Monday, July 9, 2018

From Governing: Literacy Is Not a Fundamental Right, Rules Judge in Case Against Michigan

For a discussion about civil rights, civil liberties, the judiciary, and federalism - at the very least.

- Click here for the full article.

Few could dispute the importance of literacy. But children have no fundamental right to learn to read and write, according to a federal judge whose ruling in a closely watched lawsuit Friday left some disheartened and others raising questions.

"I'm shocked," said Ivy Bailey, president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers. "The message that it sends is that education is not important. And it sends the message that we don't care if you're literate or not."

The ruling came in a federal lawsuit that was closely watched across the U.S. because of its potential impact: Filed on behalf of Detroit students, it sought to hold a dozen state officials -- including Gov. Rick Snyder -- accountable for what plaintiffs said were systemic failures that deprived Detroit children of their right to literacy.

The lawsuit sought remedies that included literacy reforms, a systemic approach to instruction and intervention, as well as fixes to crumbling Detroit schools. Earlier this month, officials with the Detroit Public Schools Community District said it would cost $500 million to bring school buildings up to par.

The City of Detroit, the American Federation of Teachers, the AFL-CIO, the community group 482Forward, Kappa Delta Pi, the International Literacy Association and the National Association for Multicultural Education all filed briefs in support of the plaintiffs.

The lawsuit was filed by Public Counsel, a Los Angeles-based law firm that is the nation's largest public interest law firm. Mark Rosenbaum, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs, declined to comment Saturday, saying he wanted an opportunity to first speak with his clients.

- Click here for the decision.

- Click here for the wikipedia page on the judge.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission

The Supreme Court decision in this case was announced today.

The case involves conflict between two aspects of constitutional law, the free exercise of religion and equal protection under the law.

Here are a couple useful links for background:

- Scotusblog.
- Oyez.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

"Stupid Questions" from 2306

I'll address these in the coming days, along with the questions from 2305

- I Still don't understand legislative judicial and executive mean ? i always have to look it up or write it down .it doesn't matter how many times you tell me or explain i would always forget. i need something easy to remind which is which?

1.the effect of these previous elections on people higher up

2. i don’t know if this is on topic but the does the districting also change the police or sheriffs in each area and the amount of a fine.. is a ticket possibly more expensive in one area rather than and area and does this have anything to do with who’s in charge of that district.

- How does the House differ from the Senate?

- My stupid question is what kind of investments are the states into? Or what else do they do with all of the moeny they collect from taxes. Do they ever put it into the market or just buy more bonds?

- How can an ordinary person find more information on the people running for statewide government offices and local government offices, such as Judges, governor, senators, Texas House, city major or city council man? Who is really in charge of the government? The information needed for making an educative choose for the candidates running for government offices is limited to the average citizens. So, the thought of popular sovereignty is obscured, the government officials do not protect the interest of the individuals who elected them. They are more interested in making laws to protect businesses and making money in the process.

- In 2305, in the course materials there was a section for each chapter that included a summary of every chapter from our textbooks, why isn't that included in 2306? I have a hard time retaining information from reading the textbook chapters on my own.

- Why do we have to write an essay for his class?

- My question is why does the Texas Legislature only meet every 2 years?

- To be honest, I still don't fully understand how the power is divided in Texas. I would like to increase my comprehension of how much power is vested in the Texas legislature, including the Lieutenant Governor and the Speaker of the House, versus the Executive Branch. What checks and balances are in place? Does the Lieutenant Governor have more power than the Governor or is it just a different set of powers?

- United States has two major political parties and they chose their candidates through primary elections. What are the prior requirements for the candidates to get on to the primary elections ballot?

- I don't understand how the run off part of the election works. I don't understand what it is or how two candidates qualify for one.

- What is the "Tort Reform"?

- I accidentally skipped a written assignment and I was wondering if I can still try to turn it in?

- What exactly is a "developmental course" here at ACC?

- Please better explain the Sunset Advisory Commission. Thank you.

- What is the purpose of the private prisons and how are they constitutionally allowed?

- My stupid question is what is the Public Utility Commission and it's purpose? It may sound crazy but I have never heard of this commission and especially that I am not a politic person. Does it involve water and sewer, and the electricity? From my research, I found out that the Public Utility Commission of Texas was to protect customers, foster competition, and promote high quality infrastructure. It also states that it regulates the states electric, telecommunication, and water sewer utilities. Does this mean that they are in control of our utilities and is the reason the state has to pay high utility bills and they can raise it at any given time. I also saw that it offers customer assistance complaints and has a hot line. What is the reason to call and complain about communication, water and sewer, and electricity. The only use I found for it is the trash. Trash being picked up more than once a week to keep the city clean. Also this commission has control of the way we communicate, if this was the reason then there would be better cell phone towers. This was put in place in 1975. This concludes my stupid question and I do not know if I have the wrong perception of this Pubic Utility Commission.

- Why do presidents term limit in office is 8 years?

- Why is it that the United States chooses to have a president instead of a king, queen, or prime minister? It seems that the majority of other countries that choose to have a King, Queen, or Prime Minister don't have as many political and government issues as we do. So why not change our system and make it better?

- How much are the politicians in higher positions supposed to make by law and if that law is followed?

- the Bureaucratic accountability, this is something I have been easily confused on and don't understand most of it.

- Why is the Texas Constitution so long compared to other states' constitutions, and what other states, if any, have a similar structured constitution as Texas?

- Why do so many people dislike Trump? I'm 24 so i was about 17 or so when Obama was in office, but i just don't remember people always talking so bad about Obama. Is Trump really doing that much harm to America? CNN says one thing while FOX says another. I know they are on opposite sides of the spectrum but the truth has to fall somewhere in between, right?

- Why do we have take this class again? And I say that in the most non-offensive way possible.

- i guess i would just like to know what needs to happen in order for the Texas constitution to be re written.

- But, could you tell me why and for how long has Texas always been such a strong Republican state? I was born and raised in Kansas. We were also a Republican state that depends heavily on government assistance. Is that odd that a state could be dependent on assistance but support a political party that isn’t as giving ?

Monday, April 2, 2018

"Stupid Questions" from 2305

These are the answers that I got for the stupid question question in 2305. I'll address these in upcoming posts - but many of these can be answered by simply reading the textbook

- Why is the electoral college important? Why does it agree with the general public most of the time but not all of the time.

- Why do churches not have to pay property taxes? Or is that a rumor? I have always been curious about that! Thank you!

- What is the difference is how much "we the people" should trust our government vs how much we actually do?

- How does the president get elected to his position?

- Why do the members of Congress still have their jobs when they cant balance the budget by the deadline?

- How influential is the candidate’s party to his or her decisions when she or he is elected? What impact would it do to his or her career when the official decides against what the party stands for?

- I'm still a little confused about how an election works...Like what steps are taken in the process.

- The US Supreme court justices are appointed for life as required by the Constitution. The implication here is that these justices have the most stable jobs in the nation. Only the Congress has the power to impeach them; and historically, only one of these justices, Justice Samuel Chase, was ever impeached by the House of Representatives in 1804, and later acquitted by the Senate in 1805. First of all, does it mean that none of these justices are ever found corrupt? If some of them are ever found corrupt, how are they made to individually account for their corrupt decisions? And finally, how are victims of such corrupt decisions compensated?

- One thing that I am still not understanding about the people who wrote Constitution and the Declaration of Independence the failure to mention slavery and how it is never mentioned. I don’t understand how they were able to never mention it. How the writers could be fighting for rights, and freedom from Britain but still allow slavery. Can you explain or direct me to a better explanation than our textbook has?

- Why is the government so corrupt?

- how can you consider yourself a republican or a democrat? What if you agree with some concepts from each party? Would you just choose the party you relate to the most?

