A federal judge Wednesday ordered state and local officials to stop, for now, sending letters demanding proof of citizenship from thousands of Texas voters, saying the government’s “ham-handed” and flawed attempt to find ineligible voters had caused fear and anxiety in vulnerable people.
U.S. District Court Judge Fred Biery‘s four-page order commanded acting Texas Secretary of State David Whitley to tell local election officials not to send letters of examination to people who appeared on a list of 98,000 registered voters that Whitley’s office had flagged as potential non-U.S. citizens on Jan. 25.
That list, and counties’ reactions to it, prompted three lawsuits seeking to block the state from removing voters from rolls. The groups that sued the government over the list said the citizenship checks would target minority groups and naturalized citizens.
Two of those lawsuits included Galveston County Voter Registrar Cheryl Johnson, whose office sent dozens of letters to registered voters in Galveston County asking them to prove their citizenship.
Johnson stopped sending the letters after the Secretary of State’s office revealed that thousands of names were incorrectly included on the first list.
The three lawsuits have been at the center of hearings in Biery’s San Antonio court over the past two weeks. After hearing witnesses, including the state officials in charge of rolling out the original list, Biery said it appeared the effort was a “solution looking for a problem.”
“Not withstanding good intentions, the road to a solution was inherently paved with flawed results, meaning perfectly legal naturalized Americans were burdened with what the court finds to be ham-handed and threatening correspondence from the state,” Biery wrote.
Biery’s order still permits counties to check the citizenship of registered voters, but they must do so without contacting that person, Biery wrote. In order to remove a person based on a citizenship review, officials must conclusively show that a person is ineligible and get permission from the court, he wrote.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Tuesday struck down part of the state’s Open Meetings Acts that prohibits certain kind of secret deliberations from happening between elected officials.
The law prohibited officials from meeting in small groups in ways that circumvent public meeting laws. Normally, if a quorum of an elected body is present, the meeting must be posted and open to the public.
The law prevented officials from organizing, for example, two small meetings of different members of the same body and then having a single person attend both meetings in order to come to a consensus.
The Court of Criminal Appeals, which is the state’s highest criminal court, said the open meetings laws was unconstitutionally vague.
The vote to strike down the law was 7-2.
Appeals court Judge Michelle Slaughter wrote in a concurring opinion that she believes the state’s current law violated the First Amendment.
“The state has not shown how criminalizing informal, initial discussions by a governmental body prior to a formal meeting is necessary to ensure its interest in transparency and public access to governmental deliberations,” Slaughter wrote.
U.S. Rep. Randy Weber voted against a House of Representatives resolution seeking to rescind President Donald Trump‘s declaration of a national emergency on the U.S.-Mexico border. ... “My colleagues on the other side of the aisle are once again playing politics with a national crisis. Under any other president, this declaration wouldn’t be an issue,” Weber said. ... The resolution passed the House 245 to 182. ... There are 65 days until Election Day. ... There are 88 days until the end of the Texas legislative session.