Thu July 9, 2015 12:14 pm By By Paul Burka

In April 2012, I wrote a column about the Abigail Fisher case, an affirmative-action lawsuit in which Fisher, a Anglo student from Sugar Land, sought admission to the University of Texas as an undergraduate. I wrote:

The ultimate question is not one of law. It’s one of politics: Does the court dare turn back the clock on minority advancement and squelch the aspirations of a new generation of young Americans?

I also made the point then that the weakness in the case for admitting Fisher to UT was not about whether she should be admitted because she had better grades than certain minority students. I believed then and I believe now that Fisher’s academic record, though solid, was not strong enough to guarantee automatic admission to the University of Texas in the first place. The U.S. Supreme Court should pay close attention to Fisher’s academic record as it debates whether to eliminate race as a consideration for acceptance at public universities.

Thu July 9, 2015 9:21 am By R.G. Ratcliffe

On the afternoon of April 16, 1903, people from all over Texas gathered on the lawn of the Capitol to dedicate a monument to the Confederate war dead. The Santa Fe Railroad had offered discount tickets for anyone wanting to make the trip. The Dallas Morning News reported that the dedication “was preceded by one of the largest parades ever seen in Austin.” The monument was a gift to the state from the Camp John B. Hood, United Confederate Veterans.

A reception followed in the Senate, and then the final exercises were held in the House chamber, featuring a speech by former Confederate postmaster John H. Reagan, the recently retired chairman of the Texas Railroad Commission. “He declared that the Confederates were neither traitors nor rebels, but had been forced to vindicate themselves when the majority in the national Government trampled over their constitutional rights,” the News reported.

Reagan spoke several days later in Fort Worth and said there had been a “systematic falsification of the great facts of history,” the Star-Telegram reported. “Slavery he said was the occasion but it was not strictly true to say that it was the cause of the war. Sectional jealousy, greed of gain and the lust of political power in his opinion led to the great struggle.”

So was this statue on the Capitol grounds meant to honor Texans who fought in the Civil War or was it an homage to the Confederacy?

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Mon July 6, 2015 6:46 pm By Erica Grieder

On July 2nd, giving a speech in DC, Rick Perry offered some blunt criticism of how Republicans have approached issues related to race, and called on his party to do better. The immediate reaction was subdued, though, and today I learned why: because the speech immediately preceded a holiday weekend. Today, there were a number of glowing reviews flying around the media water cooler, such as this editorial from the Wall Street Journal (which also printed excerpts from his comments). A number of outlets that are historically less quick to commend former Republican governors of Texas–Time, the Washington Post, the Philadelphia Inquirer, etc etc—also had nice things to say.

Some of the reviewers were clearly surprised, and I found that interesting, for reasons I’ll get to in a second. First, though, here’s a link to the speech for readers who are curious. Perry’s stated topic was the economy, and economic opportunity is my favorite issue for presidential candidates to emphasize, so although I thought it was a great speech too, I would think that. His remarks on race, at the beginning of the speech, included a great point about the Fourteenth Amendment, but his overarching point struck me as straightforward and uncontroversial. He isn’t getting any backlash from conservatives, as far as I can tell, and I don’t see why he would.

So I only have two things to add here. The first is a PSA for Perry’s critics: If you’re genuinely surprised by the possibility that Rick Perry may not be a virulent racist hatemonger, you should check his record. And then you should check your own biases, because you’ve obviously been making unwarranted assumptions about someone who seems to fit your stereotypes. Ya burnt!

The other is a more general comment. Perry has noted before that African-Americans living in Texas see experience better outcomes in terms of employment and education than African-Americans nationwide. Barely two weeks ago, for example, he got a lot of criticism for referring to the mass shooting in Charleston as an “accident”; if you watch the video it’s clear that he meant “incident”, but more to the point, he goes on to talk about economic and educational opportunity for everyone, including African-Americans.

People may dispute the sincerity of his concern. The metrics support his point, but don’t explain why Texas’s outcomes are better—and as governor, Perry rarely talked about issues in terms of race unless race was clearly part of the issue (as when he signed the hate-crimes bill). At the same time, Perry signed a lot of good legislation that has helped mitigated some of Texas’s historic disparities in straightforward ways; the criminal justice reforms he advocated, for example, helped lessen overincarceration. 

