel ban, effectively becoming the first state attorney general to back the controversial executive order.

Under the executive order, travelers from Syria, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia and Libya are barred from entering the United States for the next 90 days. Last month, the ban immediately created chaotic scenes in major airports across the country, where refugees in transit were detained.
“The law makes it very clear that the president has discretion to protect the safety of the American people and our nation’s institutions with respect to who can come into this country,” Paxton said in a news release. “The safety of the American people and the security of our country are President Trump’s major responsibilities under the law.”
Last week, a three judge panel from the 9th Circuit Court upheld a temporary restraining order which blocked parts of the order. In his brief, Paxton said the "president’s immigration order is a lawful exercise of congressionally delegated executive power over foreign affairs and national security."

- Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton hangs on politically as criminal trial looms.

That case has now dogged Paxton for over 18 months, hanging over most of his first term as Texas' attorney general. And yet, for all the rancor, Paxton appears to be surviving politically, a reality reflected here Monday night as he spoke to the NE Tarrant Tea Party, trumpeting his past legal victories over former President Barack Obama, looking forward to the Donald Trump era fully ramping up — and yes, addressing what one questioner delicately referred to as "your case."

The public's curiosity over Paxton's legal situation is sure to only increase — both inside and outside rooms like the one he addressed Monday night. In less than three months, Texans will watch as their attorney general stands trial on securities fraud charges, facing up to 99 years in prison. For many, it will be the first time they have heard in any detail about the allegation that Paxton misled investors in a company from before his time as attorney general.
The case goes back to August 2015, when a Collin County grand jury indicted Paxton on two counts of first-degree securities fraud and one count of third-degree failure to register with the state securities board. The most serious allegation is that Paxton, while a state representative, duped the investors in the company, a McKinney technology startup called Servergy, by failing to disclose he was making a commission. The U.S. Securities Exchange Commission brought a similar, civil case against Paxton in April 2016, and while a federal judge dismissed those charges in October, the SEC has kept the case alive by filing amended allegations.

Paxton and his allies have increasingly argued in recent months that he is the subject of a revenge plot by political foes he made before — and during — the 2014 attorney general's race. It's a theory that many of his supporters have also adopted — and could be key to his prevailing in at least the court of public opinion.

From Politico: Doubts grow that GOP can repeal Obamacare - Probably only Donald Trump can whip the party's warring factions in line, but so far he's sent vague and conflicting messages.

Repeal is tougher than it seems.

- Click here for the article.

Republicans have reached a gut check moment: After spending more than six years vowing to fix the flagging patient that is Obamacare, it’s the GOP’s own repeal effort that’s on life support.
Undoing the health care law despised by conservatives seemed to be a straightforward proposition for the party after it won the White House and retained control of both chambers of Congress. Instead, Republicans are sniping over how much of the law to scrap, what to replace it with and when. At this moment, it's far from a sure thing any plan could get through Congress.
Consider Paul Ryan's feel-good meeting with Senate Republicans on Tuesday. The House speaker trekked across the Capitol to reassure senators that lawmakers are making more progress toward repealing the health care law than the media are reporting.
But not everyone was buying it. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) left before it was over, having heard enough of a conversation that he says centers around keeping Obamacare's Medicaid expansion intact and creating tax credits that he called a "new entitlement program," though a Republican in the room rebutted the notion that the topic of Medicaid expansion came up in the Tuesday meeting with Ryan.
“I hear things that are unacceptable to me,” Paul said in an interview afterward. “If they don’t seem to care what conservatives think about complete repeal of Obamacare, they’re going to be shocked when they count the votes.”

Limiting Trump

Here are four out of a number of articles detailing how aspects of the governing system - both internal and external - are limiting efforts of the Trump Administration to quickly implement its goals.

I've mentioned in class that inertia is built into the constitutional system, here's proof.

1 - Lawfare: Bannon in Washington: A Report on the Incompetence of Evil.

Steve Bannon has proved himself to be so monumentally incompetent that I am fairly certain the Republic is safer than I could have believed three weeks ago, at least from Bannon’s flailing efforts to maximize whatever supposed contradictions he believes he has identified.
Bannon isn’t an arch-villain. And he’s not the guy who’s going to destroy American democracy. Instead, as I’ll explain, he’s just an internet troll.
Bannon’s ineptitude has become clear in the context of his role at the center of the refugee order’s botched writing and rollout—strangely, the same context out of which emerged the portrait of him as the sinister, all-knowing eminence grise. To paraphrase Benjamin Wittes, the executive order was both deeply malevolent and profoundly incompetent.
. . . it’s very hard to dismantle major democratic institutions without a certain degree of capability. The establishment of authoritarianism takes both effort and cunning. And I’m much less worried than I was that these folks have the kind of cunning and focus it would take to take down the American experiment.
And for that I say, thanks, Steve Bannon.

