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 the Reconstruction, for example, we ratified the Fourteenth Amendment, which makes explicit certain principles that had been 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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Wed July 1, 2015 6:26 pm By Erica Grieder

It’s summer, and the interim—thanks, Governor Abbott!—so yesterday I grabbed a beach towel and a glass of iced tea and settled down to read Ted Cruz’s new book, “A Time for Truth.” 

The title, in my view, is smarmy. Other than that I found it an enjoyable read, as these things go. Cruz is a deft troll, and although he worked with a ghostwriter, the result is very much Cruz’s voice. On page 80, he notes that Michael Luttig, the federal appellate judge for whom he clerked, is “an immensely meticulous man.” On page 125, he describes his future wife: “Heidi is a brilliant, meticulous, sunny blonde from California, and I was smitten with her almost immediately.”

No one describes a wife as “meticulous” because they were looking for a filler word, so based on details like that, along with Cruz’s habitual, lawyerly precision, I think we can proceed on the assumption that some of the more newsy passages in the book are conveying the messages that they were intended to. The book doesn’t say anything unduly critical of Karl Rove, for example, but the mutual contempt between the two jumps off the page.

Reading between the lines a little, here are five things that jumped out to me. The last one is the best, so read on below.

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Mon June 29, 2015 9:49 am By Paul Burka

The takeaway from last week’s U.S. Supreme Court decisions and our leadership’s reactions to them show just how far Texas has slipped away from the mainstream. Same-sex marriage? Republicans are against it. Health care for everyone? Against it. Discrimination in housing projects? We’re on the wrong side of that too.

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Thu June 25, 2015 2:33 pm By Dave Mann

The lieutenant governor responds to our selections: