Texas is getting some national attention for passing the country’s strictest anti-abortion law, and hiring a new state election overseer with some Donald Trump history.
Texas’s toughest-in-the-nation anti-abortion law, passed last spring, outlaws abortions after the first signs of heart palpitations — within five or six weeks after conception — often before a woman knows she’s pregnant.
That’s an issue in several states, where opponents worry about it spreading.
One is Virginia, where there is a neck-and-neck off-year race for governor between former Democratic Gov. Terry McCauliffe and Republican challenger Glenn Youngkin, a wealthy equity fund executive backed by former President Donald Trump.
Vice president Kamala Harris was recently in Virginia to promote McAuliffe, in a race considered a bellwether for the Democrats going into the 2022 elections in most other states.
“Don’t Texas Virginia,” Harris warned, using “Texas” as a verb at a McAuliffe rally.
Harris had multiple topics in Texas from which to choose, including Gov. Greg Abbott’s vacillations on vaccine and mask mandates, and the need to fix the electric power grid that froze much of Texas in February for several days.
But Harris concentrated on the abortion bill — SB 8, which Abbott smilingly signed in May.
Critics say SB 8 undercuts Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision, which has protected a woman’s choice on whether to carry a pregnancy to term.
SB 8 deviously calls for enforcement not from the state directly, but by authorizing citizen bounty hunters to file suit against anyone participating in an abortion in violation of the law — an abortion doctor, even a taxi driver — and receive at least $10,000 per case.
That threat of open-ended court costs has basically caused abortion clinics to shut down in Texas, forcing women to seek abortions in other states — if they can get there.
“We don’t even have to imagine,” Harris said. “We have empirical evidence right before us, guys, of a governor in the state of Texas who is telling women what and who they can be based on some arbitrary decision that includes empowering bounty hunters to intimidate, to instill fear in women. This is the power of a governor.”
The Texas law has been challenged by the federal Department of Justice. The Supreme Court, which earlier passed up a request to put a stay on the law while it is being litigated, has now scheduled a hearing for Nov. 1.
The high court, which has other abortion considerations pending, could stay the Texas law while the cases are being litigated — or it might not.
Gov. Abbott has named a new secretary of state — attorney John Scott of Fort Worth — as the state’s new overseer of Texas elections.
Scott worked briefly as a lawyer for former President Donald Trump’s fruitless attempts to overturn his 2020 election loss to Democrat Joe Biden.
Scott signed on to represent Trump Nov. 13, in a lawsuit attempting to block certification of Pennsylvania’s election. But just before a key hearing, Scott filed a motion to withdraw from the case, and also another attorney in his firm, Bryan Hughes, a Republican state senator from Minneola.
Hughes said Trump had hired Scott “because he’s a stellar lawyer.”
Hughes said they quit the case because of a federal appeals court ruling about standing that “really just gutted our case.”
Scott is no stranger to Abbott, or election laws. He had been a deputy attorney general in 2014 when Abbott was attorney general.
He defended the state’s voter identification law against charges of racial discrimination, but federal courts found it to be intentionally discriminatory. The legislature eventually had to rewrite the law to satisfy the federal Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Scott fills the slot vacated by Ruth Hughs, in late May, who resigned after failing to be confirmed by the Texas Senate as the legislative session ended.
She had been appointed between legislative sessions, and the secretary of state must be confirmed by a two-thirds vote of the senate during its next regular session, or leave. Scott, also appointed during the legislative interim, will serve as interim secretary. The legislature’s next regular session is in 2023.
Scott’s appointment caught some backlash from Democrats. Matt Angle, director of the Lone Star Project, which works to elect Democrats, said Abbott’s “surrender to Donald Trump betrays every Texan.”
“Texas’ already chaotic Secretary of State’s Office will be headed by someone intent on paving the way for Trump’s ‘Big Lie,’” Angle said in a statement. “By appointing a known vote suppressor to oversee our elections, Abbott is knowingly putting Texas elections in jeopardy and our future at risk just to cruelly hang on to power.”