Analysis: Texas and the U.S., lawyered up and ready to go to court

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks during an event at the Justice Department in Washington, U.S., on June 15, 2021.

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Merrick Garland has an interesting job. He gets up, goes to the office, sues the state of Texas and then goes home.

If that description of the U.S. attorney general’s job sounds familiar, it’s because it’s lifted from the campaign stump speeches of former Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who’s now the governor. “I go into the office, I sue the federal government and I go home.”

On Thursday, Garland sued to stop the state’s new ban on abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, calling it “a scheme to nullify the Constitution of the United States,” because it blocks a right to abortion deemed constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Expect more lawsuits like that — and soon — with the state’s restrictive new voting law taking effect and with Texas about to draw new political districts in a special session on redistricting that starts later this month. Those issues combine long histories of civil and voting rights litigation and lawmaking, constitutional issues and deep partisan divides.

Blend in the mutual disdain of the federal and state governments. Add the Republican Party’s dominance in Austin and the Democratic Party’s dominance in Washington, D.C. The outcome was predetermined: Somebody was going to sue somebody.

This isn’t new. Texas has a governor and an attorney general hell-bent on opposing the feds at every turn.

The state’s steady barrage of legal challenges to the federal government abated with a Republican in the White House, but picked up considerably when Democrat Joe Biden became president.

Attorney General Ken Paxton promised as much in a tweet from his state account on the day Biden took office: “Congrats, President Biden. On Inauguration Day, I wish our country the best. I promise my fellow Texans and Americans that I will fight against the many unconstitutional and illegal actions that the new administration will take, challenge federal overreach that infringes on Texans’ rights, and serve as a major check against the administration’s lawlessness. Texas First! Law & Order always!”

Texas has sued the feds over a diverse set of issues so far this year, including health care funding, coal rules, oil pipelines, immigration policy and deportations.

Now the state is getting a taste of its own medicine.

It might get another dose or two.

Austin and Washington are clashing over what the state and federal governments can require private businesses to do in response to the pandemic.

Abbott is arguing both sides, squealing about the federal government telling businesses to mandate vaccinations while using state regulators to punish Texas businesses that want to require their customers to be vaccinated. The governor seems to be irritated that the feds are mandating in the same way he is, only with the opposite policy in mind.

Pity the state’s businesses, which either must require vaccinations under threat of federal action or must not require vaccinations under threat of state action.

That hasn’t risen to the level of lawsuits — not just yet, anyhow — but it has the aroma of pending litigation.

Meanwhile, Garland is suing over the Texas abortion law. The state’s suits against the feds are winding through the courts. The initial redistricting lawsuits have already been filed, even though nobody has had the data long enough to make a serious attempt to draw the first map or hold the first debate over how the state’s political turf should change. And the state’s new voting law, which resembles new laws in other states, faces its own set of legal challenges — perhaps including future action from Garland’s own U.S. Department of Justice.

Courts are for settling disputes, after all, and the people in politics and government do not suffer from a shortage of arguments. The executive and legislative branches in Austin and Washington are turning to the third branch — the judiciary — to sort out their differences.

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