- If I had to say anything was unclear about this class, I would have to say it would be the Judicial Branch. I do understand how it works, I just do not understand all of the parts of the branch. Who it is all made up of and what are their jobs. I understand the supreme court and that their is a judge, but all of the parts that it is made up are still confusing. Such as, what are the other important parts of the branch. I would like more detail of the smaller state judicial branches and how working your way up to the supreme court works. I have a little background that involves appealing, but I do not know how the appeal process works.

- I've been needing help on understanding the things that congress does. what does the senate and the house of reps do??

- What is the supposed benefit of the electoral college? To my limited understanding, it seems to be the first impediment to a true Democracy. Was that its purpose? To prevent mob rule?
What is the main reason for taxing?

- What are the differences between a libertarian and a liberal or are they the same thing?

- How can one identify as a Republican or Democrat? What happens if you agree with one party in some areas, and the other on other areas?

- What is exactly does the Primary elections do for US? As a country? By electing these people what will they be in charge of leading and changing for us. Also, do people in the primary’s help to elect the president in the electoral college?

- How come police or public officials need a search warrant to search somethings like a phone, or a student, but they do not need a search warrant to search other things like trash that you had placed on the street, or your car? I know we have talked about it briefly but I would just like some clarification on the topic.

- The only thing I do have a question on is, the details of how candidates are chosen and the primaries.

- I'm a little confused on what actually happened during the Watergate scandal. I know the basics of what President Nixon did, but don't quite understand the details. Could you please give a deeper explanation?

- How does an electoral college work? I have heard that you can win majority but lose electoral and lose the whole election or win electoral and lose majority but still win the whole election. I don't understand what the point of majority votes are if they don't matter

- How does the public (citizens and or govt officials) necessarily influence political decisions (or just government in general) such as deciding on bills, laws, rights, and etc? sorry if this is such a broad question.

- Is an interest group a kind of institution? I assume so, since institutions are “the organizations, norms, and rules that structure political action,” and an interest group is an organization that does that, but I must’ve overlooked it in my book.

- I was wondering how do other states get around the Full Faith and Credit Clause in cases like some states making marijuana legal but others still have it illegal, or when gay marriage became legal in one state yet other states didn't act accordingly.

- I am still eluded by certain court cases and their significance. I still need to put time in studying them but for some reason i get some of the basic ones mixed up.

- I have found this class to be more difficult than expected. I am mainly confused on the 1000-word essay. How are we supposed to predict the outcome of the November midterm elections and write 1000 words over it? No matter how much research I do, I feel like I cannot write 1000 words on one simple question you asked. I struggled to write 150 for the introduction and I’m stuck on what to continue writing about. Thanks!

- What is the difference between conservatives and liberals? What are their beliefs?

- During a regular trial, impartial citizens of the United States are a part of the jury to come to a conclusion of the case at hand. During an impeachment trial however, who serves on the jury to come to the conclusion on whether or not the individual in the government should be impeached?

- What is a block grant and who gives them out?

- Why do we hold primany elections to determine a winner for the local & insignificant positions? Why couldn't we just hold a general election for these positions? It seems like there is a lot of bother for something so relatively unimportant

- My stupid question for this written assignment is “How does a bill become a law?” I think I may have learned it awhile back, but I don’t fully remember.

- The current status of of millennials revolves around less political participation and my question is what types of methods do media sources use to push their agenda to the younger generation of America and are the methods effective.

- How many seats are there in the House of Representatives?

- What is the difference between de facto and de jure segregation? What exactly is protected speech? How do we identify if something is protected speech? Examples? What is a superPAC? What is gerrymandering? What are the differences between new/cooperative/dual federalism?

- Does the President have the ability to dissolve Congress if he do chooses or is that a violation of the constitution? Also there has always been 435 congressman and each district has to have at least 700,000 people in it. How often do they redraw districts and as the population grows when will they need to change the minimum population per district?

- With all the recent events that have happened, will reducing the output of guns and tightening gun laws actually stop people? Like illegal drugs, people always find a way and people who already have them. So what is congress trying to do and what are the peoples reasoning on their protest?

- My stupid question is “what’s the actual difference between a democrat and a republican?” I know this is the most basic knowledge everyone should have; but I have always been confused on the different ideas and beliefs that would make each party separate from each other. I’m also confused, because I’ve been told that the parties could switch ideas from time to time, so I’m wondering how we know when they switch and if there is a set trait that makes each party different.

- This seems like a simple question... What does Checks and Balances mean? It seems like most of the students in the class I'm in understand this so I thought it was a stupid question.

- How does the process of the President choosing his cabinet work? My dad once mentioned that even though Trump is president, the members of his cabinet could lead to some actual solutions since we essentially have no faith in Trump. However, if Trump selects them, then I feel we can't really have faith they will be of substantial help outside of Trump's idiocy. Thanks.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Bong Hits 4 Jesus

We watched this is the dual credit classes today.

Morse v Fredericks builds on the Tinker decision that was covered in GOVT 2305's section on civil liberties - specifically the extent of speech protections enjoyed by high school students.

For background on each:

- Oyez: Morse v Frederick.
- Oyez: Tinker v Des Moines.

From CNN: Supreme Court lets California gun control laws stand

Sometimes the Supreme Court decides by deciding not to decide.

- Click here for the article.

The Supreme Court declined Tuesday to take up two gun-related cases out of California, maintaining its reluctance to dive back into the debate concerning the scope of the 2nd Amendment. 
In an unsigned order, the court let stand a ruling upholding California's law mandating a 10-day waiting period and another imposing fees on firearm transactions to fund background checks. 
The court's order comes at a sensitive time as the country is reeling from the latest school shooting in Parkland, Florida. 
The denials also signal the court remains unwilling to take another look at several lower court rulings 10 years after its landmark opinion that found for the first time that the 2nd Amendment protects an individual has a right to own a firearm in the house, drawing a scathing dissent from conservative Justice Clarence Thomas, who accused the court of sidestepping the issue.
The California law requiring a 10-day waiting period was challenged by a firearm owner and the gun-rights group Second Amendment Foundation, who argued it was unfair for people who already owned firearms to have to wait the same amount of time as first-time purchasers who were undergoing background checks during that time.| 
While a lower court sided against the firearm owners, the 9th US Circuit of Appeals upheld the state law, and Tuesday's Supreme Court action means it will remain in effect.
The second case involves gun owners and the National Rifle Association challenging a California law that imposes fees on all firearms transactions in order to pay for background checks. When there is a surplus of funds, the money is diverted to fund law enforcement programs dedicated to tracking down individuals who unlawfully possess firearms. 
Lawyers for the challengers argued in court papers, "while constitutionally protected conduct may be subject to generally applicable taxes and fees, it may not be singled out for special monetary extractions designed to profit from, or worse still, discourage the exercise of the constitutional right."

Texas Tribune: Trial begins in case targeting Texas' statewide elections of judges

Another constitutional challenge to how Texas conducts elections - this time for state judges.

The issue here is not that they are elected, but that the topwe courts are elected statewide, which makes it difficult for minority candidates to be elected - which in turn distorts the courts.

- Click here for the article.

El Paso lawyer Carmen Rodriguez and Juanita Valdez-Cox, a community organizer in the Rio Grande Valley, live hundreds of miles from each other, but they share an electoral grievance that could upend the way Texans fill seats on the state’s highest courts.
For years, Rodriguez and Valdez-Cox have noticed that campaigning for the Texas Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals hardly reaches their corners of the state. It’s left them feeling so neglected and undermined as voters that they decided to the sue Texas over the statewide election system it uses to fill seats on those courts.
“I think every vote should count and should have equal weight as much as possible,” Rodriguez testified in federal court Monday on the first day of a week-long trial in a case challenging the state’s current election method for the Texas Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals. But those campaigning for those seats hardly make their case to El Paso voters, Rodriguez added, so “they don’t seem to need our vote.”
That sentiment is a key component of a lawsuit — filed on behalf of Rodriguez, six other Hispanic voters and Valdez-Cox’s organization, La Union del Pueblo Entero — that alleges the statewide method of electing judges violates the federal Voting Rights Act because it dilutes the voting power of Texas Hispanics and keeps them from electing their preferred candidates. U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos has set aside the rest of the week for the trial, during which the plaintiffs’ lawyers will work to convince Ramos that Texas should adopt a single-member approach, similar to those employed by some city councils and school boards, that would carve up districts geographically in a way that could allow for Latino-majority voting districts.

