Tag Archives: federal judiciary

Texas abortion fight takes key turn

A federal judge has ruled that a critical part of the Texas anti-abortion violates the U.S. Constitution.

Good for him.

The judge is Lee Yeakel, who presides over the U.S. District Court’s Western District of Texas. His ruling declares that a provision in the law that requires abortion clinics to meet the same standards as hospitals puts an unfair restriction on a woman’s right to obtain an abortion if she chooses.


Thus, the fight will continue. The state is certain to appeal this ruling. The leading candidate for governor, Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott, is a strong supporter of the law; his Democratic opponent, state Sen. Wendy Davis, rocketed to national political fame when she led a filibuster in 2013 to “kill” temporarily the bill that would become state law.

Yeakel ruled that the intent of the law was to close only existing licensed abortion clinics. The law, he said, goes too far in establishing the stricter standards on par with ambulatory surgical centers.

So, why the curious turn here?

Yeakel was appointed to the federal bench by Republican President George W. Bush, another strong anti-abortion politician.

I’m as certain as I’m sitting here that we’re going to hear comments from critics of the ruling declare their disgust with “unelected” federal judges overreaching and “writing laws from the bench.”

Again, this is the beauty — not the bane — of the federal judicial system. Judges aren’t beholden to their political benefactors, the politicians who select them for these lifetime jobs.

Abbott says he’ll appeal the ruling to the Fifth Circuit Court in New Orleans, where he thinks he’ll get it overturned.

Would those judges be overreaching and writing laws from the bench?



Beaumont school system off the tracks

It pains me terribly to watch what is happening to the Southeast Texas public school district that educated my sons.

The Beaumont Independent School District is hurtling toward a serious train wreck.


My sons came of age in Beaumont after we moved there in 1984. My wife and I uprooted ourselves from our hometown of Portland, Ore., and came to Texas so I could continue my journalism career.

It’s been a great ride for three decades.

But watching the Beaumont ISD implode is painful for me. I feel as though I have an emotional stake in the future of the school system that’s been wracked by controversy for decades.

The community was slow to desegregate its schools, doing so finally in the 1980s after the federal courts ordered it to happen. The very week I took my post at the newspaper that hired me a landmark election occurred in which the school district elected a majority African-American school board.

The racial composition of the new school board by itself was enough to cause serious apoplexy among many Beaumont residents, which testifies graphically to the racial tensions that have existed in that community.

It’s been a rough ride. BISD has been rocked by all kinds of incompetence, feather-bedding, lack of due diligence, mismanagement, alleged malfeasance. From my perch way up yonder, it appears that the district is on its last legs.

The state has all but ordered the school board to disband. The superintendent has been asked to step aside. The Texas Education Agency is poised to take over management of the district; BISD officials plan to appeal … good luck with that.

And then I see this story in the Texas Observer about BISD students working to save teachers’ jobs.

Educators always say they care about the kids. In Beaumont, that declaration is sounding more hollow all the time. The students in this case, are taking up the role of grownups in a dispute that is rapidly spiraling out of control.

Elect federal judges? Oh, please!

Many of those on the right are quite fond of criticizing “unelected federal judges” who issue rulings that go against their world view.

What, then, is their alternative? Do they want to elect those who sit on the federal bench? Do they wish to do away with the federal judiciary?

I mention this because the U.S. Supreme Court recently upheld a University of Michigan policy that disallows affirmative action practices when considering who the school should admit. Did those on the left issue similar cries against those “unelected judges”? I didn’t hear any.

And yet, when judges keep striking down states’ bans on same-sex marriage, the cries go out from those who think the federal judiciary is overreaching when it declares states cannot write laws that violate U.S. constitutional provisions, such as the one that provides for “equal protection” under the law, regardless of sexual orientation.

Perhaps my favorite criticism of the high court came when it ruled 5-4 to uphold the Affordable Care Act. The ruling was narrowly defined and it was decided by a single vote, when Chief Justice John Roberts voted with the majority to keep the ACA intact. The criticism — from the right, of course — went something like this: The law should be tossed out because a narrow majority on the Supreme Court voted to keep it, and that the one-vote majority really didn’t mean the law is constitutional.

The founders had it exactly right when they empowered the president with the authority to appoint judges to the bench for life. They sought to de-politicize the federal bench by disallowing the election of federal judges.

States, of course, retain the right to elect judges. Texas even elects judges on partisan ballots, meaning that judicial candidates of one party has a built-in advantage over candidates of the other party. In Texas, that means if you’re a Republican, you’re in; it used to be the other way around, when Democrats were dominant.

Either way, good judges from the “out” party are kicked out simply because they are of the wrong political persuasion.

