Death Row Population at Its Lowest Since 1989

The population on Texas’ death row is at its lowest in more than 20 years, and the number of new death sentences, though slightly up in 2012, continues a downward trend even in the nation’s busiest death penalty state, according to a report released Wednesday by the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

As they have nationally, death sentences in Texas have declined over the last decade. The state has seen a 75 percent drop in death sentences since 2002. And according to the coalition, the Texas death row population, at 289, is at its lowest point since 1989. According to the coalition’s report, juries in the state issued nine new death sentences in 2012, a slight increase from the number issued in each of the two previous years.

But the distribution of new death sentences is uneven, the coalition reported. For the third time in five years, there were no new death sentences out of Harris County, which once sent more people to death row than any other Texas county. Meanwhile, the Dallas-Fort Worth area accounted for four of the new death sentences in 2012, and Dallas County alone contributed nearly 20 percent of death sentences in the last five years, according to the report. Dallas County also led the state in executions: Five of the 15 Texans executed in 2012 were from there.

“While most of Texas is moving away from the death penalty, the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex was a major outlier both in new death sentences and executions this year,” said Kristin Houlé, executive director of the coalition.

A spokeswoman in the Dallas County district attorney‘s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Although Texas is using the death penalty less, Kathryn Kase, executive director of the Texas Defender Service, said it is still used disproportionately on people of color. “This is a recurring problem, and Texas’ failure to fix it demonstrates how broken its capital punishment system is,” Kase said.

Seven of the nine new death row inmates are black, and according to the coalition, nearly 75 percent of death sentences imposed in the last five years were on people of color. Of the 15 men executed in 2012, seven were black and four were Hispanic.

The coalition said the executions also raise questions about punishment of those who are mentally ill. This year, while the executions of Steven Staley and Marcus Druery both were stopped because of questions over their mental competency, the execution of Jonathan Green proceeded despite reports that he was schizophrenic.

Texas executions accounted for more than a third of the total performed in the U.S. in 2012, nearly three times more than any other state. Six inmates who were scheduled for death received reprieves, and three execution dates were withdrawn.

Houlé urged Texans and lawmakers to reconsider the efficacy and cost of the death penalty as a means to achieve justice.

But few expect a halt to the death penalty in Texas. A University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll this spring found significant support for the death penalty among Texas voters. More than 70 percent said they were either somewhat or strongly in support and only 21 percent opposed the punishment. And more than half of the respondents said they believed the death penalty in Texas is fairly applied.

“They’re pretty strong proponents of the death penalty,” Daron Shaw, a UT-Austin government professor and co-director of the poll, said when the results were published

State Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, has already filed a bill that would abolish the death penalty in Texas, but such proposals have failed in recent legislative sessions.

And during his failed presidential bid last year, Gov. Rick Perry emphasized his support of the “ultimate justice,” saying during a debate that he had lost no sleep over the more than 200 executions that have occurred during his tenure.

“The state of Texas has a very thoughtful, a very clear process in place,” Perry told the crowd at the debate. “When someone commits the most heinous of crimes against our citizens, they get a fair hearing, they go through an appellate process, they go up to the Supreme Court of the United States if that’s required.”

Texas Tribune donors or members may be quoted or mentioned in our stories, or may be the subject of them. For a complete list of contributors, click here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at

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Brandi Grissom, The Texas Tribune

Brandi Grissom, The Texas TribuneBrandi Grissom is The Texas Tribune's managing editor and joined the staff when the online publication launched in 2009. In addition to editing duties, Grissom leads the Tribune's coverage of criminal justice issues.

During her tenure at the Tribune, she was chosen as a 2012 City University of New York Center on Media, Crime and Justice/H.F. Guggenheim Journalism Fellow and was a fellow at the 2012 Journalist Law School at Loyola Law School, Los Angeles. Grissom, along with Tribune multimedia producer Justin Dehn, received a 2012 regional Edward R. Murrow Award for investigative reporting for work on the case of Megan Winfrey, who was acquitted of murder in February 2013 after the Trib’s coverage brought statewide attention the case.

Grissom joined the Tribune after four years at the El Paso Times, where she acted as a one-woman Capitol bureau. Grissom won the Associated Press Managing Editors First-Place Award in 2007 for using the Freedom of Information Act to report stories on a variety of government programs and entities, and the ACLU of Texas named her legislative reporter of the year in 2007 for her immigration reporting.

She previously served as managing editor at The Daily Texan and has worked for the Alliance Times-Herald, the Taylor Daily Press, the New Braunfels Herald-Zeitung and The Associated Press. A native of Alliance, Neb., she has a degree in history from the University of Texas.

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Chuck Norris: Together We Can Make a Difference on Election Day

It’s time to take stock of where we stand as a nation. The election of 2012 offers us a stark contrast, between candidates who are looking to protect our Second Amendment rights and those who seek to restrict those same freedoms. Over the past month, I’ve been alerting you to some dangers on the horizon. As we consider the path we are about to embark upon, it’s good to recall what’s at stake.

We need to prevent the next president from appointing a Supreme Court that would reverse the two landmark Second Amendment cases — Heller and McDonald. In those decisions, the Supreme Court ruled that all American citizens, no matter where they live, have the right to legally possess a firearm as a means of self-defense. These decisions were a tremendous accomplishment, and they finally ratified what our Founding Fathers envisioned when they drafted the Second Amendment.

As much as I wish this issue were solved once and for all, it is not. The Heller and McDonald cases were decided by the razor-thin majority of 5-4 in the Supreme Court. Those who want to overturn these decisions are betting on at least one of the five Supreme Court justices who voted for these laws to retire or otherwise leave service during the next four years. It’s possible that the next president will have three vacancies to fill on the high court.

Every plan needs a backup, and this one is no different. We also need to make sure we have a U.S. Senate that is supportive of our fundamental freedoms, because the Senate votes to confirm new judges and justices alike. Several of the key 2012 Senate races are in highly competitive “battleground” states, which may tip the balance of power in this country. If you live in one of these states, it’s important for you to make your voice heard.

Having the right president and Senate is also essential when we are dealing with the United Nations. This past summer, the U.N. debated a global arms trade treaty, and we came dangerously close to the treaty’s actually passing. This would be disastrous for gun owners in the USA. The focus of the treaty would demand that governments regulate the sale and possession of firearms worldwide — all of them, including yours and mine.

The goal was to disgorge a treaty in time for the Obama administration to sign it before Election Day. The draft treaty would have required the United States to “maintain records of all imports and shipments of arms,” register the identities of the “end users” of those firearms and then report the users’ information to a U.N.-based gun registry. In several drafts, the treaty would have mandated that every round of ammunition be tracked globally. The treaty may have stalled this summer, but the negotiations are ongoing. We must ensure it never gets ratified by the Senate or signed by the president.

On Election Day, we must ensure that we have confidence in our leaders and their objectives. One issue that has troubled me for nearly two years now is Operation Fast and Furious. The Department of Justice’s inspector general released a report last month about the bungled “gunwalking” operation, and most of the media accepted the findings without questions. For me, there are still lots of critical questions unanswered. Who on earth decided that facilitating the smuggling of guns to drug cartels was an appropriate law enforcement mission to begin with? Thousands of guns walked into Mexico are still on the loose. Where are they, and how many are out there? Does the U.S. government have a plan to recapture them, or will we simply spend years wondering how many more victims they are being used to kill? And who will make sure that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives admits it if and when these guns surface at crime scenes here in the U.S.? It is my dual hope that these questions will be answered soon and that we will elect a government that has the foresight never to let this happen again.

I have stood up for justice my entire life. This election is too important for you to sit home and not vote. I urge you to register to vote in this election, because you truly can make a difference. The deadline to register is fast approaching in most states. Visit today; all the information you need to register is there. Together we can build a brighter, safer future in which we know our fundamental constitutional rights are preserved by our national leaders — not threatened and undermined.

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Chuck Norris, Creators Syndicate

Chuck Norris is one of the most enduringly popular actors in the world. He has starred in more than 20 major motion pictures. His television series “Walker, Texas Ranger,” which completed its run in April 2001 after eight full seasons, is the most successful Saturday night series on CBS since “Gunsmoke.” It is seen in more than 80 countries worldwide, ranking as one of the top U.S. shows in both sales and audience. A New York Times best-selling author of two books, including the 2004 autobiographical “Against All Odds,” Norris also has penned two books of fiction. Set in the Old West, the most recent installment of this series, “A Threat to Justice,” was published in September 2007. In 2006, he added the title of columnist to his illustrious list of credits with the launch of his popular Internet column on the independent news site Norris’ commentaries have become so widely read that he was signed recently by Los Angeles-based Creators Syndicate to market his column to newspapers across the country

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Election 2012: Supreme Court Hangs in the Balance

Photo courtesy of Scott Robinson

I believe freedom is worth fighting for. I am committed to protecting the freedoms our forefathers guaranteed to us in our Constitution. There are many politicians who disagree with me, although they are loath to admit it, but their true colors show in voting records on critical legislation. And part of what makes America great is that every two years, we, too, cast our votes, rendering judgment on whether lawmakers have fulfilled their promises. And every four years, as in 2012, our opportunity extends to the highest office in the land.

Less than 60 days remains before Election Day. I don’t need to tell you how important this election is to the future of our country. The stakes are high, and that’s why I proudly serve as honorary chairman of Trigger The Vote, the National Rifle Association‘s nonpartisan campaign to register voters who support the Second Amendment. As a proud gun owner and defender of our Constitution, I am working within the system to make sure my voice is heard in Washington.

In the past several years, we have achieved great victories. In two rulings, the Heller decision and the McDonald decision, the Supreme Court has ruled that all American citizens, in every state and municipality, have the right to legally possess a firearm. Those decisions were a tremendous accomplishment, and they finally ratified what our Founding Fathers envisioned when they drafted the Second Amendment.

So those who wish to deny our freedoms have been vanquished, and all is settled, right?

Wrong. There’s a storm brewing on the horizon. Those who want to restrict our freedom have not surrendered. In truth, they are counting on this election to make their move. They are playing the long game, looking down the road to a day when one or more vacancies on the Supreme Court could upset the current balance.

The Heller and McDonald decisions were decided by razor-thin 5-4 votes in the Supreme Court. Those who want to overturn these decisions are betting on at least one of the nine Supreme Court justices to retire or otherwise leave service during the next four years. Some pundits have suggested that the number of Supreme Court vacancies filled by the next president could be as many as three.

Like all Supreme Court decisions, Heller and McDonald are not set in stone. If the balance on the court is shifted, a new challenge quickly can be mounted in the lower federal courts, eventually making it to the Supreme Court. Our freedoms hang in the balance by the thin gossamer thread of a single vote. If that vote turns, the victories we worked so hard to solidify could be reversed.

The threat is present not only at the Supreme Court but also throughout our federal judiciary. Right now, dozens of cases already are winding their way through federal courts to implement the Supreme Court’s rulings in Heller and McDonald. Those rulings were somewhat general in tone, and now their specific impact on existing gun laws is being defined through these cases.