From the Texas Tribune: In lawsuit, activists say Texas' winner-take-all approach to the Electoral College is discriminatory

This story ties together several topics in both 2305 and 2306, including republicanism, elections, civil rights, federalism, and - perhaps mostly - the winner take all system.

Does the winner take all system for allocating presidential electoral votes violate the equal protection clause?

- Click here for the article.
Saying Texas' current practice is discriminatory, a group of Hispanic activists and lawyers has sued the state in hopes of blocking it from awarding all of its Electoral College votes to one candidate during presidential elections.

The lawsuit filed in federal court Wednesday calls on Texas to treat voters “in an equal manner” by abolishing that “winner-take-all” approach, which all but two states use. The suit, filed by the League of United Latin American Citizens and a coalition of Texas lawyers, says that approach violates the U.S. Constitution and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. It's just one of many pending voting rights lawsuits arguing that Texas, which regularly votes Republican, has illegally discriminated against voters of color.

Similar Electoral College lawsuits were also filed Wednesday in Republican-dominated South Carolina and Democratic-leaning Massachusetts and California. The South Carolina suit also alleges a Voting Rights Act violation.

At the suit’s core is the doctrine of “one person, one vote,” rooted in the 14th Amendment. The plaintiffs argue that the winner-take-all system is unconstitutional because Texans who favor losing candidates “effectively had their votes cancelled,” while voters who favor winning candidates see their influence “unconstitutionally [magnified].” The suit also alleges that winner-take-all violates the First Amendment.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018


For our upcoming look at the media in GOVT 2305:

- Click here for the article.

EACH NEW BREAKING news situation is an opportunity for trolls to grab attention, provoke emotions, and spread propaganda. The Russian government knows this. Fake-news manufacturing teenagers in Macedonia know this. Twitter bot creators know this. And thanks to data-gathering operations from groups like the Alliance for Securing Democracy and RoBhat Labs, the world knows this.
In the wake of Wednesday’s Parkland, Florida, school shooting, which resulted in 17 deaths, troll and bot-tracking sites reported an immediate uptick in related tweets from political propaganda bots and Russia-linked Twitter accounts. Hamilton 68, a website created by Alliance for Securing Democracy, tracks Twitter activity from accounts it has identified as linked to Russian influence campaigns. As of morning, shooting-related terms dominated the site’s trending hashtags and topics, including Parkland, guncontrolnow, Florida, guncontrol, and Nikolas Cruz, the name of the alleged shooter. Popular trending topics among the bot network include shooter, NRA, shooting, Nikolas, Florida, and teacher.
On RoBhat Labs', a website created by two Berkeley students to track 1500 political propaganda bots, all of the top two-word phrases used in the last 24 hours—excluding President Trump's name—are related to the tragedy: School shooting, gun control, high school, Florida school. The top hashtags from the last 24 hours include Parkland, guncontrol, and guncontrolnow.
Ash Bhat, one of the project’s creators, says the bots are able to respond quickly to breaking news because they’re ultimately controlled by humans. In contrast to the Russia-affiliated Hamilton 68 bots, Bhat would not speculate on who is behind the bots that RoBhat Labs tracks. In some cases, the bot creators come up with hashtags, and use their bots to amplify them until they’re adopted by human users. “Over time the hashtag moves out of the bot network to the general public,” he says. Once a hashtag is widely adopted by real users, it’s difficult for Twitter to police, Bhat says. RoBhat Labs’ data shows this happened with the hashtag MemoDay, which bubbled up when House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes’ controversial memo was released.

What's the purpose? According to this opinion piece, to undermine trust in American governing institutions.

- Click here for: "After the Parkland shooting, pro-Russian bots are pushing false-flag allegations again."

For most Americans, the Parkland shooting was a terrible tragedy. But for social media accounts that promote the interests of Russia in the United States, it was a fantastic opportunity.
On the morning after the tragedy, the Russia-linked accounts were commenting fiercely, pushing the “crazy lone killer” explanation for the shooting and mocking advocates of gun control. According to Hamilton 68, a tracker website created by the German Marshall Fund, a lot of them linked to photos of guns and ammunition on the Instagram account of the suspected killer, plus a screenshot of a Google search for “Allahu akbar.” Others linked to a fact-checking website that debunked some statistics about gun crime.
By Friday morning, some of the same accounts were also pushing something slightly different: the hashtag #falseflag. That’s a reference to the conspiracy theory, already widespread 48 hours later, that the shooting never happened, that the attack is a “false flag” operation staged by the U.S. government as a prelude to the seizure of guns.
And this is just the beginning. Over the next few days, many of these same kinds of accounts will invent a whole range of conspiracy theories about the shooting. If the past repeats itself, pro-Russian, alt-right, white-supremacist and pro-gun social media accounts will promote the same hashtags and indulge in the same conspiracy theories.
Each group has its own interests in pushing #falseflag, but the Russian interest is clear. They do it because it helps undermine trust in institutions — the police, the FBI, the media — as well as in the government itself. They also do it because it helps to amplify extremist views that will deepen polarization in U.S. political life and create ever angrier, ever more partisan divides.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

From Vox: The real fix for gerrymandering is proportional representation

- Click here for the article.

The furor over the Supreme Court case considering limits on gerrymandering has reminded me of a conference I attended years ago. This was a meeting mostly composed of legal scholars focused on progressive reforms to the American judicial system. Gerrymandering, which is a hot topic today, wasn’t a major focus of the conversation. But we did get one presentation from a distinguished scholar of redistricting matters who explained that redistricting is a particularly hard problem to solve because there are a number of different goals that are mostly incompatible:

- It seems like a system should offer partisan fairness such that control of a legislature is typically in line with the population’s overall preference.

- Districts should align communities of interest and correspond in some sense to real places that we can characterize, like “the South Side of Chicago,” rather than just be arbitrary zones, like “some of the suburbs of San Antonio and some of the suburbs of Austin plus a big disconnected patch of rural Texas.”

- Racial minority groups should get fair representation. A state like Georgia that’s 30 percent black shouldn’t have an all-white congressional delegation.

- There should be fair-fight districts with real electoral competition, not just everyone segregated into safe seats that protect incumbents.

- Districts should be compact and look like a nice checkerboard of squares and triangles, rather than a bunch of crazy squiggles.

Sometimes you can make this all work together, but oftentimes you can’t. Creating majority-minority districts to ensure racial representation can look a lot like “packing” Democratic voters into lopsided seats. Aiming at fair fights sounds nice but will end up violating communities of interest. Aiming for partisan fairness will necessarily involve some odd squiggles, since neighborhood-level partisanship can be very disparate.

So I asked this scholar: “What about proportional representation?”

She said that when she teaches redistricting law, she does proportional representation last because it solves all the problems and the point of the class is for the students to work through the different complexities and legal doctrines governing the American system. That seems smart as a pedagogical approach, but as an agenda for political reform, solving all the problems is a good idea.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

From the Texas Tribune: Analysis: Forget about new political maps — probably

- Click here for it.

More federalism.

