Last night at midnight, a new law went into effect in Texas. House Bill 1927 permits people to carry handguns without a permit, unless they have been convicted of a felony or domestic violence. This measure was not popular in the state. Fifty-nine percent of Texans—including law enforcement officers—opposed it. But 56% of Republicans supported it. “I don’t know what it’s a solution to,” James McLaughlin, executive director of the Texas Police Chiefs Association, said to Heidi Pérez-Moreno of the Texas Tribune when Republican governor Greg Abbott signed the bill in mid-August. “I don’t know what the problem was to start with.”
Shortly after I moved to Arizona n 2011, the AZ legislature passed a law that gun owners no longer needed to have permits or training. A few months after Gabby Giffords as shot, the folks in Phoenix decided that their priority was to name the Colt as their state firearm. In 2012, they also wanted to allow guns on college campuses, a law that was opposed by law enforcement. After I wrote individual letters to EVERY member of the legislature, they decided it was a bad ide.
Last night, by a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court voted NOT to challenge the Texas abortion law.
The court decided the case on its increasingly active “shadow docket,” a series of cases decided without full briefings or oral argument, often in the dead of night, without signed opinions. Since the beginning of the Trump administration, they have come to make up the majority of the court’s business. So, operating without open arguments or opinions, the Supreme Court has shown that it will not enforce federal law, leaving state legislatures to do as they will. This, after all, was the whole point of the “originalism” that Republicans embraced under President Ronald Reagan. Since the 1980s, Republicans have sought to hamstring federal power and return power to the states, which have neither the power nor the inclination to regulate businesses effectively, and which can discriminate against minorities and get away with it, so long as the federal government doesn’t enforce equal protection.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s dissent read: “The court’s order is stunning. Presented with an application to enjoin a flagrantly unconstitutional law engineered to prohibit women from exercising their constitutional rights and evade judicial scrutiny, a majority of Justices have opted to bury their heads in the sand.”
S.B. 8 puts ordinary people in charge of law enforcement. Anyone—at all—can sue any individual who “aids or abets,” or even intends to abet, an abortion in Texas after six weeks. If the plaintiff wins, they pocket $10,000 plus court costs, and the clinic that provided the procedure is closed down. If the defendant doesn’t defend themselves, the court must find them guilty. And if the defendant wins, they get…nothing. Not even attorney’s fees.
Texas has also just passed new voting restrictions that allow partisan poll watchers to have “free movement” in polling places, enabling them to intimidate voters. Texas governor Greg Abbott is expected to sign that bill in the next few days.
Taken together with the vigilantism running wild in school board meetings and attacks on election officials, the Texas legislation is a top red flag in the red flag factory. The Republican Party is empowering vigilantes to enforce their beliefs against their neighbors.
The wedge to establish this mechanism is abortion, but the door is now open for extremist state legislatures to turn to private citizens to enforce any law that takes away an individual’s legal right…like, say, the right to vote. And in Texas, now, a vigilante doesn't even have to have a permit to carry the gun that will back up his threats.
During Reconstruction, vigilantes also carried guns.
Opponents have compared those who backed the Texas anti-abortion law to the Taliban, the Islamic extremists in Afghanistan whose harsh interpretation of Islamic Sharia law strips women of virtually all rights. But the impulse behind the Texas law, the drive to replace the federal protection of civil rights with state vigilantes enforcing their will, is homegrown. It is a reflection of the position that Republicans would like women to have in our society, for sure, but it is also written in the laughing faces of Mississippi law enforcement officers Lawrence Rainey and Cecil Ray Price in 1967, certain even as they were arraigned for the 1964 murders of James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Henry Schwerner, that the system was so rigged in their favor that they would literally get away with murder.
When they were killed, Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner were trying to register Black people to vote.