Editorial Roundup: Texas

Dallas Morning News. March 27, 2024.

Editorial: This is Ken Paxton’s Texas

Attorney general gets a pass from a court system that is less forgiving of others

Attorney General Ken Paxton has scored another victory, but it’s a defeat for all Texans.

With every triumph, Paxton seems more determined to exact his revenge, more emboldened to attack the people and issues he finds personally threatening or repugnant. He does so not in the name of justice, but for payback and, worse, plaudits from the far right he courts. We brace for what will come next.

But perhaps even more disturbing is what Paxton’s latest win says about our justice system: There’s clearly one for the everyday Texan, and another for the rich and powerful.

But perhaps even more disturbing is what Paxton’s latest win says about our justice system: There’s clearly one for the everyday Texan, and another for the rich and powerful.

Paxton struck an agreement with prosecutors to drop the cases against him in exchange for paying restitution to two men he was accused of defrauding, performing 100 hours of community service and taking classes on legal ethics. He’s been given 18 months to do so.

But far from being the fair resolution that both sides are saying it is, the deal raises more questions than it answers. Most glaringly, how is it that someone can be indicted by a grand jury on such serious felony charges, escape going to trial for the better part of a decade, then have those charges just go away with what amounts to a slap on the wrist?

And what of the timing? Why now and not last year or five years ago? Special prosecutor Brian Wice said after a hearing just last month that he was not willing to strike a pre-trial agreement with Paxton that had been proposed by another special prosecutor, Kent Schaffer.

“That was, ‘gee, let’s get you a cocktail, a hot meal and a breath mint.’ And that wasn’t going to happen on my watch,” Wice said, according to the Texas Tribune.

He also said after that hearing, in which Harris County state District Judge Andrea Beall denied Paxton’s motion to dismiss the charges, that the attorney general wasn’t above the law and that he should go to trial.

But on Tuesday he told us he changed his tune after interviewing and reinterviewing witnesses in advance of the April 15 trial date. Though Wice felt confident a jury would convict on the two first-degree felonies against Paxton, he said he “was unwilling to roll the dice with the distinct possibility that the jury would either hang or acquit with the result being the victims would be denied full and total restitution.” Wice also defended the deal as being much stronger than the one considered in February.

Whatever the reasons, here’s the upshot: Paxton again gets to sidestep a reckoning after a series of lucky breaks that typically don’t happen to ordinary Texans in courtrooms across the state. And rather than act with humility in the wake of this victory, we expect Paxton to act only more empowered.


Fort Wort Star-Telegram. March 27, 2024.

Editorial: Texas AG Paxton may have settled fraud case, but he is hardly off the hook

There are two important things to know about the long-delayed resolution of Attorney General Ken Paxton’s securities fraud case.

First, it’s the right outcome, especially after so many years. The activity at the center of it, while inappropriate, was never worth the attention it drew.

Second, Paxton is far from off the hook. The Republican AG and his political allies will try to persuade you that Paxton is cleared of wrongdoing and any remaining legal peril is the work of political enemies. Not so.

The fraud case is the original sin of Paxton’s political and legal misdeeds. The event that launched it predates his time in statewide office, and Paxton is in his third term as AG. Paxton has since taken on so many blemishes that it’s hard to remember what the case was about: his failure to disclose to some friends whom he recruited into an investment that he was paid by a company to do so.

That’s not nothing. But Paxton had already paid a civil fine in another case. Elevating what he did to a crime with possible prison time almost never happens. In an era when reducing unnecessary incarceration is a good public policy goal, the idea of jailing Paxton never made sense, except to his most ardent political enemies (who are often the very people arguing for fewer prison sentences).

Paxton does not admit wrongdoing under the deal consecrated Tuesday in a Houston courtroom. He’ll pay nearly $300,000 in damages and undertake community service and legal ethics training, which he sorely needs.

The case never needed to take this long. It should have made voters question Paxton’s fitness for higher office. But voters have rendered a verdict on that in no fewer than eight statewide elections, and Paxton remains attorney general.

In an ideal world, voters would have noticed the sins of Paxton the candidate and concluded that he would bring similar sloppiness, lax ethics and political influence to high office. Because that’s exactly what he’s done. Over nearly a decade, he has degraded the capabilities of the Office of Attorney General, crushing morale and harming operations of an agency that Texans rely on.

He has targeted appeals court judges, first with wild conspiracy theories that they were aligned to help ensure voter fraud would go unpunished. Then, he included several in his vendetta campaign in this year’s Republican primaries, leading voters to oust three incumbents largely for the sin of crossing Paxton.

He has inserted Texas taxpayers into all manner of politically charged cases. And we’re not talking about suing the Biden administration over illegal immigration or other public policy issues. We’re referring, for example, to his use of your resources to interfere on behalf of conservative media companies fighting what should be their own battle against federal speech-policing. A worthy cause, perhaps, but not one Texans need to finance.