If anything changes in Texas politics in 2018, it’ll likely be the work of voters — not mapmakers.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to stick with the state’s current political maps will preserve, for now, the Republican advantages that are baked into these particular biscuits. Specifically, that’s a 25-11 Republican-Democratic split in the congressional delegation, a 20-11 split in the Texas Senate and a 95-55 split in the Texas House. And it appears to squelch efforts by minority and Democratic groups to try to win in the courts some of the districts they've been unable to win at the polls. But the courts still have time to mess with the state’s 2018 elections.
The primaries are set for March 6. Judges say they don’t like disrupting elections, but they’ve done it before and nothing’s preventing them from doing it again.

From the Texas Tribune: Houston looks to Supreme Court to resolve same-sex marriage benefits fight

- Click here for the article.

Full throated federalism.
After the Texas Supreme Court ruled that the landmark decision legalizing same-sex marriage does not fully address the right to marriage benefits, the city of Houston is now looking to the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in.
In a petition filed with the high court Friday, the city asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review a June 30 decision by the Texas Supreme Court in which it ruled that there’s still room for state courts to explore “the reach and ramifications” of marriage-related issues that resulted from the legalization of same-sex marriage.
In that decision, the Texas Supreme Court threw out a lower court ruling that said spouses of gay and lesbian public employees are entitled to government-subsidized marriage benefits and unanimously ordered a trial court to reconsider the case.
Now, Houston is instead appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing in its petition that the Texas court “disregarded” previous rulings by the high court.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

From the Texas Tribune: Senate bill would let Houston voters weigh in on fix to pension crisis

The question is, should they?

- Click here for the article.

If the Texas Senate gets its way, Houston city officials could have to get voter approval for a plan to partially shore up massive, multi-billion-dollar shortfalls in some of the city’s public pension funds.

The Senate on Wednesday voted 21-10 to give preliminary approval of a bill that would require voters to sign off before cities issue pension obligation bonds, a kind of public debt that infuses retirement funds with lump-sum payments. Issuing $1 billion in those bonds is a linchpin of Houston officials’ proposal to decrease the city’s unfunded pension liabilities that are estimated to be at least $8 billion.

Houston Mayor
Sylvester Turner told The Texas Tribune earlier this month that if the bill becomes law and voters reject the $1 billion bond proposition, a delicate and hard-fought plan to curb a growing pension crisis would be shrouded in uncertainty. He also argued that the debt already exists because the city will have to pay it at some point to make good on promises to pension members.

But lawmakers said voters should get to weigh in when cities take on such large amounts of bond debt.

From the Texas Tribune: Judge orders Ken Paxton trial moved out of Collin County and delayed

For 2306, and our look at the executive and judicial branches - and the criminal justice system.

- Click here for the article.

The judge in the securities fraud case against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has ruled that the trial should be moved out of Collin County and delayed.

The ruling to change venue is a major victory for prosecutors, who had argued Paxton and his allies had tainted the jury pool in Collin County, where he lives.

Judge George Gallagher said the trial, initially scheduled for May 1, will now be postponed until a new venue is determined.
Gallagher on Thursday denied two other motions: to dismiss the case and to delay it until prosecutors can get paid.

Paxton is accused of misleading investors in a company from before his time as attorney general, a legal saga that began more than a year ago. He recently beat a federal, civil case involving similar allegations, but the state charges remain — and they are more serious, carrying a potential prison sentence of up to 99 years.

Gallagher's ruling on the venue is somewhat surprising. Weeks ago,
Gallagher had signaled that he had wanted to at least try to move forward with the case in Collin County, where jury selection had been set to begin in a few weeks.

In court, prosecutors had sought to show collusion among Paxton, his team and his supporters aimed at creating a sympathetic jury pool. Paxton's lawyers had argued they had no ties to the alleged effort and that it wasn't affecting public opinion even if it existed.

From the NYT: ‘We Must Fight Them’: Trump Goes After Conservatives of Freedom Caucus

Trump has a new enemy.

An example of the relatively new concept of primarying.

- Click here for the article.

President Trump declared war on the conservatives of the House Freedom Caucus on Thursday, suggesting Republicans should “fight them” in the 2018 midterm elections if they do not back his agenda.

“The Freedom Caucus will hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don’t get on the team, & fast,” Mr. Trump said Thursday morning on Twitter, escalating a fight that began when the conservatives from the caucus
blocked his Affordable Care Act repeal last Friday.

“We must fight them, & Dems, in 2018!” Mr. Trump wrote, apparently making good on suggestions that he would support Republican challengers to lawmakers in his own party who oppose him, a stance advocated by his chief strategist,
Stephen K. Bannon.

Friday’s loss on health care rekindled a long-running civil war between the party’s establishment, represented by Speaker Paul D. Ryan, who drafted the original bill, and anti-establishment conservatives in the caucus, who thought it preserved too many elements of the Obama-era program.

For more:

House conservatives call Trump an ungrateful bully after threat to unseat them in 2018.
- Trump can’t stop the Freedom Caucus. He has GOP gerrymandering to blame.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

For 2306 today

- Abbott looks to conference committee to sort out pre-K dispute.

Gov. Greg Abbott is looking to the budget conference committee to sort out a dispute over his prekindergarten initiative as it becomes clear he cannot rely on the House and Senate to fully fund the program in their spending plans.

"The House has a plan. The Senate has a plan. The governor has a plan," Abbott said Tuesday in a speech to the Dallas Regional Chamber. "Anybody who knows anything about how the Legislature works realizes that the real plan that’s going to come out is the one that’s going to come out in conference committee, and that will be sometime in late May."

- After immigration and bathroom fights, House votes to keep Railroad Commission functioning.

The Texas House gave preliminary approval Tuesday to a bill that would keep the agency that oversees the state’s oil and gas industry functioning until 2029 — but only after members dragged controversial topics like immigration and bathroom restrictions for transgender people into what should have been a routine debate.
House Bill 1818 by state Rep. Larry Gonzales, R-Round Rock, would keep the Texas Railroad Commission's name — instead of the re-naming it the Oil and Gas Commission — while giving the agency more oversight of pipeline construction in Texas.

- House panel hears bills for open carry without permit.

Two measures that would make it easier for Texans to access guns were up for consideration by the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee on Tuesday.
House Bill 375 by state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, would allow Texans to openly carry a handgun with or without a license, making it optional for people in the state to obtain a permit or take a class. Stickland filed the same bill in 2015, but it was never heard in committee.
“I don’t think the government has the right to say, 'You have a Second Amendment right, but only if you take this class and pay this fee,'” Stickland said as he laid out his bill. “If someone can legally possess a firearm, they should be able to carry that firearm.”

- Texas Senate approves its budget, shifting school costs to local taxpayers.

The Senate proposal actually strips about $1.8 billion in state funds for education but uses local property taxes and other revenue to make up the difference. In total, Nelson said, her proposal would boost public school funding by $4.6 billion compared to the prior budget, including a $2.6 billion provision to cover student enrollment growth.
"Under our formula, the local share of education funding fills up the bucket first, as local property tax collections go up, the state share goes down," Nelson said. "But in the aggregate, funding for education is going up every year."
At the same time, the Senate is advancing controversial tax cut proposals that critics say would make it more difficult for the state and local governments to pay for schools. Last week, the upper chamber passed Senate Bill 2, which seeks to curb the growth in property taxes, and Senate Bill 17, which would cut the franchise tax paid by businesses in future years.

- Bills to plug public information "loopholes" breeze through Senate.

The Texas Senate cleared a pair of bills Tuesday aimed at plugging "loopholes" in public records law that have left taxpayers in the dark about key details of some government contracts.
Senate Bills 407 and 408 both breezed through the chamber and will head to the House. Filed by Sen. Kirk Watson, they push back against two 2015 Texas Supreme Court rulings that immediately made it easier for private companies involved with government contracts to keep parts of those contracts secret.
“What we’re trying to do is to make sure the public has information as to how its tax dollars are being spent,” Watson said.
Some businesses have lined up against the bills. The Texas Association of Business is among those who have voiced concerns over the bills.