The president also nominates judges for all levels of the federal bench. That is why we need to make sure we have a president whose nominees for any court — including the Supreme Court — will support the original meaning of our Constitution.

Every plan needs a backup, and this one is no different. We also need to make sure we have a U.S. Senate that is supportive of our fundamental freedoms, because the Senate votes to confirm new judges and justices. Several of the key Senate races are in highly competitive “battleground” states, and they may tip the balance of power in this country. If you live in these states, it’s important to make your voice heard.

And that’s why I am urging Second Amendment supporters nationwide to register to vote. If you’re already registered, you probably know someone who isn’t. Share the stakes of this election with that person, and urge him or her to join the rolls of informed voters. We’ve made it easy on our website; all the tools to register are at After all, when it comes to defending yourself and your family, can we really afford to gamble here?

I’ve spent my entire life standing up for what is right and seeking justice. I sleep better at night knowing that I have registered and exercised my right to vote. I urge everyone who is eligible to vote to do so. Let’s make sure that the future of our country is in the hands of those who cherish freedom.

(Don’t forget: “Last Ounce of Courage,” the first theatrical motion picture to be awarded with my “Chuck Norris Seal of Approval,” opens nationwide Sept. 14, coinciding with the 9/11 commemoration of Patriot Day. Visit for more information, including where it is showing in your area.)

Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook’s “Official Chuck Norris Page.” He blogs at

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Chuck Norris, Creators Syndicate

Chuck Norris is one of the most enduringly popular actors in the world. He has starred in more than 20 major motion pictures. His television series “Walker, Texas Ranger,” which completed its run in April 2001 after eight full seasons, is the most successful Saturday night series on CBS since “Gunsmoke.” It is seen in more than 80 countries worldwide, ranking as one of the top U.S. shows in both sales and audience. A New York Times best-selling author of two books, including the 2004 autobiographical “Against All Odds,” Norris also has penned two books of fiction. Set in the Old West, the most recent installment of this series, “A Threat to Justice,” was published in September 2007. In 2006, he added the title of columnist to his illustrious list of credits with the launch of his popular Internet column on the independent news site Norris’ commentaries have become so widely read that he was signed recently by Los Angeles-based Creators Syndicate to market his column to newspapers across the country

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TX Won’t Implement Key Elements of Health Reform

Photo illustration by Todd Wiseman

Texas will not expand Medicaid or establish a health insurance exchange, two major tenets of the federal health reform that the U.S. Supreme Court upheld last month, Gov. Rick Perry said in an early morning announcement.

“I stand proudly with the growing chorus of governors who reject the Obamacare power grab,” he said in a statement. “Neither a ‘state’ exchange nor the expansion of Medicaid under this program would result in better ‘patient protection’ or in more ‘affordable care.’ They would only make Texas a mere appendage of the federal government when it comes to health care.”

Perry’s office said he’s sending a letter to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius this morning asserting his opposition, both to accepting more than a hundred million federal dollars to put more poor Texas adults onto Medicaid, and to creating an Orbitz-style online insurance marketplace for consumers.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that states — even Texas, which has the country’s highest rate of the uninsured — may not be punished for opting out of the Medicaid. The insurance exchange is not optional; if Texas doesn’t devise its own, the feds will establish a one-size-fits-all program for the state.

“If anyone was in doubt, we in Texas have no intention to implement so-called state exchanges or to expand Medicaid under Obamacare,” Perry said in a statement. “I will not be party to socializing healthcare and bankrupting my state in direct contradiction to our Constitution and our founding principles of limited government.”

The governor will appear on Fox News at 10:30 a.m. to talk more about his decision.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at Texas Tribune donors or members may be quoted or mentioned in our stories, or may be the subject of them. For a complete list of contributors, click here.

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Emily Ramshaw, The Texas Tribune

Emily Ramshaw, The Texas TribuneEmily Ramshaw oversees the Trib's editorial operations, from daily coverage to major projects. Previously, she spent six years reporting for The Dallas Morning News, first in Dallas, then in Austin. In April 2009 she was named Star Reporter of the Year by the Texas Associated Press Managing Editors and the Headliners Foundation of Texas. Originally from the Washington, D.C. area, she received a bachelor's degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.


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After Health Care Ruling, TX Has Big Decisions to Make

Photo illustration by Todd Wiseman

In the wake of Thursday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding federal health reform, Texas has two big choices to make: whether to accept federal funds to expand Medicaid, and whether to roll out a consumer marketplace for comparing and purchasing insurance coverage.

While the Supreme Court found the Affordable Care Act‘s expansion of Medicaid constitutional, it held that states can’t be penalized by the federal government if they choose not to accept federal funding and do it. Republican Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who sued the federal government over “Obamacare” on Texas’ behalf, said it’s not yet clear whether Texas will opt out of the expansion — and the associated funding.

“That is a policy decision the policy-makers in Austin are going to have to make,” he said.

But in a statement, outgoing Texas Health and Human Services Commissioner Tom Suehs left the door wide open for rejecting the federal funds, saying he was “pleased” that the Supreme Court gave states “more ability to push back” against the Medicaid expansion.

The Affordable Care Act requires every state to have a health insurance exchange — a kind of Orbitz for medical coverage — and says that if states don’t do it, they’ll get a one-size-fits-all federal plan instead.

In a conference call on Thursday, Abbott said he’s unsure if and how Texas will set up an exchange, but that Texas will have to “move swiftly.” “That will have to be hammered out in the coming weeks and months,” he said.

