December 5, 2023

Immigration Marriage

Feel Good With Immigration

If the Roe v. Wade case is vulnerable, what else is on the line?

This was a demoralizing week for many Americans, a week that left many wondering what kind of country this actually is and what our political leaders are even doing.

On Monday, there came a bombshell from the Supreme Court in the form of a leaked draft opinion by Justice Samuel Alito in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, a case that nominally concerns a new Mississippi law banning abortions after the 15-week mark. The opinion would not only uphold the Mississippi law; it would overturn the landmark 1973 decision that legalized abortion, Roe v Wade, returning the issue to the states.

As if potentially taking away a woman’s right to choose after nearly 50 years weren’t enough, the draft serves as a stark reminder of the willingness of the Supreme Court, as reshaped by Republican Donald Trump during his presidency, to move away from being a moderating force to one that seeks to impose far-right views.

Alito’s opinion offered an unapologetic evisceration of Roe, an opinion that Trump’s three picks to the high court seemed to suggest was settled law in their confirmation hearings . It also raised the prospect that other landmark rulings might be revisited with skepticism over whether the rights they recognize and uphold are “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and traditions,” in Alito’s words. These include Obergefell v. Hodges, recognizing the right to same-sex marriage; Loving v. Virginia, enshrining the right to interracial marriage; and Griswold v. Connecticut, recognizing the right of married couples to use contraception.

If Roe is vulnerable, as it obviously is, what else is on the line?

Many Republicans spent the week scoffing at that question. Others answered it. Two days after news of the leaked Alito opinion, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said he’d like to launch an attack on 1982’s Plyler v Doe, which struck down a 1975 Texas law defunding the public school education of immigrant kids living in the country without legal permission.

“I think that we will resurrect that case and challenge this issue again because the expenses are extraordinary and the times are different than when Plyler v. Doe was issued many years ago,” said Abbott, a conservative Republican whose demagoguery on the immigration issue seemingly knows no limits.

So our governor would deny education to innocent children because of a decision made, often under duress, by their parents.

He would do that even though every credible analysis has found that unauthorized immigrants are net contributors to the state’s balance sheet, which is not surprising, given that the state relies heavily on sales tax revenue and spends less than most on a per capita basis.

Abbott wants to “resurrect that case” despite the fact that Texans see public education as a public good and realize that no one benefits from the deliberate immiseration of such immigrants. In fact, there’s a mainstream consensus around both of those points in Texas, such that in 2001 we adopted a state-level DREAM Act, extending in-state tuition rates to noncitizen residents of the state.

But the governor has a different view. Good to know.

And we already knew that some Republicans would like to revisit other social issues, because they’ve said so explicitly.

“Given the hysterics and histrionics coming out about Dobbs, I’m starting to think we need to repeal the 19th amendment,” Erick Erickson, an influential social conservative commentator, tweeted Friday.

A joke? Sure, maybe, albeit not a particularly funny one. As a practical matter, in any case, it’s hard to repeal a constitutional amendment, including this one, which extended the right to vote to women. There are easier targets available for those of our fellow Americans who would like to return to their imagined version of the 1950s, in which white men had an undisputed hold on power in this country as well as pretty wives, well-paying jobs in the manufacturing sector and lots of witty one-liners.

Obergefell, for one, is obviously vulnerable. “This decision, and what Alito has to say about marriage equality, is a clear call to anyone who opposes marriage equality — who opposes LGBTQ+ equality — that they have a friend on the court,” Jim Obergefell, the plaintiff in that 2015 case, said in an appearance on CNN last week. “More than one friend.”

Or Griswold, for example: It may seem absurd to suggest that citizens of the United States in the 21st century could lose the right to use contraceptives as part of a more general right to privacy in their own bedrooms. At some level, it is absurd, to think that we could return to a world in which such a basic and obvious freedom is subject to state scrutiny.

And yet …

“Of course it’s a war on birth control, abortion, everything,” said Wayne Christian, then a state representative, in a 2011 interview with the Texas Tribune after then-Gov. Rick Perry cut funding to women’s health programs.

Christian was subsequently elected to and currently serves on the Texas Railroad Commission, which oversees the state’s oil and gas industry, rather than its women. Still, he is a statewide elected official in the nation’s second-most populous state, so his views can’t simply be dismissed as the burblings of some bot on social media.

How about no-fault divorce? In fairness, there hasn’t been much speculation about that one in the wake of the leaked Dobbs draft, but perhaps there should be. In 2017, state Rep. Matt Krause — a Republican now running for Tarrant County district attorney — filed a bill that would end that option, which has been legal in Texas since the 1970s. The effort didn’t really go anywhere, but 2017 was a comparatively innocent time.

In light of such facts, it’s tendentious to accuse Democrats of overreacting, or crying wolf, in the wake of the leaked Dobbs opinion.

But the nation’s highest court has effectively sent conservative lawmakers a message: “Shoot your shot, boys.” Many Republicans will be reluctant to take advantage of the opportunity to relitigate rulings that enjoy broad popular support. Others will not be.

In the meantime, voters have an opportunity to send a message about whether this is the direction they want to see the country taking in 2022. Politics is all about course corrections, and voters frankly need to rein in this kind of extremism.

My new role

As for me, some personal news: This will be my last column, after more than four years in this role. I arrived in this space shortly after Hurricane Harvey’s devastation and the jubilance that accompanied the Astros’ World Series win, and what a four years it has been. I’ll be starting a new role in the Houston Chronicle’s business section later this month, which I consider to be a win-win situation for both myself and our readers: You won’t be confronted with my opinions on politics, and I’ll have less occasion to formulate them.

And, even better, I’ll have the opportunity to write about the business of Houston, of telling the stories of the workers and entrepreneurs and leaders who make Houston the great American city, the great global city, that it is. Please join me over there; we’ll have fun. Until then: Make a plan to vote, and thanks for reading.

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The Roe v. Wade bombshell