From the Texas Tribune: Analysis: One (Texas) official to rule them all

Is there a plot underway to concentrate power in the states?

- Click here for the article.

In the old days — we're talking way back, in the pre-2015 era — every mayor in the United States of America wanted to be governor and then president and then the face on a nickel or a dime or a two-dollar bill.
Maybe the office of governor should be the end game for every lowly politician who looks at the mirror in the morning and sees a superstar smiling back. Greg Abbott seems to be arguing for a consolidation of political power, what with his goal of moving federal power to the states and with his strong new pitch to make him a sort of mayor-in-chief of all the cities, towns, settlements and camps in the state.

Read on.

For more: Mega-rich conservative donors are behind Texas' obsession with amending the Constitution.

. . . experts say for the first time in decades, the convention of states movement may stand a remote chance of becoming reality thanks, in part, to the support of mega-rich conservative donors who have given millions to Abbott and other Texas Republicans.
“It’s a realistic possibility. It’s terrifying, but it is a realistic possibility,” said Anthony Gutierrez, executive director of Common Cause Texas, a nonpartisan government accountability group that opposes the convention of states movement.
Mark Meckler, president of the Convention of States Project, said he learned of the governor’s fervor for the convention during that speech and offered his organization's help. The Convention of States Project is a nonprofit that launched in 2013 to gin up support nationwide for a convention that would limit federal powers.

Dunn — both individually and through Empower Texans, a political action committee that is primarily funded by him — has contributed more than $5 million to far-right Texas Republicans since 2010, according to campaign finance records. Dunn donated $30,000 to Abbott. Empower Texans gave more than $25,000 to Sen. Brian Birdwell, who is championing the convention legislation in the upper chamber. And Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has gotten nearly $650,000 from Dunn and Empower Texans.
The influence of Dunn and Empower Texans has been most palpable in the Texas House. Last year, Empower Texans plowed more than $1.4 million into campaigns for ultraconservative House candidates.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

From the Texas Tribune: Will Texas universities face perfect storm of cuts?

This might be of interest to all of you.

- Click here for the article.

Higher education leaders entered the 2017 session of the Texas Legislature expecting some dark days. Two-and-a-half months in, they're now focused on warding off a perfect storm.

In addition to
potential state funding cuts, which are being discussed like they're a virtual certainty in the Capitol, schools are staring down efforts to freeze tuition and slash federal funding for higher education. If all three happen, the universities' three biggest sources of money would be reduced or frozen for 2018.

That's a scary thought to advocates of public higher education, who warn that Texas' need for strong state universities will only grow in the coming years. Tuition, state funding and federal cash make up a combined 75 percent of Texas public university revenue.

"All alumni and business leaders in our state should be up in arms and outraged about these proposals being considered," said Will O'Hara, co-interim director of the Texas Exes alumni group for the University of Texas at Austin.

Persuading elected officials to reverse course could be difficult, however. There's
less money for the state to spend overall this year than in previous sessions. There are also other pressing needs to compete with, like reforming the child protective services and foster care systems. And many lawmakers are frustrated with what they view as a lack of fiscal discipline among the state's universities.

Average tuition
has climbed 147 percent in Texas over the past 15 years. And most of the state's universities have increased tuition since 2015, when the Legislature added $2 billion to the budget for higher education.

The scrutiny is especially pronounced in the Senate, where presiding officer Lt. Gov.
Dan Patrick named halting tuition growth one of his top 20 priorities for 2017. Patrick, a Republican, has thrown his support behind Senate Bill 19, which would impose a four-year freeze on tuition increases.

Meanwhile, senators are expected to vote Tuesday on their proposed budget. If they pass it as currently written, which is highly likely, they will send the House a bill that would impose hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of higher education cuts. Each school would face a loss of 6 percent to 10 percent of its state funding in the Senate plan.

From the Washington POst: Attorney General Jeff Sessions repeats Trump threat that ‘sanctuary cities’ could lose Justice Department grants

An example of coercive federalism?

- Click here for the article

Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Monday threatened to strip some “sanctuary cities” of coveted Justice Department grants for state and local law enforcement, saying those places that did not comply with a particular federal law on immigration would not be eligible for money.

“I urge our nation’s states and cities to consider carefully the harm they are doing to their citizens by refusing to enforce our immigration laws, and to rethink these policies,” Sessions said from the White House. “Such policies make their cities and states less safe, and put them at risk of losing valuable federal dollars.”

Sessions’s announcement follows President Trump’s executive order in January that gave the attorney general the authority to sanction any city that doesn’t readily hand over undocumented immigrants for deportation.

This effort to punish cities where local leaders refuse to hand over undocumented immigrants for deportation is the latest effort by the Trump administration to crack down on illegal immigration.

Sessions said the Justice Department will take steps to “claw back any funds awarded to a jurisdiction” that violates federal law. The Justice Department will award more than $4.1 billion in grants to state and local jurisdictions this fiscal year.

From the Texas Tribune: U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of Texas death row inmate

For our look at federalism and civil liberties in both 2305 and 2306.

The case is Moore v Texas.

- Click here for the article.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Texas death row inmate Tuesday, sending his case back to the appeals court and invalidating the state's current method of determining if a death-sentenced inmate is intellectually disabled and therefore ineligible for execution. Texas' method relies on decades-old medical standards and a controversial set of factors.

high court's 5-3 ruling in the case of Bobby Moore, a 57-year-old man who has lived on death row for more than 36 years, said Texas’ refusal to use current medical standards and its reliance on nonclinical factors violates the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the opinion, with Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas dissenting.

As the court has previously instructed, "adjudications of intellectual disability should be ‘informed by the views of medical experts.’ That instruction cannot sensibly be read to give courts leave to diminish the force of the medical community’s consensus," Ginsburg wrote.

. . . In 2014, a Texas state court used current medical standards to determine Moore was intellectually disabled and could not be executed. But the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overruled the decision, claiming the lower court erred by using those standards instead of the state’s test.

The test, commonly known as the Briseno standard, was established by the Court of Criminal Appeals in 2004, two years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that executing the intellectually disabled was unconstitutional. The court defined the test using a medical definition from 1992 as well as several other factors to help courts determine adaptive functioning. The Court of Criminal Appeals claimed, based on those factors, that Moore doesn’t have the disability.

Included in those factors is a controversial reference to Lennie, a character from John Steinbeck’s novel “Of Mice and Men.” The Briseno opinion written by the Court of Criminal Appeals said most citizens might agree a person like Lennie should be exempt from execution. The state has argued the reference was an “aside;” critics say it exemplifies the arbitrariness of defining intellectual disability in Texas.

For more:

- Scotusblog: Moore v Texas.
- The decision.
- Oyez: Moore v Texas.

Monday, March 27, 2017

From the Texas Tribune: Gov. Abbott: This country isn't the "United States of Municipalities"

For 2306

- Click here for the article.

Gov. Greg Abbott raised many eyebrows last week when he threw his support behind a "broad-based law" that pre-empts local regulations, a remark that did anything but calm the already contentious local control battles at the Texas Capitol.

On Monday, Abbott did not back away from the idea, saying that the country is not called the "United States of Municipalities." But he offered a little more detail about what exactly he meant.

"It would be far simpler and frankly easier for those of you who have to run your lives and businesses on a daily basis if the state of Texas adopted an overriding policy and that is to create certain standards that must be met before which local municipalities or counties can establish new regulations," Abbott said at a lunch event, characterizing the proposal as a "broad-based ban on regulations at the local level unless and until certain standards are met."

"The goal here is to make it far easier for businesses to conduct operations in the state of Texas that deal with cross-city and cross-county lines," Abbott said.

The Washington Post: White House installs political aides at Cabinet agencies to be Trump’s eyes and ears

For 2305

- Click here for the article.