2 - Lawfare: The Real Constitutional Danger.

The real story in the last week, and indeed of the Trump presidency, is (as predicted) how well our constitutional checks and balances are working in reaction to an unorthodox, norm-breaking, law-indifferent President. It is increasingly clear that the main danger in a Trump presidency is not that it will be too strong, but that it will be too weak.

In November I argued that “the permanent bureaucracy, including inspectors general and government lawyers; the press; civil society; Congress; and courts … will operate in much more robust fashion to check President Trump than they did to check President Obama,” and that “Trump’s seeming indifference to the rule of law and his pledges to act unlawfully will cause the checking institutions to judge all of his actions with much greater scrutiny and skepticism.” That is precisely what has happened.

3 - Washington Post: In the early weeks of the new administration, the humbling of a president.

For Trump, nothing has proved as easy as it might have looked on the campaign trail, despite the flurry of executive orders and actions that flowed from his desk in the first days after the inauguration. He has signaled a radically different direction for the country, but only that. Senior policy adviser Stephen Miller’s claim that Trump has accomplished more in a few weeks than most presidents do in their entire administrations should be seen as the fanciful boast that it is. The record is only beginning to be written.
The powers of the president are vast, but they are not unlimited. Trump has come face to face with the checks and balances built into the Constitution and with the difficulty of commanding a huge bureaucracy of federal workers who value their role as public servants. He has seen anew the power of a free press to dig and report and hold those in power accountable. He has felt the power and sting of leaks from inside the government. There’s nothing new about any of this. It has been true for past presidents. Trump is learning the lesson painfully.

4 - The New Republic: Donald Trump Is on the Ropes.

Trump’s obsession with the leakers, and those who are eager to publish these leaks, is consistent with his longtime political strategy of demonizing the press and professional bureaucrats. The leaking issue allows him to pair these two alleged foes as a united enemy—a characterization his base will no doubt devour—and also allows him to have his cake and eat it, too: He can bemoan the “illegally given” information on the one hand, and then claim it’s all “fake news” anyway. Further, this obsession is also consistent with his propensity for conspiracy theories. The very anonymity of leakers makes it easy to portray them as shadowy conspirators plotting against him.
This isn’t just a matter of rhetoric, though. It’s also a reflection of Trump’s approach to governing. He’s being undermined by leakers because he doesn’t know how government works, is isolated and alienated from the professional bureaucracy, and has been slow in appointing his own people to key spots. The result is an utterly chaotic, confused administration—and where there’s chaos and confusion in government, there are usually leaks, too.

A look at checks and balances on the state level - the case of North Carolina

Slate - which tends to be a bit to the left - details what the Republican dominated legislature in North Carolina to limit the power of the incoming Democratic governor, as well as the response of the courts.

It's a great look at checks and balances.

First: North Carolina Republicans’ Legislative Coup Is an Attack on Democracy.

Republicans in the North Carolina General Assembly staged a shocking legislative coup on Wednesday night, calling a second special session and proposing a raft of measures designed to strip power from the newly progressive state Supreme Court and governorship. This last-minute power grab marks an alarming departure from basic democratic norms—a blatant attempt to overturn the results of an election by curtailing judicial independence and restructuring the government to seize authority lawfully delegated to the incoming Democratic governor.

- The article goes on to list the specific measures introduced to limit both the governor and the courts.

Second: The North Carolina Supreme Court Just Blocked Republicans’ Unlawful Election Board Power Grab.

Note that the North Carolina Supreme Court has argued that the changes - at least those related to the Board of Elections - violate the separation of powers.

There is, however, a serious constitutional flaw in the bill. North Carolina’s constitution creates strict separation of powers, requiring that “the legislative, executive, and supreme judicial powers … shall be forever separate and distinct from each other.” It vests “the executive power” in the governor and states that he or she must “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” Fortunately for Cooper, the State Board of Elections is an executive agency, and county election boards are arms of that agency. That means Cooper has a constitutional requirement to “take care” that the boards fully implement election laws.

Yet as Cooper pointed out in his lawsuit to halt the attempted restructuring, Republicans have deprived him of that ability. “By creating an evenly divided board structure and then imposing a super-majority voting requirement for all actions,” the suit states, “the legislative appointees can effectively hamstring the myriad actions required for the proper administration and execution of elections and elections laws.” Similarly, the evenly divided county boards would be “consistently deadlocked and unable to act,” and thus “unable to carry out their [statutory] duties.”

“In short,” the suit concludes, the Republican restructuring “ensures that the New State Board and county boards will be unable to execute the State’s election law, and it strips from the Governor any ability to change that circumstance. Accordingly, it prevents him from fulfilling his constitutional duty to see that the laws are ‘faithfully executed.’ ”

The North Carolina Supreme Court appeared to agree with this theory in halting GOP changes from taking effect. And although Monday’s decision was only preliminary, it seems quite likely that the court—which vigorously safeguards separation of powers—will ultimately agree with Cooper on the merits. Here, as in its effort to block Cooper’s cabinet appointments, the legislature simply overstepped its constitutional bounds. And for the time being, North Carolina’s courts remain independent enough to halt the GOP’s unlawful power grab.