Last session, efforts to lay the groundwork for a Texas health insurance exchange were rebuffed by the state’s Republican leadership — even when one key House Republican crafted the legislation. Now, time is of the essence, and the Legislature doesn’t meet again until January.

In the meantime, Texas could establish a state-run exchange through an executive order or via a government agency, said Kandice Sanaie, the governmental affairs manager at the Texas Association of Business. The association, which ardently opposes the individual mandate the Supreme Court upheld, worked with other groups last session to try to get a state-run exchange passed, Sanaie said. The bill failed to make it out of committee.

Gov. Rick Perry “was still running for president at that time, and no one wanted to connect Texas with what was going on in Washington,” she said. 

Now, Sanaie said, the political climate has changed enough that she believes it is possible the state will move to create its own insurance exchange. But Democratic state Rep. Garnet Coleman of Houston, a proponent of federal health reform, said that would require a dramatic change in Perry’s stance.

Both Sanaie and Coleman said they do not believe the state can afford to wait until the next legislative session to design an insurance exchange, adding that the benefits of a successfully implemented state-run exchange would trump those of a federal one.

“We have the ability to solve problems and craft solutions that take into consideration our uniqueness as a state,” Coleman said. But he said he is glad the state will be required to opt into some kind of exchange “whether or not somebody like Rick Perry said no.”

There has not been much public discussion about how the state would go about creating an exchange, Sanaie said. But, she said she “has confidence” state officials have begun examining potential strategies. State health officials have said they’ve been working behind the scenes to make sure Texas wasn’t left in a lurch if federal health reform was upheld — and that instituting an exchange wouldn’t be too taxing. 

The Medicaid expansion, if implemented, is targeted at poor adults — those who can’t afford to buy insurance through the exchange. In a press release, Texas Hospital Association President Dan Stultz said the Medicaid expansion is essential to financially support the Affordable Care Act. Without the Medicaid expansion, many will remain uninsured, shifting costs to the insured and increasing uncompensated care to health care providers,” he said. 

In addition to their decisions about the Medicaid expansion and the health insurance exchange, Texas Republicans face another question — whether to file more litigation. Abbott said he will work with Congress to attempt to have the law repealed, and that the state will explore “all possible avenues” to further litigation against “Obamacare.” But he said it is hard to tell what aspects of the law that litigation might target.

“We don’t want to do ready, fire, aim,” Abbott said. “Let us look at it — analyze it — before we start discussing what further legal action could be lodged.”

Texas Tribune donors or members may be quoted or mentioned in our stories, or may be the subject of them. For a complete list of contributors, click here.


This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at

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Texans React to SCOTUS Ruling on Arizona Law

Photo courtesy of Bob Daemmrich

Opinions on the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on Arizona’s immigration law, SB 1070, run the gamut. Here’s an aggregated look at where Texas lawmakers and interest groups fall on the spectrum.

For reference, the Supreme Court opinion overturned several tough provisions in the bill, but upheld one of the most controversial: It allows police to inquire into the legal status of someone they stop.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry“Today’s decision by the Supreme Court to uphold Arizona’s right to check the legal status of individuals within its borders is a victory not only for the people of Arizona, but for the rule of law. No state should be held hostage to a federal government that refuses to enforce the laws of the land. But today’s ruling is one step forward and two steps back – simply not good enough. It is bad enough that the Obama administration picks and chooses which laws it wishes to enforce, but for the United States Supreme Court to deprive states of some of those powers that are, in the words of Justice Scalia, ‘the defining characteristic[s] of sovereignty,’ is insulting to the Constitution and our right to govern ourselves. The people of Arizona took action consistent with federal law and in direct response to the failure of this administration to secure our nation’s borders. The absence of federal action on immigration enforcement directly spoils the integrity of our nation’s laws.”

Lt. Gov. (and U.S. Senate candidate) David Dewhurst: “The Supreme Court’s partial ruling on the Arizona immigration law only spotlights the abject failure of the federal government to secure the border. Today’s decision reinforces the need for conservatives in Congress to once and for all quit talking and secure the border. The first step is triple the size of the Border Patrol and authorize them to fight back. Congress must make states and local communities partners in securing the border, allowing them the tools necessary to enforce the laws of our Nation. Any legislation that provides a pathway to citizenship for illegal aliens must be dead on arrival, and we must look at all the tools in our arsenal to address the influx of illegal immigrants, the threat of narco-terrorists and drug cartels.”

Former Texas Solicitor General (and U.S. Senate candidate) Ted Cruz: “The federal government is utterly failing to secure our borders.  When Arizona stepped in to address out-of-control illegal immigration, liberal groups attacked Arizona and the Obama Administration sued the State. Rather than actually enforce our Nation’s immigration laws — which is the President’s explicit constitutional obligation—President Obama instead asked the Supreme Court to strike down Arizona’s law. Today, the Supreme Court upheld the central provision of the Arizona law. Although the Court unfortunately struck down other provisions of the Arizona law, the Court held that there is no barrier in federal law to States’ requiring local law enforcement to check on the immigration status of those criminally detained. This makes clear that sanctuary cities exist only because of state and local decision-making; it highlights that we have sanctuary cities in Texas only because Lt. Gov. Dewhurst killed the bill that would have ended sanctuary cities. Had the Texas Legislature passed that bill—had Lt. Governor Dewhurst not run from the fight and prevented its passage—then today’s decision would have upheld that Texas law as well. We need leaders who will get serious about enforcing the border: triple the border patrol; use walls, fences, and technology; end sanctuary cities; repeal Obama’s newly ordered amnesty; and end benefits like in-state tuition for illegal aliens.”