The political appointee charged with keeping watch over Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt and his aides has offered unsolicited advice so often that after just four weeks on the job, Pruitt has shut him out of many staff meetings, according to two senior administration officials.
At the Pentagon, they’re privately calling the former Marine officer and fighter pilot who’s supposed to keep his eye on Defense Secretary Jim Mattis “the commissar,” according to a high-ranking defense official with knowledge of the situation. It’s a reference to Soviet-era Communist Party officials who were assigned to military units to ensure their commanders remained loyal.
Most members of President Trump’s Cabinet do not yet have leadership teams in place or even nominees for top deputies. But they do have an influential coterie of senior aides installed by the White House who are charged — above all — with monitoring the secretaries’ loyalty, according to eight officials in and outside the administration.
This shadow government of political appointees with the title of senior White House adviser is embedded at every Cabinet agency, with offices in or just outside the secretary’s suite. The White House has installed at least 16 of the advisers at departments including Energy and Health and Human Services and at some smaller agencies such as NASA, according to records first obtained by ProPublica through a Freedom of Information Act request.
These aides report not to the secretary, but to the Office of Cabinet Affairs, which is overseen by Rick Dearborn, a White House deputy chief of staff, according to administration officials. A top Dearborn aide, John Mashburn, leads a weekly conference call with the advisers, who are in constant contact with the White House.

For 2306 today

A classroom used as a prayer room at Liberty High School in Frisco got the attention of the Texas attorney general’s office last week. The office sent a letter raising constitutional concerns about the room. The Frisco superintendent called the letter a "publicity stunt" and said the prayer room has been in use for several years without complaints.

Prayer rooms are just one way public schools in Frisco and across Texas accommodate students and religion.
. . . “You may hear it said sometimes that prayer’s been kicked out of public schools,” said Joy Baskin, director of legal services with the Texas Association of School Boards.
“In fact, what has been determined by the courts is that schools can’t compel prayer.”
Baskin said prayer rooms in schools are acceptable and legal under the First Amendment. Schools can also give students time to pray, whether it’s during free time or a lunch period. They can give students passes to leave class to pray or leave campus for religious education.
“It’s a concept that courts have looked at for many years,” Baskin said. “It’s called 'release time,' and it’s the idea that in order to follow a tenet of faith, the student is briefly excused. It’s an opportunity to have an excused absence in order to follow a tenet of faith.”

Straus condemns "bathroom bill," talks local control.

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus on Friday gave perhaps his harshest condemnation yet of the controversial “bathroom bill” championed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.
Straus said the bill, which has drawn the ire of Texas businesses and been criticized as discriminatory against transgender people, felt “manufactured and unnecessary.”
“If we’ve gotten to the point in our civilization, in our society, that our politicians have to pass bills about bathroom stuff ... I mean, we’ve gotten really out of control,” he said.
"For it to get this much attention in a legislative session is astounding to me," he added.

- State lawmakers concerned over TABC expenditures, antiquated alcohol laws.

Isaac has been working for two sessions to level the liquor playing field in Texas, but he said he's been blocked by the alcohol industry's grip on the Legislature. Isaac added that TABC officials who enforce Texas’s antiquated liquor laws benefit from keeping those laws in place. 
Isaac filed HB 4233 on March 10 in an attempt to eliminate provisions in the Alcoholic Beverage Code that prohibit publicly traded companies from selling liquor in Texas and limit liquor store owners to five stores. He said he’s not incredibly optimistic about the bill’s chances, though; he filed the same bill last session but did not even get a hearing.
“The ones that are in power have an incredible stranglehold on the Legislature, leading to protecting their business interests, rather than protecting consumers or the free markets,” Isaac said. “I would love to get a hearing in the licensing committee. It’s not been referred yet, but that’s where it went last year. I’d love to get a chance to talk about it.”
Right now, a publicly traded company cannot sell liquor in Texas, but privately-owned companies can — the only such law in the nation. Privately owned companies such as Spec’s are discouraged from going public by this provision, Isaac said.
“If they wanted to grow, and raise capital with an initial public offering, they would have to cease doing business in the state of Texas,” Isaac said.
HB 4233 also would eliminate the five-store limitation. Isaac said a loophole in the law allows large families to exceed that limit by letting each family member put five stores in their names — which he said isn't fair to smaller families.

- Liquor regulators acknowledge Rangers haven't cleared them.

After state liquor regulators got hit with a complaint last year that it violated its own rules when it served alcohol without a permit at a state convention, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission said it conducted a thorough investigation, determined no permits were needed and then forwarded its findings to the Texas Rangers.
The Rangers, in turn, decided no further action was warranted, TABC officials claimed.
That story fell apart on Friday.
The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission now acknowledges the Rangers never got the investigative report, and the Ranger who interacted with the agency called the agency’s assertion a “mistake.” Meanwhile, a newly-obtained internal email discussing the liquor service at the convention raises new questions about whether rules were broken.

From The Monkey Cage: President Trump couldn’t pass Obamacare repeal. This is why.

For 2305.

President Trump is coming to terms with the limits of presidential power.

- Click here for the article.

The decision to pull the American Health Care Act (AHCA) from the House floor on Friday is a telling reminder of the limits of presidential power when it comes to leading the legislature. Our separated system makes it hard for presidents to translate their preferences into policy, even on priority matters. As Lyndon Johnson put it, complaining about the Kennedy staff’s inability to get bills moving: “You can’t start yelling ‘frog’ at everybody and expect ‘em to jump!”
A quick review of political science literature on presidential success in Congress gives us several lenses through which to view Friday’s happenings. One consistent finding is that presidential personality — and the schmoozing of legislators, etc. — matters mostly “at the margins,” as George Edwards put it. In a close vote, those margins surely might matter. But systematic factors were also at play:

Read on for detail.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

From GovTrack: A liberal circuit court struck down Trump’s travel ban. This bill would divide that court into two.

Extreme checking and balancing - perfectly constitutional though.

- Click here for the article.

Mere days after President Trump signed a controversial executive order temporarily banning U.S. entry for immigrants or refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries, it was struck down by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. This put national focus on that court, which encompasses both some of the most progressive and conservative states, yet generally issues liberal decisions — making it despised many Republicans.
A new bill in Congress could make it less likely for that court to issue decisions like striking down the Trump executive order.
(Rather than appeal to the Supreme Court as he originally promised, Trump plans to issue a revised executive order that his administration believes is more likely to withstand judicial scrutiny.)
Why many Republicans hate the 9th Circuit Court
Below the Supreme Court on the judicial hierarchy, there are 13 “circuit courts,” which decide cases of federal law in different geographical areas of the country. The Supreme Court takes up cases where two or more lower courts disagree, as well as other cases that raise consequential or novel constitutional issues.
The 9th Circuit Court covers the west coast and covers more than 20 percent of the U.S. population. It encompasses left-leaning states like California, Hawaii, and Oregon, and Washington, but also right-leaning states like Arizona, Alaska, Idaho, and Montana. But its judges clearly lean left: of the 44 judges serving on the court, 28 were appointed by Democratic presidents, and only 16 by Republicans.

From the Pew Research Center: What the unemployment rate does – and doesn’t – say about the economy

For our future look at economic policy in 2305.

- Click here for the article.

Every month, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics releases a flood of data about employment and unemployment in the U.S. And every month, the lion’s share of the attention goes to one figure – the unemployment rate, which was a seasonally adjusted 4.8% in January. (The February report comes out on Friday.)
But the unemployment rate is just one indicator of how the U.S. economy is doing, and it’s not always the best one. Simply being out of work isn’t enough for a person to be counted as unemployed; he or she also has to be available to work and actively looking for work (or on temporary layoff). In any given month, the unemployment rate can rise or fall based not just on how many people find or lose jobs, but on how many join or leave the active labor force.
There are, in fact, five other monthly measures of what the BLS calls “labor underutilization” besides the official unemployment rate, as well as scores of other measurements – labor force participation rates, employment-population ratios, average weekly wages, average hours worked and more. Knowing what those other data points are, where they come from and how they’re calculated is critical in understanding what they do – and don’t – tell us about the nation’s workers.