Then, there are the big ones. First, Paxton brazenly tried to interfere with other states’ election results on behalf of former President Donald Trump, a gambit rejected by the Supreme Court. It’s not for Texas to say how other states should conduct their elections, just as we don’t want, say, California sticking its nose into ours. The fact that Paxton acted over Trump’s mendacious claims about fraud deepens the offense. For this, Paxton still faces state bar proceedings.

And finally, there are accusations of bribery and abuse of office to help a friend and donor, developer Nate Paul. These were the heart of the impeachment case against Paxton, and yes, the Texas Senate rejected removing him. That doesn’t mean, however, that Paxton did nothing wrong. An active federal investigation could yet land him in court, and such a prosecution would not be so easily swept aside.

Considering all that, it’s understandable that many will lament that Paxton got off easily in the securities fraud case. It just wasn’t what it was cracked up to be.

But those who want to convince you that the AG has slain every dragon aren’t quite right, either. When it comes to Ken Paxton, there’s always something else hanging in the air.


Houston Chronicle. March 31, 2024.

Editorial: Hand me my bazooka, dear; I’m headed downtown

At last, a couple of federal judges have followed to a logical conclusion the “originalist” fallacy often applied to the Second Amendment. In a case before a federal appeals court in Richmond, Va., that seeks to undo gun regulations in Maryland and beyond, Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III had a question for an advocate representing gun rights groups.

“Have you ever fired an M16?” the judge asked, as reported last week by the Washington Post. The advocate said he had not.

“I have,” said Wilkinson, an Army veteran President Ronald Reagan appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit. The judge said he remembered firing an M16 at targets of human silhouettes while serving in the 1960s. “When the bullets struck the human being, it splintered them into all sorts of different pieces,” he said during oral arguments in cases challenging gun laws in three states.

“There was very little left of the human being,” Wilkinson said. “And that was a much earlier model of the M16. It’s since been perfected and perfected and been turned into a more lethal weapon than the one I used.”

A civilian version of the M16 is the semi-automatic AR-15.

“No matter how lethal the weapon, it’s all past the ability of the state to regulate?” the judge wanted to know. “What’s the limiting principle of all this? Where does it stop?”

Peter A. Patterson, the attorney representing gun rights groups, said the AR-15 that Maryland bans is “relatively underpowered.” Family members of shooting victims in Uvalde and Sutherland Springs would disagree. Fire power, though, is irrelevant in his view. Fully automatic weapons, if they were commonly owned by law-abiding people, could not be legally banned, either, according to Patterson, because the U.S. Supreme Court ruled two years ago that only weapons that are both “dangerous and unusual” can be restricted.

The justices on the Maryland appeals court appear unlikely to agree with the Second Amendment absolutist, whose ultimate goal is to reach the Supreme Court. Chief Judge Albert Diaz, a Barack Obama appointee to the 4th Circuit, had a follow-up query for Patterson: “Under your theory, if Congress had never gotten around to banning fully automatic rifles and machine guns, and they had become popular in common use ... a state could not ban” them, as reported by the Washington Post. “What about a bazooka used for recreational purposes? A tactical nuclear weapon? So there’s no limit. Essentially, once the cat is out of the bag, the Second Amendment trumps all?”

Yes. Patterson said he believes that’s the Supreme Court’s position. “If something is in common use, it can’t be unusually dangerous. It would not make any sense to the founders of this nation to say that, as firearms technology develops, we’re going to deprive our militia of that.”

Patterson was alluding, of course, to language from the Second Amendment decreeing that “a well regulated militia” is “necessary to the security of a free state.” For years, courts interpreted the language as referring to military service. In 2008, the Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to own firearms unconnected to military service.

In 2022, the high court went further, ruling that an individual’s Second Amendment right could be restricted only if historical evidence existed to show that drafters of the Constitution would have accepted that limitation. So far, no evidence has turned up revealing how Franklin, Jefferson and colleagues felt about portable anti-tank rocket launchers known as bazookas or tactical nuclear arms. Certainly we’re in little danger of nukes in every suburban garage but other new weapons could become more common and affordable.

Chauvinist Texans that we are, Patterson’s comments and the U.S. Supreme Court’s relatively recent obeisance to the dictates of history prompted us to revisit our own state’s past interpretation of the Second Amendment. In a fascinating article from a 2016 issue of the Texas A&M Law Review, legal scholar Mark Anthony Frassetto explores how the Lone Star State could be playing a more significant role in the intense debate about the relevance of history to constitutional interpretation, in this case to the meaning of the Second Amendment.

Frassetto points out that Texas was “a uniquely violent place” both before and after the Civil War – more violent than northern states, more violent than its fellow Confederate states. In response, the state’s Radical Republican governor, Edmund J. Davis, persuaded his cohorts in the Legislature to pass a law forbidding any citizen from carrying weapons into a variety of public venues, including churches, schools, ballrooms, election platforms “or any other place where people may be assembled to muster or to perform any other public duty, or to any other public assembly.” The enumerated weapons in the 1871 law included any “pistol, dirk, dagger, slung-shot, sword-cane, spear, brass-knuckles, bowie-knife, or any other kind of knife ... (without) reasonable grounds for fearing an unlawful attack on his person ...”