From CityLab: The Stadiums That Ate Texas Why are these Dallas suburbs funding the most expensive high school football stadiums ever built?

Good question.

For 2306 - mostly.

- Click here for the article.

In Texas, the old hands say there are only two seasons: spring football and fall football. But lately there’s a year-round game getting played as well: the competition to build the most expensive high school football stadium in the world.

Why would relatively small exurban school districts like McKinney build enormous football stadiums that will sit empty most of the year (and are often less than half-full even on game day)?
Part of the answer involves the area’s projected future growth. The town’s population has tripled over the past fifteen years. In the 2000 Census, McKinney had 54,369 residents. The most recent estimate (July 1, 2015) put the population at 162,898. Rick McDaniel, superintendent of the McKinney ISD and a former high school football coach, seems to be confident that the spectacular new McKinney stadium will soon fill up. “We’re visionaries,” he told the Dallas Morning News, and said that the stadium was part of “a vision for McKinney ISD that will propel us forward for a long time.” (His office did not respond to requests for comment for this story.)
The structure of the Texas school system also seems to encourage such infrastructure spending. By law, each ISD board has the power to call referendums when they choose to raise bond money. They act and can raise funds separately from their local municipal governments. But the bond money can go only toward construction and renovation of facilities, acquisition of land, and purchase of equipment, not toward expanding education opportunities for students or paying for teachers. (Texas ranks 38th out of 50 states in per-pupil education spending; in McKinney, per-pupil expenditures totaled $7,345 in 2013, compared to a national average of $11,841, according to an Education Week analysis of federal data.)
Curtis Rath, a McKinney community activist and blogger on city politics, has been an aggressive critic of this arrangement on his site, Texas Transparency; there, fans and foes of the McKinney stadium project hotly debate the issue in the comments. Rath argues that firms that stood to benefit from construction projects joined forces with local landowners, contractors, boosters, and school officials to market the benefits of high-profile school structures to McKinney voters. “They sold it by overstating the need for the new stadium,” he says.
Along with the political and business forces pushing to build new facilities for which there may be questionable need, there’s also the “wow” factor. Like many fast-growth Sun Belt communities, the burgeoning municipalities north of Dallas span vast landscapes interlaced by highways, office parks, and new housing developments. With all of these towns scrambling for residents and businesses to move into their new neighborhoods and shopping centers, splashy sports facilities serve as branding tools.
McKinney City Manager Paul Grimes says that the new stadium will help him better market the town as it competes with Allen, Frisco, Plano and beyond. “While it is a significant investment,” he says via email, “the stadium will…help to attract visitors and families to our rapidly growing community.”

Monday, February 13, 2017

From the Texas Tribune: Analysis: Texas makes do with broken but legal school finance system

Texas' complex system for funding education might be at a breaking point.

- Click here for the article.

As the Texas Legislature searches for a solution to the state’s persistent school finance problems, the Houston Independent School District is asking voters to reconsider its property tax policy, and Austin ISD is warning voters that a big chunk of their school tax dollars aren't going where taxpayers might think they’re going.
It’s a confusing time in school finance — a maelstrom of local and state governments trying to master a byzantine system that is broken in every way but the most important one: It remains, according to the Texas Supreme Court, constitutionally sound.
Many lawmakers and school districts had expected — some in hope, others in dread — that this would be a legislative session focused on building a new school finance system for Texas. They thought the court would force lawmakers to set things right.
Maybe the session will turn out that way without the court’s help. The Senate Finance Committee has dispatched a team led by Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, to try to rewrite the whole thing during the current legislative session.
Will it work? That’s a decent acid test to find out whether you are essentially optimistic or pessimistic. Whatever your disposition, a bona fide remedy designed by a committee with a short timeframe and no legal axe over its head would be unprecedented.
Until that or another effort changes the system, districts around Texas are wrestling with the current school finance system — a complicated and ramshackle machine that is supposed to get enough money to every school district in the state to adequately educate Texas children.

From the Texas Tribune: Texas lawmakers search for ways to avoid wasted college credits

This might hit home for many of you.

- Click here for the article.

As four-year college degrees grow more costly in Texas, state leaders have encouraged students to consider a cheaper solution — spending the first two years at a local community college.
But many students who have heeded that advice have hit a frustrating roadblock: When they transfer to a four-year school, their course credits don't always come along with them.

Classes taken to save cash end up being a waste of money.
The problem is vexing for state lawmakers, who say they receive calls year after year from angry students and parents. An estimated two-fifths of Texas students lose all of their credits when they transfer schools, according to Texas-based foundation. That helps add up to about $60 million in wasted tuition payments in the state each year.