From the NYT: House Republicans Unveil Plan to Replace Health Law

It begins.

- Click here for the article.

House Republicans unveiled on Monday their long-awaited plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, scrapping the mandate for most Americans to have health insurance in favor of a new system of tax credits to induce people to buy insurance on the open market.
The bill sets the stage for a bitter debate over the possible dismantling of the most significant health care law in a half-century. In its place would be a health law that would be far more oriented to the free market and would make far-reaching changes to a vast part of the American economy.
The House Republican bill would roll back the expansion of Medicaid that has provided coverage to more than 10 million people in 31 states, reducing federal payments for many new beneficiaries. It also would effectively scrap the unpopular requirement that people have insurance and eliminate tax penalties for those who go without. The requirement for larger employers to offer coverage to their full-time employees would also be eliminated.
People who let their insurance coverage lapse, however, would face a significant penalty. Insurers could increase their premiums by 30 percent, and in that sense, Republicans would replace a penalty for not having insurance with a new penalty for allowing insurance to lapse.

House Republican leaders said they would keep three popular provisions in the Affordable Care Act: the prohibition on denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, the ban on lifetime coverage caps and the rule allowing young people to remain on their parents’ health plans until age 26.
Republicans hope to undo other major parts of President Barack Obama’s signature domestic achievement, including income-based tax credits that help millions of Americans buy insurance, taxes on people with high incomes and the penalty for people who do not have health coverage.
Medicaid recipients’ open-ended entitlement to health care would be replaced by a per-person allotment to the states. And people with pre-existing medical conditions would face new uncertainties in a more deregulated insurance market.
The bill would also cut off federal funds to Planned Parenthood clinics through Medicaid and other government programs for one year.

For graphical looks at what will and wont change:

- NYT: The Parts of Obamacare Republicans Will Keep, Change or Discard.
- WAPO: How the House Republicans’ proposed Obamacare replacement compares.

From 538: The Eight Power Centers Of The Trump Administration

A nice look at the battles within the Trump Administration.

It also provides a great overview of the various groups that exist within each party - in this case the Republican Party

- Click here for the article.

Whenever a new administration starts, top aides to the president battle for authority and power, and the Washington press corps pushes for scoops on the “palace intrigue.” Those senior aides try to get reporters to write profiles that pump up the aides’ influence, while the reporters hope a favorable profile results in a grateful aide leaking them information in the future.
Usually, no part of this process matters to anyone outside of Washington. In 2009, President Barack Obama named a combination of ex-Bill Clinton aides, senior Democratic staffers on Capitol Hill, veteran Washington figures and a few of his longtime allies from Chicago politics to key jobs in the White House and in the Cabinet. The people in top jobs may have been slightly different than if Hillary Clinton had been elected president but not by much. Obama, like Hillary Clinton, was a center-left Democrat from the party’s congressional wing, campaigned as such and picked a team to govern that reflected the prevailing ideology in his party.
But now, White House staffers, cabinet secretaries and other advisers matter. Bigly. President Trump didn’t come from any existing wing of the Republican Party. He didn’t run as a tea party-type like Ted Cruz or in the center-right style of George W. and Jeb Bush. There is no nationalist, Trump-style faction of the Republican Party in Congress that can be plucked to fill out an entire administration.
. . . Indeed, Trump’s administration has at least eight major factions, which has become clear based on statements and decisions by his advisers since the November election but also confirmed by interviews with veteran Washington figures who are dealing with his team. And to understand what is happening and will happen in this administration, it is crucial to understand these power centers, which are cooperating but also competing with one another.

Here's the breakdown:

- The Bannon Wing
- The Pence Wing
- The McCain Wing
- The Friends and Family Wing
- The Party Wing
- The Wall Street Wing
- The Bureaucrats
- Other important figures

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

From Politico: Is Trump’s New Travel Ban Constitutional?

The new version is designed to deal with the court cases brought against the first one. A win for checks and balances.

- Click here for the article.

Version 2.0 of President Donald Trump’s travel ban was written to solve a specific problem: The federal courts were poised to hold the first version unconstitutional. But it’s not at all clear that the new order will survive judicial scrutiny, either.
Yes, Monday’s revised executive order suspending the entry of refugees and restricting entry by people from six Middle Eastern countries is more carefully crafted than its Jan. 26 predecessor. Some of the changes, like the exemptions for children and for people who already have visas, will likely obviate some constitutional objections to the earlier order.
But the darkest constitutional shadow hanging over the first travel ban hangs over the second one as well. If the current order is motivated by anti-Muslim prejudice, it violates constitutional guarantees of religious freedom, equal protection of the laws, or both.
To be sure, it would be highly unusual for the courts to strike down an executive order as purposefully discriminatory. For one thing, federal courts almost never strike down any sort of federal enactment on that ground, if only because federal courts—composed of people nominated by presidents and confirmed by senators—tend to have roughly the same mainstream intuitions about what counts as objectionable discrimination that the federal government’s lawmakers have. (The laws that get struck down as purposefully discriminatory are overwhelmingly state laws, usually from states where the relevant norms don’t quite line up with nationally predominant intuitions.)
Courts are also loath to second-guess executive branch decisions in the realms of national security and foreign affairs. But everything about this case is already highly unusual. The order’s history betrays the discriminatory purposes that today’s revised version is intended to conceal, and some of the new order’s particular content points in the same direction. As the courts will surely understand.

From the Washington Post: Supreme Court sends Virginia transgender case back to lower court

More policy change due to the change in the White House.

- Click here for the article.

The Supreme Court on Monday vacated a lower court’s ruling in favor of a Virginia transgender student after the Trump administration withdrew the federal government’s guidance to public schools about the controversial bathroom policy.
The justices were scheduled to hear the case later this month. But after the federal government’s position changed, the court said the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit should reconsider the dispute between the Gloucester County school board and 17-year-old Gavin Grimm.
The 4th Circuit had relied on the federal government’s guidance that school should let transgender students use the bathroom that corresponds with the student’s gender identity.
The Trump administration withdrew that guidance, which was issued by the Obama administration.
Both the school board and Grimm’s attorneys had asked the Supreme Court to let the case proceed, saying it presented a reading of the civil rights law Title IX that the court ultimately will have to settle.

Grimm, whose birth gender was female, has become a celebrated figure in the transgender-rights community because of his lawsuit, with profiles in national media. His case was thought to be an important milestone on the issue.
While the Obama administration said anti-discrimination laws required allowing transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice, the Trump administration said it needs more time to study the issue and put forward its own view of the law.

For more:

- NYT: Supreme Court Won’t Hear Major Case on Transgender Rights.
- ScotusBlog: Justices send transgender bathroom case back to lower courts, no action on same-sex marriage cake case.

ScotusBlog has a full record of the case here: Gloucester County School Board v. G.G.

From the Texas Tribune: Analysis: A political fishing guide for the 2018 elections in Texas

For our look at elections in Texas.

- Click here for the article.

Election numbers recently released by the Texas Legislative Council point to some soft spots in this red state’s political underbelly — places where Republicans hold office now but where Democrats at the top of the ticket have recently done well.

Specifically, they are the districts where Republicans won federal or state legislative races in 2016 while the same voters electing them were choosing Democrat Hillary Clinton over Republican Donald Trump.

Trump won Texas, but not by as much as Republicans normally do.

The non-prediction here is that every single one of these officeholders might win re-election next time they’re on the ballot.