U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin: “The Court rightly rejected 3/4th of the Arizona law as unconstitutional, while reserving the right to reconsider implementation of the remaining provision.  That remaining “show me your papers” rule is very troubling.  Its implementation should be reevaluated because of racial profiling. Today’s decision only underlines the need for prompt, comprehensive immigration reform–write the DREAM Act into law for youth and let those immigrants, who have been longstanding, law abiding, tax paying residents, pay a penalty and get in line to become citizens. Even Rick Perry said the Arizona law was not right for Texas.  Thankfully the Court said it was wrong for America.”

U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-El Paso: “Today’s ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court on the Arizona law, better known as SB 1070, is a move in the right direction. However, the unanimous decision to uphold the ‘Show Me Your Papers’ provision that allows a police officer or local law enforcement agency to ask for the legal status of a person being detained or arrested hurts communities across our country. This ruling underscores the need for Congress to take up this federal issue and work on a Comprehensive Immigration Reform package that addresses it. I call on my colleagues – both Democrats and Republicans – to do the right thing and address Comprehensive Immigration Reform. It is unfortunate that partisan politics being played by the Republican majority in the House of Representatives does not allow us, those with common sense, to move meaningful and important immigration legislation forward. For 26 ½ years, I served as a Border Patrol agent and then sector chief and worked to uphold immigration laws in this country, and today, I know first-hand the dire need to reform these same laws. I will continue to support Comprehensive Immigration Reform that secures our country, unites families, helps our country’s economic prosperity and ends a shadow world for millions of people living here.”

State Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso: “I am deeply troubled by the decision handed down today by the Supreme Court. To give state and local law enforcement officers the power to act as federal immigration officers is a recipe for disaster. As a result of today’s decision, I am confident that there will be several pieces of legislation filed during the next legislative session requiring Texas law enforcement officers to ask immigration status. These harmful measures hurt the ability of our police to develop and foster relationships with immigrant communities — relationships critical in combating and solving crime. Once this law goes into effect in Arizona, and once cases of discrimination come to the forefront as a result of this measure, I feel confident that it will be reexamined and repealed by the Supreme Court. The critical question that still remains is whether or not the Arizona law will result in racial profiling.”

U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston: “The action that needs to be taken now in response to the Supreme Court decision regarding Arizona’s misguided law is for Congress to now pass comprehensive immigration reform law. Major parts of the legislation that continue to clearly show over reach have been found unconstitutional; particularly when Arizona reached into federal government laws. The Supreme Court reaffirmed that today with their decision. The Court correctly struck down wrongheaded policies that would have pushed families, workers, and senior citizens into the criminal justice system. But the Court made an error in upholding the discriminatory ‘show me your papers’ provision that violates people’s basic rights. This is not the final word on ‘show me your papers’ laws. There will always be a fight in the courts and legislatures to protect America’s basic rights. Finally this case is not complete. If Arizona precedes under the narrow provisions remaining of the law I believe in short order the state will be subject to charges of racial profiling and just as Rosa Parks started the journey to the federal courts to declare unconstitutional segregated accommodations, I believe the final aspect of the Arizona law will be struck down on the grounds of due process and equal rights. It will only be a matter of time until we all see that the Arizona law is but a meager limping downsized measure of the original legislation and rightly so. The Republican led house should get to work and do real comprehensive immigration reform.”

The Texas Civil Rights Project Director Jim Harrington: “This is a great victory against those who would use the immigration issue for their political agenda, regardless of the harm it caused to immigrant families, who often have both documented and undocumented members living together in the United States and trying to make a living. It also removes a blatant pretext for discrimination against members of the Hispanic community, who have long and deep roots in this country and are citizens or have legal status.”

ACLU of Texas Executive Director Terri Burke: “The decision by the U.S. Supreme Court today to uphold the discriminatory ‘show me your papers’ part of SB 1070, Arizona’s anti-immigrant law, shows just how out of touch the court is with reality. When the Texas Legislature defeated a copycat proposal in 2011, they joined with a coalition of business, law enforcement, local government, religious and civil rights leaders because these bad proposals hurt state economies and reputations. Regardless of today’s Supreme Court decision, the tide has turned against laws like these. States are saying no to ‘show me your papers’ laws because they harm business, undermine police work and threaten basic American and Texas values. We’ve seen the corrosive effects that ‘show me your papers’ laws have on a community. Anti-immigrant laws are a stain on the fundamental freedoms the Constitution guarantees. Texas has already spoken: We will not follow the lead of those who would harm our economy and trample the rights of those who live in our great state.”

U.S. Rep. Gene Green, D-Houston: “The Supreme Court’s ruling this morning affirms that immigration and borders are federal responsibilities. This ruling should signal the urgency for Congress and the Administration to take on comprehensive immigration reform on a bipartisan basis that secures our nation’s borders while dealing with those here fairly and humanely.”

U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Conroe: “I am disappointed because when Washington fails to do its job to keep citizens secure, the states ought to be able to act. In my view President Obama should be working with local law enforcement to secure our borders, not fighting our states in the courts. The President’s ‘amnesty first’ ideology has real consequences for families and businesses in border states like ours. I’m pleased that [provision allowing local law enforcement to check a suspect’s immigration status] was upheld, but I strongly disagree with the rest of the Supreme Court’s decision in this case. Our states should never be forced to risk the safety of their citizens because of the White House’s failure to enforce our nation’s immigration laws. I hope Arizona and other states continue fighting for their right to have a safe and secure state for their citizens to live.”

State Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin: “Today’s decision leaves intact parts of an Arizona law that all-but-encourage discrimination against full-blooded Americans over the color of their skin. The law was always a reactionary response to the federal government’s sad failure to address immigration in this country: it divides and weakens us as a nation. While the Court was right to reject key pieces of it, the truth is that no part of it – particularly the “show me your papers” provision that the Court maintained – should be law, whether it was upheld or not. We need a Texas solution to the immigration issue that secures our borders, shows zero tolerance to those who commit serious crimes, and recognizes those who meet stringent requirements to serve our country and contribute productively to our economy. And we must assure that nothing so discriminatory becomes law in Texas. Texas can do better, and Texans deserve better, than something as poisonous and nonsensical as the Arizona experiment. Unfortunately, in last year’s session alone, those in control of the Texas Legislature worked successfully to make it harder for minorities to vote. They also tried, unsuccessfully, to follow Arizona’s lead in having local law enforcement enforce federal immigration law. And for the first time in memory, they slashed funding for public schools – schools that are needed more and more to teach Hispanic students who represent so much of Texas’ future. Such initiatives disproportionately affect Hispanics, and they helped make the last legislative session a distinctly anti-Hispanic one. It’s critical to Texas’ future that these efforts cease. Unfortunately, today’s Supreme Court decision will ultimately make them more likely.”

State Rep. Roberto Alonzo, D-Dallas: “As I have said before many times, immigration reform is such a complex and complicated issue, it is best left at the hands of our federal government and law enforcement officials at that level of government, not the local police. Allowing local police to still ask for immigration status is such a difficult issue that it will create nothing but chaos and more problems than we already have to deal with. Local enforcement officials are hired primarily to deal with local issues, and not deal with federal issues. And they are busy enough and overworked enough with local issues. We certainly do not need to add another layer of  federal bureaucracy, red tape, and complex job requirements that they do have the training, knowledge, or experience to deal with or address adequately. This would be unfair, not only to the local police officers themselves, but the individuals who would be unfairly targeted and racially profiled. Additionally, as I have consistently said in the past, SB 1070 would set a bad precedent, as it would open the doors for all fifty states to do the same and in essence allow state and local police to have ‘inherent authority to enforce all immigration law.’ Can you imagine having fifty different immigration laws, when all we need is just one at the federal level? Immigration law is and should fall under the jurisdiction of our federal government, not of our state and local governments. Additionally, fifty different jurisdictions making fifty different sets of rules regulating immigrants would fundamentally negate the federal government’s interest in a coherent and unified foreign policy, not to mention its interest in facilitating interstate commerce. Permitting individual states, counties and other local municipalities to do the same would exponentially increase the chaos.”

State Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston: “Today’s decision by the Supreme Court affirms my belief that Arizona overstepped its lawmaking authority in enacting an unconstitutional law that was nothing more than an intimidation tactic to insert fear upon specific groups of people. While I do applaud the court in striking down key provisions of the Arizona law, the decision to uphold the portion that authorizes local law enforcement to check the immigration status of individuals they suspect are not in the United States legally could lead to racial profiling and other legal consequences. Texas should not look to Arizona as a model of how to handle immigration reform. The legal ramifications coupled with the impending litigation that is certain to occur is a fiscal burden Texas cannot afford. Immigration is a federal issue and states should not propose laws that undermine the federal government’s exclusive authority.”

State Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston: “I am very pleased with this decision; we got nearly everything we wanted. The Court ruled that almost all of the harsh provisions of Arizona’s new immigration scheme are trumped by federal law. This ruling is a defeat for those who are trying to use “states’ rights” rhetoric to enact their agenda. It has long been established by the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution that federal law is supreme and may not be countered or circumvented by state law in areas that are meant to be governed exclusively by federal law. This ruling makes it clear that immigration is one of those areas that is under the purview of the federal government, not the states. The Supreme Court is tentatively allowing one provision to stand: the requirement that Arizona police officers must inquire into the immigration status of an individual during a lawful stop or arrest if that officer reasonably believes the individual might be undocumented. This provision is obviously troublesome, as it invites unnecessary racial profiling that will affect American citizens as well as both legal and undocumented aliens. It will institutionalize the idea of natural born suspects. The Court is also troubled by this provision, but for now they will wait to see how Arizona applies it. The Court’s instructions, however, leave no doubt that this too will be struck unless it is applied very, very narrowly. The Supreme Court’s ruling on SB 1070 has particular ramifications for Texas, since Republicans here tried last session to implement many of the exact provisions the Court just invalidated in Arizona. People of color, particularly those in the Latino community, can all breathe a little easier now that the Court has put a clear limit on the ability of states to target some populations under the guise of immigration reform.”

Texas Democratic Party: “Today’s Supreme Court decision only further underscores the need for comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level. We cannot have a patchwork of state immigrations laws that tie the hands of law-enforcement and drive a wedge between police and the communities they are supposed to protect. Police officers should focus on targeting dangerous criminals and not spend their limited resources inquiring about a person’s immigration status. Unfortunately, Rick Perry and his Republicans colleagues continue to use Latinos as a political piñata to earn points with extremists in their Party. Here in our state, Republicans attempted to enact a myriad of burdensome immigration laws that would have unfairly targeted Latinos. We need a comprehensive solution that focuses on the economic realities of our country, not ill-advised state proposals meant to prop-up Rick Perry for yet another presidential run.”