This legislative session, lawmakers are in search of a true fix. “We’re going to try to do something that we haven’t been able to do in the last 20 years,” said Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas.

Late last month, Senate Finance Committee Chairwoman Jane Nelson asked West to lead a working group on the issue. Nelson, a Republican from Flower Mound, said she and other legislators were “growing impatient” with the schools’ inability to solve the problem.
There's no easy solution. Higher education experts and officials cast the blame up and down the community college-to-university pipeline. And in Texas, home to dozens of colleges and university systems with their own chains of command, there’s no single person with the power to make a statewide fix. No state agency has the authority to enforce rules on transferability, and degree plans can differ within university departments — let alone among different schools.

“We have a state in which we have a plethora of systems and colleges that are very used to operating independently,” Rex Peebles, an assistant commissioner at the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, told lawmakers recently. “But they also have different missions and goals in mind, and their curriculum tends to reflect that.”

More for 2306 this week.

A mix of commentary, analysis and fact.

- Sabin, Harman: Texas can no longer rely on local property taxes to fund schools.
- Lawmakers push bipartisan effort for adoptees to get birth certificates.
- Davidson: Time to end partisan judicial selection.
- SAEN: Flawed study aside, bathroom bill still bad for our economy.
- Fitzsimmons: Act today to protect and preserve rural Texas lands.

From the Houston Chroicle: Union dues bill faces contentious road ahead Senate hearing set for revived legislation following 2015 setback

For 2306 this week.

- Click here for the article.

After being blocked by moderate Republicans two years ago, controversial legislation that would prohibit voluntary payroll deductions of union dues from state employee paychecks is up again Monday for a new hearing.
This time, passage of the measure has been tagged as a priority by Gov. Greg Abbott and figures in a broader push by conservative Republicans intent on pushing ahead their agenda that include school choice and pension reform.

On Monday, the Senate State Affairs Committee will hold a public hearing on Senate Bill 13 -- authored by the panel's chair, Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston -- with passage expected to allow full debate soon by the full Senate.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

From the Atlantic: Conflict Over Trump Forces Out an Opinion Editor at The Wall Street Journal

We wont be looking at the media for a while, but here's a head start. It highlights the political nature of a paper's editorial board.

- Click here for the article.

The Wall Street Journal’s editorial features editor has left the paper following tensions over the section drifting in a pro-Donald Trump direction.
News of the departure of Mark Lasswell, who edited op-eds for the Journal, comes as the paper’s internal tensions over Trump have begun to spill into public view. The reliably hawkish, pro-trade, small government conservative Journal op-ed page has been challenged by the rise of the populist, nationalist Trump movement. The Journal’s opinion pages have been a showcase for the intra-right divide over Trump, featuring Trump-sympathetic writers like Bill McGurn alongside anti-Trump columnists such as Bret Stephens. Lasswell appears to be a casualty of that divide, and his dismissal a victory for the pro-Trump faction on the editorial staff.
According to two sources with direct knowledge of the situation, Lasswell was in effect phased out over a period of months from the paper. He took a book leave during the election following conflict with his boss Paul Gigot, the editorial page director, about the extent to which the page should run material sympathetic to Trump.
"We don't talk about internal personnel or editorial deliberations, but suffice to say your information is false in multiple respects,” Gigot said in a statement. “We appreciate Mark Lasswell's contributions to the Journal and wish him well. The Journal editorial page's coverage of Donald Trump speaks for itself, including numerous op-eds from outside contributors and staff editorials pro and con throughout the campaign and now as President. That coverage will continue.” A Wall Street Journal spokesperson declined to identify any false information.
According to a source close to Lasswell, the relationship between Lasswell and Gigot broke down in June when Gigot blocked Lasswell from publishing op-eds critical of Trump’s business practices and which raised questions about his alleged ties to Mafia figures. Lasswell asked Gigot for a book leave for the remainder of the election. Gigot, who had been critical of Trump, took a “sudden turn” on the candidate, the source said.

From the Washington Post: Most of Trump’s executive orders aren’t actually executive orders. Here’s why that matters.

The author gets to the bottom of what vehicle the president has been using to implement his agenda.

- Click here for the article.

The flood of executive directives flowing from the White House — or from other photogenic signing spots — was a notable part of President Donald Trump’s first week in office.
There will be plenty to analyze as the administration continues — many more such directives have been promised, and rumored. But a preliminary primer seems in order.
Some of the actions taken would have been tempting to any president — for instance, the freeze on the prior administration’s regulatory agenda. Others have been partisan constants — such as the renewal of the so-called Mexico City Policy, called by its opponents the “global gag rule.”
Most, though, have checked off President Trump’s most salient campaign promises — complete with press release-friendly “purpose” sections making extravagant claims not usually found in executive orders. “Sanctuary jurisdictions,” for example, are said to “have caused immeasurable harm to the American people and to the very fabric of our Republic.” The order cracking down on refugees starts with three long paragraphs seeking to blame the 9/11 attacks on the visa process. And crafting an emergency budget amendment for military readiness does not require a formal signing ceremony — a phone call to the Office of Management and Budget would do the trick.