In the three years following enactment of the public-carry prohibition, two legal challenges reached the Texas Supreme Court. As Frassetto points out, the first was heard by a court made up entirely of Davis appointees sympathetic to Reconstruction. Not surprisingly, this so-called “Semicolon Court,” scorned by judges and attorneys in post-Reconstruction Texas, decisively upheld the law under both the Second Amendment and its analogue in the Texas Constitution.

The second challenge came in 1874, after the newly installed Democratic Legislature removed every member of the Supreme Court from office and appointed a new Democratic slate of judges. Four-fifths of the judges on this so-called “redeemer court” were former Confederate officers. Although the new judges took a much broader view of the right to bear arms, they concluded that the law did not infringe on the right. It would not be the last word on guns, of course, but it’s surprising that, in Texas, it was one of the first.

The high court was persuaded that the Texas restrictions did not violate the Second Amendment, perhaps by the argument presented by the attorney representing the state, a man identified as J. Walker. “The law under consideration has been attacked,” he noted, “upon the ground that it was contrary to public policy, and deprived the people of the necessary means of self-defense; that it was an innovation upon the customs and habits of the people, to which they would not peaceably submit. We do not think the people of Texas are so bad as this, and we do think that the latter half of the nineteenth century is not too soon for Christian and civilized States to legislate against any and every species of crime.”

Thanks to Walker, for more than a century, a ban on public carry remained in place, but was eroded over time as prohibited locations and permit requirements were reduced. Even now, we rarely see dirks and sword-canes on the streets of this “Christian and civilized” state, not to mention fully automatic military weapons. In a state that leads the nation in the number of mass shootings, perhaps there’ll come a time when history repeats itself. Maybe one day we will spurn the Second Amendment absolutists among our fellow Texans and again allow common sense to hold sway. Lives depend on it.


Lufkin Daily News. March 27, 2024.

Editorial: Lone Stars: Baseball season feels different with Texas, Houston as league’s heavy hitters

It’s been 147 days since the Texas Rangers stormed off the field with their first World Series title in the team’s existence.

For Rangers’ fans, that celebration probably feels like it was yesterday. For Astros’ fans, it seems like years ago.

The Major League Baseball season starts tomorrow, and for the fans of Texas’ two teams, the excitement has to be at an all-time high.

The Astros and Rangers enter the season as two of the six betting favorites in MLB. That, among many other reasons, is why we’re even more excited than usual for this season’s first pitch.

Ever since the Astros joined the Rangers’ division in 2013, we’ve been waiting for the “Lone Star Rivalry” to actually turn into a real rivalry.

For the first several years, the Rangers were among the league’s elite while the Astros were historically bad.

Once the worm turned the other way, it was the Astros who were the standard bearer for the entire league while the Rangers sunk into an abyss of mediocrity and even worse.

That all changed in the fall of 2023 when the Rangers turned the page well ahead of schedule while the Astros continued to serve as one of the league’s elite.

It all culminated with an American League Championship Series for the ages.

The Astros seemed to be on the verge of another World Series when Jose Altuve hit what appeared to be a soul-crushing homer in Game 5 of the heated series.

What could go wrong?

If you’re an Astros’ fan, Adolis Garcia is what went wrong.

The Rangers’ emerging superstar proved to be the real soul crusher as he finished off a historical series that was what dreams are made of for Rangers fans. It also led to a seemingly never-ending nightmare for Astros’ fans.

With that all being said, this will be the first season since they shared a division that both teams enter the year with legitimate title hopes.

The Astros added one of the best relievers in the game in the form of Josh Hader while the Rangers return the bulk of their title-winning roster.

With the Longhorns and Aggies renewing their rivalry on the gridiron this coming year, there are sports fans around here counting down the days until they share Kyle Field Nov. 30.

But for baseball die-hards, fans of Texas baseball teams finally have a legitimate reason to talk trash.

Whether it’s at Minute Maid Park Thursday afternoon or Globe Live Field Thursday night, we can’t wait for the official call that a new season is upon us.

Play ball!

While we’re at it, we wouldn’t be doing our jobs if we didn’t point out what local fans have plenty to cheer for as the season enters the stretch run.

Lufkin’s baseball team entered the season knowing they had two of the best teams in the state in their district. Unfazed, the Panthers went through the first third of the district slate with a 5-0 record.

First-place Panthers has a nice ring to it.

They’ll be on the road to Nacogdoches Thursday when they continue what is always a spirited rivalry against the hated Dragons.

Meanwhile, the Lady Panthers’ softball team is turning some heads as they look to pave the way to another playoff spot.

A one-run loss to one of the district favorites (Huntsville) only proves these Lady Panthers won’t back down from any competition.

Lufkin will be back at home Thursday night when it hosts Kingwood Park.

Get out and support your Panthers and Lady Panthers as well as all of the other teams around the area.

You won’t be disappointed.