U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio: “I am disappointed by the Supreme Court’s decision today, which limits the ability of states to protect their citizens and communities from illegal immigrants. It is the federal government’s job to enforce our immigration laws, but President Obama has willfully neglected this responsibility.  This dereliction of duty has left states to address the crime, job loss, and other costs of illegal immigration. “Unfortunately, under this Administration, today’s ruling essentially puts an end to immigration enforcement since the states no longer can step in and fill the void created by the Obama administration.  This is especially bad news for border states since they have to deal with border violence, drug trafficking and illegal immigration. Throughout the past three years, President Obama and his administration have ignored our immigration laws and have encouraged more illegal immigration by their actions.  President Obama has abused his executive branch authority to allow potentially millions of illegal immigrants to live and work in the U.S.  And under this Administration, worksite enforcement has plummeted 70%, allowing illegal immigrants to hold jobs while 13 million Americans are looking for work. According to a recent poll, two-thirds of the American people want to see our laws enforced.  But President Obama puts illegal immigrants and his partisan agenda ahead of the interests of the American people.  If our immigration laws are going to be enforced, we need a new President this January who will enforce immigration laws, not deliberately ignore them.”

State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio: “I’m thankful that most of the law was struck down, but the opinion left open the distinct possibility that the part it upheld, the roadside checks, could still be open to other court challenges. I hope Texas doesn’t follow Arizona’s lead in this regard — it would be ironic if a state that pushed so hard for tort reform passed a law that would invite litigation.”

State Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston: “The Supreme Court ruling on states’ attempts to regulate immigration shows how important comprehensive immigration reform is to this nation. However, a realistic policy that ensures economic growth while not wasting taxpayer money in endless litigation and costly Berlin-type walls has become impossible under Republicans in control. Their venomous anti-immigrant rhetoric keeps common sense solutions off the table. People must act to elect leaders that solve problems rather than incite them.”

State Rep. and MALC Chairman Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio: “Today, the United States Supreme Court affirmed what MALC has said all along, ill-advised state action on immigration policy is unconstitutional. MALC applauds the Court for recognizing the role of immigration in the future of our nation and the need for the federal government to have clear authority on immigration matters. Most of Arizona’s discriminatory S.B. 1070 is preempted by federal immigration law and state action is no substitute for comprehensive immigration reform.”


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Court Ruling Guts Law, Should Have Gone Further

Photo courtesy of Brittney Bush Bollay

The Supreme Court Monday critically wounded Arizona’s immigration law, striking down three key provisions and sending the message that federal law trumps state law on immigration. The court should have gone one step further and killed the law altogether by striking down the noxious “show me your papers” requirement, but even there it left the measure pretty much toothless and left open the door for further litigation.

The ruling is generally a victory for reasonable immigration policy, the Obama administration and many in the immigrant community. It also should mean that immigration policy and immigration reform need to be settled in the halls of Congress, not in the halls of state capitols. Congress and the Obama administration need to get to work on that.

Arizona’s law was the result of understandable frustration with lack of change at the federal level, a frustration that’s felt in a number of states, including Wisconsin. Arizona’s answer was to try to impose a harsh crackdown on illegal immigrants and impose a law that superseded federal law. But the Constitution is clear; states do not have the authority to supersede or undermine federal law.

The high court recognized that Monday by gutting the Arizona law. It struck down provisions requiring all immigrants to obtain or carry immigration registration papers, making it a state criminal offense for an illegal immigrant to seek work or hold a job and allowing police to arrest suspected illegal immigrants without warrants.

Those provisions went beyond cooperating with federal authorities; they were an attempt to take over federal policy. And they put too much onus on the undocumented worker, not on employers who hire the worker.

The court did leave intact the provision requiring police to check the immigration status of someone they suspect is in the United States illegally. But since the police can’t arrest a person simply for not having papers, it substantially weakened the provision. The court also said that provision could see further litigation, which suggests that it, too, eventually could be struck down.

Still, by leaving the provision intact for now, the court leaves a wedge between law enforcement and the illegal immigrant community. If they believe they can be asked for papers any time, illegal immigrants are much less likely to report crimes or be willing to work with police.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, said the law should be read to avoid concerns that immigration status checks could lead to prolonged detention or racial profiling. And it’s true that the law expressly forbids racial profiling.

But it’s still likely that racial profiling will rear its ugly head when law enforcement attempts to meet the requirements of the law. How many citizens carry with them proof of their citizenship? Even if it’s been reduced to a simple question, “Show me your papers” smacks too much of authoritarian regimes that like to keep their thumbs on their citizens.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer tried to put the best face on the ruling in a written statement by saying that the ruling marks a victory for people who believe in the responsibility of states to defend their residents. “The case for SB1070 has always been about our support for the rule of law. That means every law, including those against both illegal immigration and racial profiling,” Brewer said. “Law enforcement will be held accountable should this statute be misused in a fashion that violates an individual’s civil rights.”

We hope so, but we’d prefer another ruling that ensures no racial profiling by striking down the provision.

In the meantime, Arizona and other states should pay attention to the gist of the ruling as spelled out by Kennedy: “Arizona may have understandable frustrations with the problems caused by illegal immigration while that process continues, but the state may not pursue policies that undermine federal law.”

So if you don’t like immigration policy, and there’s a lot not to like, tell Congress – not your state legislator.


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Regulating Political Speech

It’s presidential season, so again pundits are indignant that money is spent on politics. Spent by corporations! And rich people! Because the Supreme Court allowed that, “2012 will be a miserable year,” says The Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne

2012 may be miserable — but if it is, it won’t be because corporations spend on politics. And anyway, they have a right to spend.

In politics, money is speech.