From the Washington Post: The Supreme Court will examine partisan gerrymandering in 2017. That could change the voting map.

I mentioned this court case in a few classes, both 2305 and 2306. Partisan gerrymandering is still legal, more or less, but that may well change.

- Click here for the article.

In 2017, the Supreme Court will take up the issue of partisan gerrymandering. Depending on how the court rules, its decisions could have far-reaching implications for the partisan balance in the U.S. House of Representatives and state legislatures — and for the future of redistricting across the country.
Gerrymandering has helped give the Republican Party a significant advantage in Congress. Because Republicans had unified control of twice as many states as Democrats when the last congressional district maps were drawn, estimates suggest that gerrymandering before the 2012 elections cost Democrats between 20 and 41 seats in the House.
Partisan gerrymandering has become the norm in U.S. politics because the Supreme Court has declined to declare it unconstitutional. For three decades, a majority of justices have failed to identify manageable standards to determine when a plan rises to the level of an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander.
As a result, state legislators have come to believe that they can draw partisan gerrymanders so long as long as they satisfy two criteria: They do not violate one-person, one-vote standards and do not reduce the electoral fortunes of African Americans or other protected racial and ethnic groups. As a result, the 2010 round of redistricting saw partisan gerrymandering run amok in some states.
But change may be coming.

Read on.

A nice and ranty rant

 Any advice you have is appreciated.
I currently live with my parents and go to college and work full time. I take my personal sleep very seriously. I take 8 am classes in order to get decent hours at work. I am up late usually doing homework, gym, tv etc. So my room sits on the other side of the wall of my kitchen and every morning my mother wakes up at 5 am even though she goes to work a 9 am. We have an olde English bulldog which is about the size of a pitbull but stockier. Together these two are louder than a construction site in the mornings and it makes no sense to me. This scenario causes me to wake up hours earlier than necessary and nothing can help my sleep including prayer. I have tried fans, music, and tv. The only remedy would be to move out or kill the dog I am undecided on which to do.

Friday, February 10, 2017

In the news: Ninth Circuit’s Decision on Trump’s Travel Ban

- Click here for the decision.

We'll review it in 2305.

From the Texas Tribune: Analysis: Greg Abbott and the $200 million bully pulpit

In 2306 we've discussed the factors that have led to a gradual increase in the powers of the Texas governor. Here's

- Click here for the article.

The governor of Texas doesn't really have the authority to freeze hiring, except in his or her own office, but he’s got the bully pulpit.
And Greg Abbott used it to full effect in his State of the State speech last week, telling state agencies to pull down the hiring signs until the end of August, when the state’s fiscal year ends. He is making exceptions for public safety and other issues on a case-by-case basis.
The bully pulpit is a powerful soapbox, of course, and there is always the threat that a governor might get really, really mad at anyone who disobeyed his wishes. But the law doesn’t actually give him the power of hiring and firing in state agencies that aren’t part of the governor’s office. Texas governors can't fire the heads of other state agencies, university regents, or even the members of the commissions and boards that they themselves appoint.
Texas is not a strong governor state, whether any particular governor is a strong personality or not.
Texas governors can veto bills. They can appoint people to selected offices. And they can talk.
Vetoes are subject to overrides, if the Legislature is sufficiently stirred up. Appointments only stick if the Senate confirms the governor’s choices. And talk only works if someone says “How high?” when a governor says “Jump!”
Abbott's recently announced hiring freeze is an exercise of that third power: Talk.
Don’t dismiss it outright. Agencies are jumping. Yes, the budget is written by the Legislature and the governor signs it and has a line-item veto power. But he can’t add to it. He doesn’t control the state’s checkbook — that’s the comptroller’s job. He doesn’t handle payroll (comptroller again). And his powers are limited if someone tells him to stick it up his nose.
But the power of suggestion is, after all, a power. If you want to prosper in the executive branch of the Texas government, you’d best believe that the chief executive can find a way to bring praise or opprobrium to your office door. He might not be able to fire you, but he can probably make you want to quit.

Rant of the Day: WHO CARES ABOUT PROM?????

I'll post more, but this sets a high bar.