On the other hand, a political fishing guide, in this instance, would tell you that these are districts Democrats should examine if they’re trying to win seats in the congressional delegation or in the Texas Senate or House.

The November results are more a commentary on the voters themselves — and on the Republican candidate who became president — than on the Texas candidates. These aren’t districts where everything was nominal except for the Texans. They’re districts where — for Republicans — something wasn’t working according to plan.

From the Texas Tribune: Republicans expected to revise Texas "bathroom bill"

The changes are presumably to make the bill more likely to pass.

- Click here for the article.

With the measure scheduled for a committee hearing Tuesday, Texas Republicans are expected to offer a new version of the controversial “bathroom bill” with two significant changes.

The modified bill removes a section that would have increased penalties for certain crimes committed in a bathroom or changing facility, according to a copy of a committee substitute obtained by The Texas Tribune. It also adds a new “legislative findings” section that would write into statute the reasoning that the bill's lead author, Republican state Sen.
Lois Kolkhorst, has provided in pushing for the bill.

Senate Bill 6 would require transgender people to use bathrooms in public schools, government buildings and public universities that match their “biological sex.” The measure would also pre-empt local nondiscrimination ordinances that allow transgender residents to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity.

Those regulations are largely unchanged in the substitute language expected to be presented tomorrow, but the modified bill does not include a lesser-known section that would have increased penalties for certain crimes in bathrooms by one degree. That would have meant that the punishment for an individual who commits an assault, for example, would have been higher if the assault occurred in a bathroom versus a parking lot or on a sidewalk.

The new “legislative findings” section appears to be intended to lay out the purpose of the bill. That section states that the “federal government’s mandate to provide students access to bathrooms, showers and dressing rooms based on an individual student’s internal sense of gender is alarming and could potentially lead to boys and girls showering together and using the same restroom.”

That appears to be an apparent reference to since rescinded guidelines issued by the Obama administration that directed public schools to accommodate transgender students. The Trump administration pulled back those guidelines on Feb. 22.

From the Texas Tribune: To fight anti-"sanctuary" bill, Democrats may highlight "sanctuary industries"

For the many 2306 students looking at "sanctuary city" legislation. Some strategy to attempt to derail it.

- Click here for the article.

As Texas Democrats strategize how to continue pushing back against state-based immigration proposals, they’re considering a tactic often embraced by some far-right members of the Republican Party to assist their efforts.

“I would just say that all options are on the table to expose the hypocrisy of only focusing on immigrants and not on Texas businesses that rely heavily on them,” state Rep.
Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, told the Tribune. “There may be a multi-tiered strategy to expose the hypocrisy and bring business to the table.”

Anchia, the chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, made his remarks last week, a day after he was in the middle of a bruising debate on the House floor. Anchia unleashed a six-minute tirade on the floor after state Rep.
Mark Keough, R-The Woodlands, offered an immigration-enforcement amendment to legislation that would create a new system of monthly payments for relatives caring for children in their families who have been abused or neglected. The amendment would have prevented undocumented families in the same circumstances from receiving state aid.

“If this is how the session’s going to go, and you guys want to talk about ‘illegals’ and you guys want to talk about immigrants and you guys want to talk about sanctuary cities, well, we’re going to start talking about sanctuary industries,” Anchia said during the debate, coining a new term about businesses that don’t fully vet their employees’ legal status.

Monday, March 6, 2017

A couple items about criminal justice reform.

State Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, on Thursday filed House Bill 2702, dubbed the Sandra Bland Act.
The exhaustive piece of legislation would expand what qualifies as racial and ethnic profiling; mandate people experiencing a mental health crisis and substance abuse be diverted to treatment over jail; and create more training and reporting requirements for county jails and law enforcement.
The legislation is named in honor of Sandra Bland, a black, 28-year-old Illinois woman who was found dead in an apparent suicide in the Waller County Jail in 2015.

- Texas Senate to vote only on law enforcement-related bills Monday.

Next Monday is the first day that the House and Senate can consider non-emergency items, and it will be all about law enforcement in the Senate, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick announced Monday.
Bills on other subjects will not be considered Monday, Patrick said.
"All of our first responders, every day, when they go to work, commit to do something that none of the rest of us do in Texas," Patrick said. "So we need to do all we can to make sure we're always for them, 'cause they're always there for us."

From the Texas Tribune: Tensions mount between Dan Patrick and the Texas House

No one likes being checked.

- Click here for the article.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick celebrated a milestone Wednesday: His Senate had acted on all four of Gov. Greg Abbott's emergency items with many more days to go in the 85th legislative session.
"It's the earliest ever that anyone knows of that either body ... has already passed all the emergency items," Patrick said in a radio interview. Abbott's top priorities are "out and done" in the Senate, Patrick boasted — a not-so-subtle contrast with the Texas House, which tackled its first emergency item this week.

It's not the only bone Patrick has to pick with the House these days. As its resistance to some of his top priorities has come into focus in recent weeks, the lieutenant governor has become increasingly vocal about the tension between the two chambers.

"The brow-beating — I think the volume's up a lot higher than we've seen in the past," said state Rep. Lyle Larson, an ally of House Speaker Joe Straus, a fellow San Antonio Republican. "Using a brow-beating approach in governing never bodes well for anybody."

From the Texas Tribune: House proposal aims to limit increases in Texas property tax bills

Some 2306 students are focusing on property tax reform for their papers.

- Click here for the article.

Saying there needs to be more transparency in how property taxes are assessed in Texas, the head of the House Ways and Means Committee unveiled legislation Friday that would reduce the maximum increase allowed in taxes on individual properties.
House Bill 15, dubbed the “Property Taxpayer Empowerment Act” and authored by state Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, would reduce the maximum increase in taxes for a property — from 8 percent to 4 percent. The legislation would also require local governments to annually publish a “No New Taxes Rate" — which is the rate that would raise the same amount of money as the previous year — and restrict debt service taxes to debt that has been approved by voters.
“Government only works when citizens can hold their leaders accountable, and accountability begins with transparency,” Bonnen said in a news release. “Our property tax system is needlessly confusing and discourages citizens from taking an active role in the local rate-setting process. The Property Taxpayer Empowerment Act will give Texans the information and clarity they need about their tax bill to hold local leaders accountable.”

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

From the Texas Tribune: Texas Supreme Court Justice, House Corrections Chair Want to End ‘Unconstitutional’ Practice of Debtors’ Prison

We discussed whether the constitutional ban - in the Texas Constitution mind you - against debtors prisons is routinely violated when people are sent to jail for unpaid tickets. Apparently some in the legislature agree.

- Click here for the article.

Drive with an invalid license, drink one too many beers in public or let your dog run free where leash laws say you can’t, and you could get hit with a fine. If you don’t have the money to pay, you could end up serving time in jail instead.

Republicans, including the Texas Supreme Court chief justice and the chair of the House Corrections Committee, want to dismantle that practice, which they say violates the U.S. Constitution and traps thousands of indigent Texans in a cycle of debt.

Jailing a person for his or her inability to pay a fine is illegal under state and federal law, and multiple
U.S. Supreme Court rulings have declared the practice unconstitutional. The Texas Constitution states, “No person shall ever be imprisoned for debt.” Yet de facto debtors’ prisons still operate across the state.

During his
State of the Judiciary address earlier this month, Chief Justice Nathan L. Hecht said more than half a million minor offenses resulted in defendants sitting out fines in jail last year. Texas judges presided over 7 million such cases, which produced more than $1 billion in fine revenue in 2016, he said. The majority of defendants paid and moved on with their lives, but in 640,000 cases, defendants ended up behind bars.

“It’s very problematic when we’re confining people who cannot pay,” state Representative James White, R-Hillister, who heads the House Corrections Committee, told the Observer. “We’ve got constitutional issues, cost issues, common sense issues and compassion issues here.”