Wed April 16, 2014 3:38 pm By Erica Grieder

“First of all, I’m compassionate,” said state senator Dan Patrick in his opening remarks at last night’s debate on immigration. “And I’m not tough.” When discussing illegal immigration, he continued, it is important to keep in mind that most unauthorized immigrants are the victims of a broken system that “forces people to come to this country illegally,” a broken system for which Washington politicians should take most of the blame.

It would have been an unremarkable opening, if not for the source. Prior to March 4, when he won 41 percent of the vote in the Republican primary for lieutenant governor, Patrick would have scoffed at anyone who suggested he wasn’t tough on the issue. He was going out of his way to prove that he was tougher than the other candidates in the primary, like Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, who had, as a state representative, voted for the Texas DREAM Act in 2001. For months, Patrick was stumping around the state warning about an “illegal invasion”, and promoting the policies he would pursue in order to stop it. His rhetoric on the subject was so consistently extreme that other Republicans have apparently reached out to rein him in. The debate itself had been arranged after San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro rebuked him on Twitter, after which both men agreed to a pistols-at-high-noon showdown.

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Wed April 16, 2014 12:06 pm By Paul Burka

I watched the debate on immigration between Dan Patrick and Julian Castro last night. Erica is also going to write about it today, but in my mind it didn't really settle anything though it did raise a long-lingering issue. During the course of the debate, Patrick said that if legal immigration were expanded and the border was secured, "illegal immigration would stop." The problem with this statement is, as I have pointed out in previous posts, that it is nearly impossible to "secure" the border.

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Fri April 11, 2014 10:41 am By Erica Grieder

“Yes, race still colors our debates,” said President Barack Obama during his keynote speech at the LBJ Library’s Civil Rights Summit yesterday. It is also the case, he said, that the country is still wracked by political division and poverty, and that some government programs have fallen short of their goals; nonetheless, 50 years after Lyndon Johnson signed the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, “we have proved that great progress is possible.” And the president ended his speech by promising, like LBJ before him, to use the power of his office to pursue further progress. 

The Civil Rights Act banned discrimination in public accommodations and included a provision against unequal application of voter registration rules; the Voting Rights Act, which Johnson signed the next year, reinforced voting rights by establishing federal oversight of state election rules and outlawing literacy tests, among other things. Both sought to guarantee equal access to political participation for African-Americans (and other racial minorities). In his remarks introducing the president, John Lewis, a leader of the civil rights movement who now represents Georgia in the United States House of Representatives, observed that the laws had thereby enabled the elections of Southern Democrats Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton as well as Obama, the country’s first African-American president. Clinton made that point too, during his keynote address on Wednesday. The election of a black president, however, was a milestone that many doubted was possible right up until the day America voted him in.  

As president, Obama has not gone out of his way to lead a national discussion about the legacy of racial injustice in America, or about the racism that still exists, although his administration has occasionally taken up issues that disproportionately affect African-Americans and Hispanics, as in the Department of Justice’s efforts against state-level efforts to restrict voting rights (including Texas’s Voter ID law). Yesterday’s speech was in line with that approach. The comment quoted above was about as close as Obama has ever come, at least in public, to addressing an argument that many of his supporters have made—that the political opposition to his domestic agenda is so ferocious that it must be driven by racism, at least in part.

Overall, Obama came across as less contentious than Clinton, for example, who gave a blistering take on recent Republican efforts to shake off the restrictions of the Voting Rights Act while simultaneously pursuing state-level restrictions on voting itself: “We all know what that’s about.” Obama’s polite words about Johnson’s legacy, however, conveyed a couple of pointed arguments.

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Tue April 8, 2014 5:16 pm By Erica Grieder

The first day of the LBJ Presidential Library's Civil Rights Summit offered a thought-provoking contrast between the way advocates are approaching two of the more controversial topics of recent years: gay marriage and immigration reform. 

The first panel posed the question of whether gay marriage is a civil right. It was no surprise that both panelists, lawyers David Boies (center) and Theodore Olson (right), agreed that it is. The two are from different points on the political spectrum--they argued against one another in 2000's Bush v Gore--but they worked together to make the case against Prop 8, the 2008 ballot proposition in California that would have amended the state constitution to bar recognition of same-sex marriages, and they are working together now to overturn a similar measure in Virginia. During the course of the discussion, though, they took a more assertive stance than one might have expected. They offered some comments about the benefits of allowing gay couples to marry, and about the disadvantages that may be experienced by children whose parents are legally unable to marry.

Their overarching message, though, was that marriage is a fundamental right, one that the government has no authority to deprive people of. From a legal perspective, "the other side doesn't have an argument," Boies said. More than thirty federal judges have considered cases related to gay marriage since last June, he said and all of them have ruled in favor of access to marriage. For that matter, he continued, the Supreme Court has struck down several state laws that tried to deny someone the right to marriage on the basis of bad behavior (like child support scofflaws) or impracticality (imprisoned felons). In both cases, Boies noted, the people who supported the state laws had a rational perspective on the situation; the laws were nonetheless unconstitutional. 

Immigration was the issue at hand in the second panel discussion of the day, and my colleague Brian Sweany opened the discussion with a logical question: should immigration be considered a civil rights issue? 

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Tue April 8, 2014 1:12 pm By Erica Grieder

President Barack Obama has declared today "Equal Pay Day", as part of the administration's ongoing efforts to bring attention to the gender wage gap. To that end, he will sign an executive order stopping federal contractors from penalizing workers who discuss their pay rates, and is calling on the Senate to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, a measure that would expand the legal protections of the Equal Pay Act. 

The announcements mean that Texas's running discussion about equal pay will continue. To that end, just a quick note here, in case any readers missed it: on Friday, we published a thoughtful piece on the statewide debate by Bethany Albertson, an assistant professor of government at the University of Texas at Austin. Our thanks to her and to those of you who have weighed in with substantive comments, on this as on other issues. 

( AP Image / Lauren Victoria Burke )

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