The very first amendment that the Founders chose to add to the Constitution couldn’t be more clear: “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech … .”

Yet most people support laws against political speech — when they don’t like the speakers.

Asking government to regulate political speech is a poisonous idea. Politicians naturally think that people who challenge their power should be restrained. Sen. John McCain led the majority who championed “campaign finance reform” that, among other things, forbade anonymous donors to run ads in the crucial weeks just before elections (when most voters finally pay attention).

My ABC colleagues loved McCain-Feingold. Some conservatives think journalists like the law because it exempts media corporations. But I think it goes back to our gut instinct that corporations are bad and rich people spending money to influence politics is very bad.

But political (and religious) speech is exactly what the Founders were eager to protect when they wrote the First Amendment. It has been nice to watch the Supreme Court overrule McCain-Feingold piece by piece.

In 2008, a court ruled that TV ads for a nonprofit corporation’s critical documentary about then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton violated McCain-Feingold. When the Supremes overturned that ruling, saying that corporations and unions may fund political ads, the mainstream media were so upset, they sounded like there had been a coup.

The New York Times said the decision “strikes at the heart of democracy.” The Washington Post quoted someone saying it “threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions.”


The swing justice, Anthony Kennedy, was right to say: “When Government seeks to use its full power, including the criminal law, to command where a person may get his or her information or what distrusted source he or she may not hear, it uses censorship to control thought. This is unlawful.”

He also said, “Political speech must prevail against laws that would suppress it.”

The American Civil Liberties Union agreed, but most progressives condemned the Supremes for “judicial activism.” I thought progressives favored free speech. I was wrong.

People’s stance on free speech often depends on whose ox is gored. In condemning the decision, the offended progressives engaged in amazing mental contortions. It “was wrong because nothing in the First Amendment dictates that corporations must be treated identically to people,” said the editorial in The Washington Post. Don’t progressives realize that corporations (and unions, which also had their speech rights protected) are associations of individuals — individuals who have rights? Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney was mocked when he said, “Corporations are people.” But Romney was right.

One need not be a fan of corporations to see that restricting anyone’s speech is dangerous. One government lawyer said that even corporate-funded books favoring candidates could be illegal. That should scare progressives — the Federal Election Commission put an anti-Bush book written by George Soros under scrutiny. Laws limiting speech have been used more often against radicals than against the corporate establishment.

But the progressives’ campaign goes on. The Supreme Court right now is revisiting this issue because Montana’s Supreme Court ruled that Montana can ban corporate spending on state politics. Sens. McCain and Sheldon Whitehouse filed a friend-of-the-court brief claiming that allowing corporate speech would bring a “strong potential for corruption and perception thereof.”

Right, as though politicians don’t routinely constitute a “potential for corruption” all by themselves.

It is shameful that leftists let their hatred of corporations lead them to throw free speech under the bus. There is a smarter way to get corporate money out of politics: Shrink the state. If government has fewer favors to sell, citizens will spend less money trying to win them.

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John Stossel, Creators Syndicate

John Stossel, Creators SyndicateAward-winning news correspondent John Stossel is the author of "No They Can't! Why Government Fails, but Individuals Succeed."

John is currently with Fox Business Network and Fox News. Before making the change to Fox News, Stossel was the co-anchor of ABC News's "20/20." Eight to 10 million people watched his program weekly. Often, he ended "20/20" with a TV column called "Give Me a Break," which challenged conventional wisdom.

Stossel's prime-time specials on myths, parenting issues, sex and trends in pop culture rate among the top news programs and have earned him uncommon praise: "The most consistently thought-provoking TV reporter of our time," said The Dallas Morning News. The Orlando Sentinel said he "has the gift for entertaining while saying something profound."

Stossel takes this reporting expertise and applies it to his weekly newspaper column for Creators Syndicate. Ready to cover topics newspaper readers care about, Stossel pokes fun at the ridiculous and lauds the excellent.

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Supreme Court Considers Video Game Ban

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments last week in the case Schwarzenegger v. Entertainment Merchants, which will decide whether a blanket ban in California on people under age 18 being allowed to purchase certain violent video games will stand.

The case has attracted attention well beyond California. According to news reports, 11 states have joined California in urging the court to uphold the law, while eight other states are on record as wanting the law struck down.

During oral arguments, the justices seemed sympathetic to the idea that there should be some way to shield minors from violent games in which the player has the option of “killing, maiming, dismembering or sexually assaulting an image of a human being,” as the 2005 California statute put it.

But most of the justices’ questions seemed to indicate that they think that California’s law goes too far to avoid violating the First Amendment’s protection of speech and expression.

The ban, which would probably include titles like “Postal 2,” “Mortal Kombat” or “Grand Theft Auto IV,” seemed too far along the famous slippery slope for most justices, including those with normally conflicting philosophies.

“What about films? What about comic books? Grimm’s Fairy Tales? Why are video games special?” asked progressive Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

To an argument that video games are something new and unique, conservative Justice Antonin Scalia shot back: “That same argument could have been made when movies first came out. They could have said, ‘Oh, we’ve had violence in Grimm’s Fairy Tales, but we’ve never had it live on the screen.’ I mean, every time there’s a new technology, you can make that argument.”

The primary task of protecting children from potentially harmful activities or impressions belongs to parents, and parents vary in their concerns.

It is almost impossible to prevent children from ever seeing or vicariously participating in violence conveyed through a variety of media, and part of a parent’s job is helping children to deal with that reality.

An outright government ban not only violates our constitutional traditions, it simply is not helpful.

A ruling from the Supreme Court is expected sometime before the current term ends in June.



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