They Think We Are Stupid

Terri Burke
Executive Director

The Houston Chronicle on Thursday said there is a “foul odor” about this legislative special session. I agree.

The reasons we agree are many, not the least of which is that the majority of Texans aren’t interested in more restrictions on access to abortion services. We’ve got three polls to prove it, yet Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst think we are stupid, that they know best – or maybe it’s just that they’re pandering to the minority of loud-mouthed right-wing extremists.

There is also the matter of the leadership thinking we are too stupid to notice they changed the rules for this oh-so-very urgent matter to be taken up in the special session.

First, there are the polls. During the regular session we polled in three specific Senate districts, all heavily Latino and less urban, even rural in one case. Among the opinions polled, two questions asked how strongly respondents agreed with these statements:

“Personal, private medical decisions of whether to have an abortion should be made by a woman, her family, and her doctor, not by politicians.” The “Strongly Agree” responses ranged from 70 to 74 percent across the three Senate districts.

“Instead of spending time passing more laws restricting abortion, the state legislature in Texas should be focusing on creating jobs and growing the economy.” Here, the “Strongly Agree” responses ranged from 71 to 75 percent.

Rick Perry and David Dewhurst and several key members of the legislative leadership think they know best and legislators ought to spend more of our tax dollars and more of everyone’s time on subjects Texans don’t care about.

Then, there is the rules change. They think we don’t understand that what they are doing is sort of like a losing high school football team moving the game to another field where there are no referees. The Senate rules of the 83rd regular session require 2/3 of the body – 21 members – to vote to bring a bill to the floor for a vote. It is widely agreed that the rule is designed to protect the legislature from spending time on matters that have limited, sometimes only extremist, support.

During the 83rd regular session, only two reproductive freedom bills got out of committee and placed on the Senate Intent Calendar. Neither ever drew 2/3 support to be brought to the floor.

Now, we come to the 1st special session of the 83rd Legislature, and the rules have been changed. They moved the game to a field with no referees: Dewhurst unilaterally, as his office permits, decided the 2/3 rule would not apply. It doesn’t apply to the redistricting issue for which the special session was originally called; it doesn’t apply to the transportation bills being considered; and it doesn’t apply to the four anti-abortion bills (and the omnibus bill the four have been rolled into).

They think we don’t see what they are doing. They claim they are representing the views of most Texans. They are not.

They must think we’re stupid.

Case of Humberto Leal Isn’t About Death Penalty: It’s About Following the Rule of Law and the Safety of Americans Abroad

By Terri Burke
Executive Director

We’ve gotten some comments about our Community Action Network (CAN) email last week calling for a stay of execution for a Mexican national set to die today, July 7, in the Texas death chamber. I want to further explain our position and share why we feel it is so important for Texans and all Americans to heed this plea.

Although the ACLU does oppose the death penalty, the Leal matter is not about the pros and cons of the death penalty. Further, we agree that illegal actions and behaviors should be addressed and appropriate punishment meted out without regard for a person’s status in this country. We believe in the Rule of Law; therefore, if we as a nation, as a people, begin to behave like the lowest common denominator, then we become no better than those we would judge and punish.

Unlike many other nations, in the U.S., every criminal defendant – citizen or non-citizen – has a right to an attorney. An international treaty, the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, signed in 1963 by the U.S. and 159 other nations, obligates us to ensure that citizens of other countries arrested in the U.S. know they have the right to contact their embassies. U.S. citizens have reciprocal rights in every other signatory country. Given the state of the world today, we don’t want to appear to be thumbing our noses at an international agreement, putting Americans at risk while traveling abroad.

In 2004, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) held that Mr. Leal was entitled to a hearing on the consular rights violation in his case. President Bush, the U.S. Supreme Court, and the Obama Administration have all acknowledged that the United States is obligated to comply with ICJ’s decision. President Obama has asked that the Leal execution be stayed.

Congress has introduced legislation that would require implementation of the ICJ’s decision. The bill before Congress has the support of the Department of Justice, the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of State.

Justice requires a stay of Mr. Leal’s execution while Congress acts to make sure we fulfill our obligations as a nation of laws, not of vengeance, privilege, or special interests.

You, My Fellow Patriot

By Terri Burke, ACLU of Texas Executive Director

If you’re reading this, you’re likely a patriot and don’t let anyone tell you any different.

Just in time for the Fourth of July a national publication ranked the 100 Most Patriotic Cities in the country. We’ve all seen lists like these, ranking the top cities in this or the best cities for that. Let’s be honest, they’re mostly gimmicks designed to get the readership talking and chambers of commerce excited. But I must admit, I bit on this particular list and wondered which city ranked the most patriotic in Texas.

Have any guesses? My first guess – with its numerous military bases and high concentration of veterans – was San Antonio. If your first guess was the same as mine, we were both wrong.

I looked at the list and there it was: The most patriotic city in Texas (21st nationally) is Austin, our state’s capitol. Yes, THAT Austin. Famously weird and liberal Austin – the city sometimes referred to as the “blue hole in the red doughnut,” other times labeled San Francisco East – had ranked the most red-white-and-blue-lovin’ city in the Lone Star State. Some folks feel that way about the ACLU of Texas. But there’s nothing liberal or conservative about believing in and protecting the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

Now, I don’t place much stock in these lists because they’re gimmicks. But it did get me to think, “What makes one patriotic?” This list, for instance, used flag and firework purchases, among other criteria, to come up with its rankings. Flag waving and sparklers are all fine and good, but I would argue that’s the easy way to show your patriotism. Standing up for the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, even when it isn’t the easy thing to do, now that’s patriotism.

Which brings me back to my original point: You’re a patriot. I know this because you’re reading this and would answer “yes” to at least one if not all of these questions: Should you be free to practice a religion or none at all? Is it your right to express a viewpoint freely and openly? Do you feel that all in this country, regardless of race, ethnicity or background should be treated fairly, equally and with respect?

If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, you, and the ACLU of Texas, believe in the Constitution and all it stands for.

As I’ve traveled this great state meeting many of you I can honestly say that ACLU of Texas supporters are some of the most ardently patriotic individuals anywhere. This weekend, when you celebrate our country’s birthday and settle in for that post-cook out fireworks show, don’t forget to wave the flag and be proud. You’re a patriot.