It is only January (well February now) and everyone is already planning everything for prom. I understand that we need to plan things like the limo and the beach house ahead of time, but it should not have to be this stressful! In January alone, we had two prom meetings and in a week from now are expected to pay a deposit! Which by the way is nonrefundable!! So, if someone decides to change prom groups after paying the $100 deposit, they will not be receiving their money back!! And we have to know who our dates are going to be already!! I have 2 months to figure this out!! I should not have boy upon boy lined up already as a possible date!! I haven’t even gotten to what I am most mad about! My so called “best friend” dropped out of our prom group without even telling me! I thought our friendship was better than this but apparently not! And all her reasons of dropping out did not make any sense at all! She is leaving because two new groups have invited her into theirs and I guess they’re better than her actual friends! But she isn’t even the only one who dropped out either!! Another girl dropped out too and my other best friend wants to leave and take me with him! He is speaking to other groups on my behalf and didn’t even think to come to me first before talking for me! The only person that can talk for me in any situation is my mom and last time I checked he didn’t give birth to me. I am just so over prom and it is nowhere near close to happening. I just wanted to have a good time with my closest friends but now all I want is for it to be done with!! I should be feeling excited and giddy like any normal teenage girl but instead I could not care less about it! I’m not even excited to go dress shopping! But then again, I’ve never really been normal, according to my parents, so why am I even worried about it, I’ll be out of this school sooner than later! Peace out High school!

From Politifact Texas: Business group says bathroom law could lose Texas $8.5 billion in GDP, up to 185,000 jobs

They rate the claim mostly false.

- Click here for the article.

A major business group predicts billions of dollars in economic losses should Texas lawmakers advance "discriminatory" legislation including so-called bathroom bills or measures limiting local control of non-discrimination ordinances.
We checked on whether the widely cited projections, linked to actions in other states, hold up.
Portions of the study commissioned by the Texas Association of Business proved solid. But other elements were shaky. One projection, for instance, rests in the Super Bowl set for Houston on Feb. 5, 2017 being moved to another state. Another extrapolates Texas losses from research rooted in Arizona’s immigration law--not that state’s failed proposal targeting LGBT residents. And the report’s biggest projected loss to Texas starts from an Indiana legislator’s comment that might lack documentary backup.
There could be heft to claims that a Texas Senate proposal poses economic risks.
Opponents of Senate Bill 6, requiring Texas residents to use bathrooms matching their assigned sex at birth, underscore North Carolina’s experience, which gets TAB attention elsewhere in its report presenting the possible economic losses. In 2016, Republicans in the Tarheel State curbed protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents, touching off economic losses mostly tied to boycotts adding up to as much as $201 million, PolitiFact North Carolina confirmed.
The TAB, which calls itself the state’s leading advocate for employers, initially highlighted the study that caught our attention in a Dec. 6, 2016, press release urging the 2017 Legislature to spurn "discriminatory legislation." That release said the study, undertaken at St. Edward’s University in Austin, found that a discriminatory law could result in $964 million to $8.5 billion in reduced state gross domestic product and up to 185,000 lost jobs, partly due to fallout in the tourism sector. State GDP refers to the market value of all final goods and services produced within a state in a particular period of time.
We broke down the figures in the study, exploring research assumptions and identifying instances of unstated or questionable sourcing. Separately, outside experts sounded a few cautionary notes.

This just in:

- Texas Tribune: After Super Bowl, NFL raises prospect of Texas "bathroom bill" impacting future games.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

From the NYT: Appeals Court Panel Appears Skeptical of Trump’s Travel Ban

The president's executive order has its day at the court of appeals.

- Click here for the article.|
A Justice Department lawyer on Tuesday said courts should not second-guess President Trump’s targeted travel ban, drawing skepticism from a three-judge federal appeals panel weighing the limits of executive authority in cases of national security.

But even August E. Flentje, the Justice Department’s lawyer, sensed he was not gaining ground with that line of argument. “I’m not sure I’m convincing the court,” Mr. Flentje said.

It was a lively but technical hearing on an issue that has gripped much of the country’s attention — and that of foreign allies and Middle East nations — for the past week. Issued without warning on Jan. 27, just a week after Mr. Trump took office, the
executive order disrupted travel and drew protests at the nation’s airports by suspending entry for people from seven predominantly Muslim countries and limiting the nation’s refugee program.

No matter how the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit rules — in a decision that is expected within days — an appeal to the United States Supreme Court is likely. That court remains short-handed and could deadlock. A 4-to-4 tie in the Supreme Court would leave the appeals court’s ruling in place.

The appeals court judges sometimes seemed taken aback by the assertiveness of the administration’s position, which in places came close to saying the court was without power to make judgments about Mr. Trump’s actions.

From the Washington Post: California and President Trump are going to war with each other

During the Obama years, the primary fight was between the presidency and Texas. Now the stage has shifted.

- Click here for the article.
Last week, Trump’s war with California took the form of attacking its public college system. After violent protests erupted on the campus of U.C. Berkeley, Trump suggested that he would pull funding from the school, which a) punishes the wrong party, since it wasn’t as though the school asked people to riot and b) can’t be done by executive order anyway.