In other words, although Perry eschews identity politics, he did improve equity in Texas, even if he didn’t think about it in those terms or intend to do so. The same is true of many of Texas conservatives, and the metrics show that Texas actually has become more equitable, in various ways, during this period of Republican hegemony.

Counterinituitive, perhaps, but it makes sense the more I think about it. In some cases, differential outcomes based on race (or gender, or so on) are actually caused by race (etc). In a lot of cases, though, the real culprit is one or several of the many economic, sociological, or historical factors correlated with race or gender. If so, policymakers focused on the demographic trait would naturally be off on a wild goose chase. Meanwhile, the ones who ignore identity politics are free to think about criminal justice reform or improving access to higher education or whatnot. It’s fair to debate whether our leaders should focus more explicitly on Texas’s various disadvantaged groups. But Perry et al have given us examples of an intriguing possibility: that sometimes, at least, we can promote equity by ignoring it. 

(AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Sat July 4, 2015 12:53 pm By Erica Grieder

The thing I love most about America is that our existential premises are radical, unrealistic, revolutionary ideals. Before 1776, the world’s borders were drawn by conquest and its peoples were categorized by ancestry, ethnicity, religion, or language. On July 4th of that year the Continental Congress of Great Britain’s American colonies announced a change of course in our Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

At the time, this was a flatly incorrect statement. Dirisible, even. When the English philosopher Jeremy Bentham dismissed natural rights as “nonsense upon stilts,” he was stating an empirical fact. Although other philosophers of the Enlightenment were advocating the idea that people have intrinsic rights to freedom, equality, and justice, such rights were rarely observed or asserted, much less enforced. That being the case, the Declaration of Independence changed the world. The founders of our country simply asserted that natural rights are self-evident truths, and went on to enshrine that belief in the Constitution—the document that defines who we are as a people, and precludes a lot of the old definitions.

Because Americans are people and ideals are abstractions, we’ve continuously fallen short of our own lofty standards and we will inevitably continue to do so. The Declaration of Independence was also a declaration of dominion over a long-inhabited land. The Constitution that sets out to secure the blessings of liberty secured human slavery too. Even if we could be perfect, the principles themselves leave us with some sticky wickets: liberty and equality aren’t mutually exclusive, but they occasionally throw elbows at each other.

But our continued progress is equally inevitable. By setting the bar too high to actually reach we committed ourselves to endless trying. And so during Reconstruction, for example, we ratified the Fourteenth Amendment, which makes explicit certain principles that had clearly been implied but chronically ignored, including that all Americans have a right to due process and equal protection under the law. Just last week the Supreme Court invoked the former clause in striking down the remaining state bans to legal gay marriage. Personally, I’ve been under the impression that Texas’s constitutional amendment banning gay marriage violated the equal protection clause, and law professor Jonathan Turley raises some concerns about invoking due process in this context that seem pretty plausible. But that’s okay. After a few days of saber-rattling on the right, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton quietly conceded on the overarching legal question. Once again, that is, the Constitution of the United States took precedence. Further legal challenges are ultimately bound to yield the same result.

Since we embarked on this nonsensical journey in 1776, we’ve proven time and time again that forming a more perfect union is an iterative process. Sometimes it’s two steps forward, one step back. But the better angels of our nature are our backstop and will prevail. Happy Independence Day, Texans! I hope everyone’s enjoying a safe and happy holiday, especially my young friend Wesley Ruple, who’s getting married this evening (to a woman, as it is indeed his right to do) and LaMarcus Aldridge, who is heading home to Texas to join the San Antonio Spurs.

Thu July 2, 2015 11:07 am By Paul Burka

The real problem with attorney general Ken Paxton is not just that he has admitted to securities violations, although he has certainly done that. Or that his civil violations could now lead to a felony criminal indictment. Or that he has essentially locked himself in a closet ever since the Republican primary to avoid media scrutiny. Or that his opinions as attorney general read more like political statements than principled, legal rulings. The problem with Paxton is that he is a mediocrity, a lawyer who appears to have little respect for the law.

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