The federal judiciary, from the Supreme Court on down, functions precisely as the framers intended for it.

College student-athletes may unionize

College athletic tradition has just taken a serious — and potentially devastating — punch in the gut.

Call me a fuddy-duddy. That’s OK. I’ll admit to being such where it regards college athletics. A ruling out of Chicago is potentially quite disturbing — to me, at least.

A National Labor Relations Board hearings officer has ruled that Northwestern University student-athletes are employees of the school and therefore should be allowed to form a union if they so desire.


This might open the door eventually to paying student-athletes real money — above board and over the table, instead of under it … allegedly — to play college sports.

Let’s not overstate the immediate impact of this NLRB decision. It’s only a highly preliminary action. The full NLRB board must consider it. The full board might think differently. If it does, you can rest assured the student-athletes who have sued for the right to unionize will appeal it to the federal judicial system. If the NLRB upholds this decision, then look for colleges and universities to file a counter-claim that also will wind its way through the court system.

I get all the arguments in favor of allowing unionization for student-athletes. They do make money for the school they are attending. Did Heisman Trophy winner Johnny “Football” Manziel bring a few extra fans to Kyle Stadium when he played for Texas A&M University? You bet he did.

He also was getting a fully paid college education in the process. His football talent enabled him to win a full-ride scholarship to one of the better schools in the world. Sure, I get that he well might not have taken his classroom obligation as seriously as his football obligation. He wouldn’t be the first student-athlete to, um, forget to crack the textbook while burning the midnight oil studying the playbook.

Manziel is just one example out of many hundreds across the country.

This decision well could change fundamentally the way we view college athletics and those who participate in them.

It makes me seriously uncomfortable to think that these young men and women could well become professionals before they turn pro.

Proof of citizenship to vote? Oh, please

My friend and former colleague Jon Talton calls it the Kookocracy that’s run amok in Arizona.

I think he’s on to something.

The Arizona — and now Kansas — kooks have been handed a court victory by a judge who says that, yep, it’s OK for those states to demand voters prove their citizenship if they intend to vote.


I’ve been voting in every presidential election since 1972, starting in my home state of Oregon and — since 1984 — in Texas. Not one time has an election judge asked me to produce either a birth certificate or a passport to prove I’m a citizen of the U.S. of A. Never has any elections official looked sideways at me — at least none that I’ve ever noticed — and wondered whether I’m a red-blooded American male.

For the record, I am.

Now, though, the fight to make it more difficult for people to vote is heading down a curious path.

The courts — or shall I say those courts presided over by Republican-appointed federal judges — are notching up victories for the GOP-led effort to curb what they call an epidemic of voter fraud by illegal immigrants.

Of course, no such epidemic exists, except in the fanciful minds of those who want to suppress voter participation by those who might be inclined to vote for those nasty Democrats.

As Talton notes in his blog: “Real instances of serious voter fraud are almost nonexistent, and the few recent scandals have involved Republicans. On the other hand, minority and poor citizens are less likely to be able to produce a passport or birth certificate in order to exercise the franchise.”

I want to be clear about one thing. I join my fellow Americans in upholding the sanctity of the vote. We shouldn’t allow non-U.S. citizens to cast ballots in a rite that is reserved only for those who either swear allegiance to the Constitution or those who earned their citizenship by birthright.

These efforts to make it harder for people to vote, though, simply are un-American.

Judges aren't elected for a good reason

Politics has no place on judicial bench.

That is why folks on the far right are so wrong to lambaste “unelected judges” for ruling as they do, particularly when their rulings go against the right wing’s tightly held agenda.


Paul Burka makes an important point in his blog about Sen. Ted Cruz’s criticism of a federal judge’s ruling that threw out Texas’s ban on gay marriage as being unconstitutional. Cruz used the right wing canard about unelected judges being accountable to no one.

That’s the way the U.S. Constitution was written by the founders. It’s strange to hear so-called “strict constructionists” argue against that very provision. Voters elect presidents, who then have the power to appoint judges to the federal bench. If you dislike the philosophies of the judges, then voters’ only option is to elect presidents who will appoint judges more to your liking.

As a counterpoint to the federal system, look at how many states select their judges. Texas’s system, I should add, is no great shakes. We elect our judges on partisan ballots; they run under political parties’ banners. Do you think their decisions are influenced by partisan pressure? In Texas, judges are every bit the politician that define county commissioners, legislators and the governor.

I rather prefer the federal model in which presidents appoint judges, who then are tasked with interpreting the U.S. Constitution. They get it right and they get it wrong. If they make the correct decisions, then so much the better. If they go the wrong way, well, we have Congress and the president to work together to fix the law.

My strong preference — to the extent that it is possible — to keep politics off the federal bench.