For its part, there’s a movement in California to secede from the United States. Supporters of the idea are
collecting petitions to get it on the ballot in the state in 2018, which, if passed, would have the effect of doing basically nothing. (We’ve been through this attempt-to-secede thing before; it ended poorly.) When Barack Obama won reelection in 2012, there was a briefly a similar effort by the biggest red state, Texas. It didn’t get anywhere, either. 
On Monday, The Washington Post reported that the most visible manifestation of the California economy — the tech industry — had broadly united to file a joint amicus brief in opposition to Trump’s executive order on immigration. The tech industry employs a lot of immigrants to the United States, so there’s clearly a business motivation to take such a stand.

So this is the Cold Civil War that’s erupted. Trump threatens California’s funding; California threatens to pack up and go. Neither is likely to happen. But still — if you predicted that a president’s relationship with the Golden State would be rockier than his relationship with Russia, I’d like to ask your help with some lottery numbers.
The story contains the following graphic:

From the Houston Chronicle: The Super Bowl's gone. Now can Houston do its job? This city is good at flashy stuff—and not so good at keeping up its neighborhoods

The day to day activities involved in running are city are boring in comparison to huge sporting events.

- Click here for the article.
Houston is remarkably good at the decorative-soap stuff, the spectacles that bring in the punters and garner national attention. We’re good at All Star games and Super Bowls and Republican National Conventions. We’re good at Discovery Greens and rodeos. Being respectful enough to maintain the appearance of a humble, aging neighborhood on the far edge of town? Not so much.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

From the Atlantic: Red State, Blue City

More on federalism and the conflict between state and city governments.

- Click here for the article.

The United States now has its most metropolitan president in recent memory: a Queens-bred, skyscraper-building, apartment-dwelling Manhattanite. Yet it was rural America that carried Donald Trump to victory; the president got trounced in cities. Republican reliance on suburbs and the countryside isn’t new, of course, but in the presidential election, the gulf between urban and nonurban voters was wider than it had been in nearly a century. Hillary Clinton won 88 of the country’s 100 biggest counties, but still went down to defeat.

American cities seem to be cleaving from the rest of the country, and the temptation for liberals is to try to embrace that trend. With Republicans controlling the presidency, both houses of Congress, and most statehouses, Democrats are turning to local ordinances as their best hope on issues ranging from gun control to the minimum wage to transgender rights. Even before Inauguration Day, big-city mayors laid plans to nudge the new administration leftward, especially on immigration—and, should that fail, to join together in resisting its policies. 
But if liberal advocates are clinging to the hope that federalism will allow them to create progressive havens, they’re overlooking a big problem: Power may be decentralized in the American system, but it devolves to the state, not the city. Recent events in red states where cities are pockets of liberalism are instructive, and cautionary. Over the past few years, city governments and state legislatures have fought each other in a series of battles involving preemption, the principle that state law trumps local regulation, just as federal law supersedes state law. It hasn’t gone well for the city dwellers.

Close observers of these clashes expect them to proliferate in the years to come, with similar results. “We are about to see a shit storm of state and federal preemption orders, of a magnitude greater than anything in history,” says Mark Pertschuk of Grassroots Change, which tracks such laws through an initiative called Preemption Watch. By the group’s count, at least 36 states introduced laws preempting cities in 2016.

From the Texas Tribune: The Brief: Texas Senate will debate "sanctuary cities," ethics reform

The governor made these two of his four emergency items, which allows them to head to the Senate floor earlier than normal.

- Click here for the article.

From the Texas Tribune: High-speed train developer withdraws lawsuits against Texas landowners

This might be pertinent to our discussion of how eminent domain is treated in the Texas Bill of Rights.

- Click here for the article.

The private developer of a planned bullet train between Dallas and Houston has withdrawn more than a dozen lawsuits against Texas landowners that sought court orders allowing the company access to private property to survey land for the 240-mile project.

Texas Central Partners officials said they are instead going to try and have an “open dialogue” with landowners about letting the company onto their land.

“We’re stepping back and going back to conversations and taking some of the heat out of our process,” said Texas Central President Tim Keith.
. . . In court filings, the company argued that state law allows it to enter private property to survey land that may be used for a potential route because it is a railroad. A group called Texans Against High-Speed Rail have said the company shouldn't be considered a railroad because it doesn't currently operate any rail lines.

In one Harris County lawsuit, attorneys for a landowner echoed that argument. A trial on the merits of those legal arguments was set for July, according to the Harris County District Clerk’s office.

Keith said Tuesday that the company was confident it would have secured a ruling in its favor. Texas Central and landowners had already settled 21 other similar legal filings. The company said the decision to withdraw the remaining suits was largely based on the fact that it's already reached access and land-purchase options with more than 3,000 landowners.

Monday, February 6, 2017

From the New York Times: Trump and Staff Rethink Tactics After Stumbles

An early look inside the decision making process in the Trump White House.

