The State of Texas: SCOTUS Questions Texas’s Intellectual Disability Standards For Death Row
Plus: A border wall could be big trouble for Big Bend, a judge upholds Waller County’s courthouse gun ban, and a controversial porn expo again sets its sights on Dallas.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“You Belong. Stay Strong. Be Blessed. We Are One America.”
—A sign belonging to Justin Normand, according to the Dallas Morning News. An image of the bearded, cowboy hat-wearing Normand holding his sign in front of the Islamic Center of Irving went viral this week. Normand, 53, told the Morning News that he has felt the need to “share peace with his neighbors” ever since Donald Trump was elected president.
Disabled On Death Row?
The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Tuesday in the case of Bobby James Moore, a Texas inmate sentenced to death for murder whose lawyers are challenging the state’s standards for deciding whether a defendant facing death row is intellectually disabled. Moore, 57, was convicted and put on death row for the 1980 killing of a convenience store clerk in Houston. Moore scored a 59 on an IQ test, well below the benchmark for intellectual disability, but by Texas’s standards he was still eligible for execution. A 2002 SCOTUS decision barred states from executing the mentally disabled, but it left it up to the states to determine their own standards for measuring intellectual disabilities. During Tuesday’s hearing, justices were pretty harsh on the state, questioning the effect of Texas’s standards which appear to be outdated, arbitrary, and too strict. According to the Washington Post, the justice’s line of questioning made it seem as though the court will eventually rule in Moore’s favor. The court’s liberal justices and Justice Anthony Kennedy were critical of whether the state’s procedure for determining mental disability was actually just a way to make more people eligible for death row. “[Moore] was eating out of garbage cans repeatedly and getting sick after each time he did it, but not learning from his mistakes,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor said, according to the New York Times. “Why is the fact that he could mow lawns and play pool indicative of a strength that overcomes all the other deficits?”
MEANWHILE, IN TEXAS
One of President-elect Donald Trump’s biggest campaign promises—that he will build some sort of wall that stretches along the entire border between Mexico and the U.S.—could be big trouble for Big Bend National Park. According to the Dallas Morning News, both visitors and residents are worried about the effect such a wall might have on the Big Bend experience. Critics think a wall would curtail tourism, weaken conservation efforts, and threaten the park’s immense scenic beauty and its wildlife, in particular black bears, which just recently started to return to the park by migrating north from Mexico after a decades-long absence. “A big wall in Big Bend would basically destroy the wilderness quality Big Bend has protected,” Rick LoBello, a member of the non-profit Greater Big Bend Coalition, told the Morning News. As the Morning News notes, the original proposal for the park’s creation was pretty specific about its binational goals. In 1944, Big Bend’s first year as a national park, then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt wrote to Mexico’s president that the concept of Big Bend wouldn’t be complete until “both sides of the Rio Grande form one great international park.” He probably didn’t have a wall in mind.
A district judge ruled that Waller County, near Houston, can continue to prohibit guns in its courthouse, according to the Houston Chronicle. In July, the leader of a Texas open carry advocacy group questioned the courthouse’s gun ban, alleging Waller County was in non-compliance with the state’s open carry law, leading to a legal dispute in the county’s district court. The group also filed a complaint with Attorney General Ken Paxton, who followed up by sending the county a threatening letter before filing his own lawsuit in Travis County. The Travis County case is still active, so Waller County’s courthouse gun ban isn’t quite out of the woods yet, though Waller is preparing to file a motion to dismiss that case. “We hope that we’re assigned a district judge in Travis County that will respect the ruling of the district court here,” Waller County District Attorney Elton Mathis told the Chronicle.
The controversial Exxxotica porn expo was banned from Dallas’s downtown convention center last year, but apparently it isn’t finished with the Big D just yet. In case you forgot about this x-rated ordeal, here’s a quickie refresher: Exxxotica first came to Dallas last August, and in February, the Dallas City Council decided the sexpo would never again be held at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center downtown. A federal judge later threw out the sexpo’s legal challenge, ruling that the city-owned space was not a public forum, so the city had the right to kick Exxxotica to the curb. But on Tuesday, Exxxotica filed for a new hearing, with the sexpo’s attorneys claiming it has new evidence that proves the convention center is actually a public forum, according to the Dallas Morning News. In the latest filing, Exxxotica asked for a date to return to Dallas for its 2017 expo, and also wants the city to repay the revenue the sexpo lost in 2016 and pay damages for allegedly violating its First Amendment rights. It remains to be seen if Dallas will soften its anti-Exxxotica stance.
WHAT WE’RE READING
On his last day before moving to Houston, Austin’s police chief gives an exit interview Austin American Statesman
Texas’s sanctuary cities are ready to fight Donald Trump’s deportations The Intercept
The EPA will soften environmental regulations for a handful of Texas coal power plants Houston Chronicle
Texans fight for a $15 minimum wage Texas Observer
Someone stole 72 brown vases from grave markers at a Waco cemetery Waco Tribune