- Click here for the article.
During his first two dizzying weeks in office, Mr. Trump, an outsider president working with a surprisingly small crew of no more than a half-dozen empowered aides with virtually no familiarity with the workings of the White House or federal government, sent shock waves at home and overseas with a succession of executive orders designed to fulfill campaign promises and taunt foreign leaders 
. . . “We are moving big and we are moving fast,” Mr. Bannon said, when asked about the upheaval of the first two weeks. “We didn’t come here to do small things.”

But one thing has become apparent to both his allies and his opponents: When it comes to governing, speed does not always guarantee success.

The bungled rollout of his
executive order barring immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries, a flurry of other miscues and embarrassments, and an approval rating lower than that of any comparable first-term president in the history of polling have Mr. Trump and his top staff rethinking an improvisational approach to governing that mirrors his chaotic presidential campaign, administration officials and Trump insiders said.

This account of the early days of the Trump White House is based on interviews with dozens of government officials, congressional aides, former staff members and other observers of the new administration, many of whom requested anonymity. At the center of the story, according to these sources, is a president determined to go big but increasingly frustrated by the efforts of his small team to contain the backlash.

“What are we going to do about this?” Mr. Trump pointedly asked an aide last week, a period of turmoil briefly interrupted by the successful rollout of his
Supreme Court selection, Judge Neil M. Gorsuch.

Chris Ruddy, the chief executive of Newsmax Media and an old friend of the president’s, said: “I think, in his mind, the success of this is going to be the poll numbers. If they continue to be weak or go lower, then somebody’s going to have to bear some responsibility for that.”

From Lawfare: Does Trump Want to Lose the EO Battle in Court? Or is Donald McGahn Simply Ineffectual (or Worse)?

The author is a former official in the W. Bush Administration, and offers commentary on Tramps recent actions - tweets - opposing the decisions of the federal judge that halted his immigration decision. He speculates on what Trumps actions means for judicial independence.

- Click here for the commentary / analysis.
I’m starting to believe that either Donald Trump wants courts to strike down the Immigration Executive order, or that his White House Counsel is incompetent or ineffectual.

The Immigration EO has a surprisingly strong basis in law but was issued in haste, without proper interagency coordination, without proper notice, without adequate consideration of its implications, and with a media strategy, if it was that, that suggested that the EO was motivated by discrimination against Muslims. These factors combined with the subject matter and scope of the EO to alarm many people and to invite a fierce initial legal reaction from civil society groups, states, and judges across the country.

. . . Here is what I meant. The clearly foreseeable consequence of the roll-out combined with Trump’s tweets is to weaken the case for the legality of the EO in court. Why might Trump want to do that? Assuming that he is acting with knowledge and purpose (an assumption I question below), the only reason I can think of is that Trump is setting the scene to blame judges after an attack that has any conceivable connection to immigration. If Trump loses in court he credibly will say to the American people that he tried and failed to create tighter immigration controls. This will deflect blame for the attack. And it will also help Trump to enhance his power after the attack. After a bad terrorist attack at home, politicians are always under intense pressure to loosen legal constraints. (This was even true for near-misses, such as the failed Underwear bomber, which caused the Obama administration to loosen constraints on its counterterrorism policies in many ways.) Courts feel these pressures, and those pressures will be significantly heightened, and any countervailing tendency to guard against executive overreaction diminished, if courts are widely seen to be responsible for an actual terrorist attack. More broadly, the usual security panic after a bad attack will be enhanced quite a lot—in courts and in Congress—if before the attack legal and judicial constraints are seen to block safety. If Trump assumes that there will be a bad terrorist attack on his watch, blaming judges now will deflect blame and enhance his power more than usual after the next attack.

Many people responded to my tweet last night by saying that I was giving Trump too much credit. He is not that clever, they said. His tweets are an angry impulsive reaction, not part of a plan. Perhaps these criticisms are right; I don’t know. But if they are right, then the White House has a different problem (among others): An ineffectual or incompetent White House Counsel.

One person who must bear responsibility for the awful rollout of the EO is White House Counsel Donald McGahn. The White House Counsel is charged with (among other things) ensuring proper inter-agency coordination on important legal policies and with protecting the President from legal fallout. McGahn should have anticipated and corrected in advance the many foreseeable problems with the manner in which the EO was rolled out. And he should have advised the President after his first anti-Robart tweet, and after the other more aggressive ones, that the tweets were hurting the President’s legal cause.

If McGahn did not do these things, he is incompetent, and perhaps we can attribute impulsive incompetence to the President. But if McGahn did do these things—if he tried to put the brakes on the EO, and if he warned his client about the adverse impact of his tweets—then he has shockingly little influence with the President and within the White House (i.e. he is ineffectual). And if McGahn is ineffectual as opposed to just incompetent—if he did, in other words, warn the President about the impact of his tweets and was ignored—then that lends credence to the suspicion that Trump knows the consequences of his actions and wants to lose in court, with the most plausible explanation being that he is planning for after the next attack.