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The Houston Chronicle on California governor takes aim at Texas abortion law — by copying it:
Texas state Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, may or may not know much about the Lone Star State’s vigilante heritage. Given his East Texas roots, he ought to at least be aware of the sordid history of the Klan and lynch mobs and citizen’s militias, but then we don’t like to discomfort ourselves by thinking about such blotches on the pages of our past (and, goodness, we certainly don’t want our school children learning about them!)
So, given our self-imposed ignorance about such ignominies, Hughes may have missed the connection between dangerous vigilantism and his now-notorious Senate Bill 8, legislation that allows private citizens — aka, bounty hunters — to sue anyone who “aids or abets” an abortion after about six weeks. He may be unaware that it’s dangerous to unleash the bounty hunters, however honorable the motive is perceived to be.
Like most inclined toward vigilantism, Hughes and those who support his tactic for outlawing abortion, are impatient sorts. They may espouse law and order, but for them the wheels of justice either grind too slowly or turn in the wrong direction. SB 8 is designed not only to practically outlaw abortion in Texas but also to circumvent legal challenges by relying on private citizens, rather than government officials, to enforce it.
Leave it to a slick Californian to call Hughes and friends on their blatantly unconstitutional hypocrisy. In response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last week to allow the Texas abortion ban to stay in effect while legal challenges proceed, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced his intention to push for a new state law modeled after SB 8.
Newsom’s law, however, would allow private citizens to sue anyone who “manufactures, distributes or sells an assault weapon or ghost gun kit or parts” in California. The proposed law would allow bounty hunters to seek damages of at least $10,000 per violation, plus costs and attorney’s fees. Just like in Texas.
If enacted — and in a Democrat-dominated California Legislature, there’s a chance it will be — gun shops would surely be hurting. Just like abortion clinics in Texas.
“I am outraged by yesterday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing Texas’ ban on most abortion services to remain in place,” Newsom said in a statement. “But if states can now shield their laws from review by the federal courts that compare assault weapons to Swiss Army knives, then California will use that authority to protect people’s lives, where Texas used it to put women in harm’s way.”
Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor warned that what’s good for a Texas goose could be equally good for a Golden State gander (though not in those words, exactly).
“By blessing significant portions of the law’s effort to evade review, the Court comes far short of meeting the moment,” Sotomayor wrote. “The Court clears the way for States to reprise and perfect Texas’ scheme in the future to target the exercise of any right recognized by this Court with which they disagree. This is no hypothetical. New permutations of SB 8 are coming.”
Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Ohio and other states already are planning to copy the Texas law in the event that the U.S. Supreme Court allows it to stand. Notice, however, that Sotomayor alluded to “any right,” which means gun rights, religious rights, any constitutional right a vigilante group might target.
The raging liberal who serves as chief justice also expressed concern. “If the legislatures of the several states may, at will, annul the judgments of the courts of the United States and destroy the rights acquired under those judgments,” Justice John Roberts wrote in a minority opinion, “the constitution itself becomes a solemn mockery.”
Roberts, an appointee of Republican President George W. Bush, isn’t the only conservative to imply that Texas’ evasive legislative mechanism for upending law and order is actually very anti-conservative.
Hughes, the abortion law’s author, claimed in a Texas Tribune story that Newsom’s proposal wouldn’t work because gun rights are “firmly established” in the constitution and abortion rights aren’t.
But that’s not what Texas Solicitor General Judd Stone indicated when Justice Brett Kavanaugh asked him if Texas’ citizen enforcement tool could be used to evade court oversight in targeting Second Amendment rights.
“Say everyone who sells an AR-15 is liable for a million dollars to any citizen. ... Would that kind of law be exempt from pre-enforcement review in federal court?” Kavanaugh asked.
“Yes,” Stone replied.
It’s hard to know how serious Newsom is, even though he announced that he will be working with his staff, the California Legislature and his attorney general to craft private-lawsuit legislation. He sounded serious: “If the most efficient way to keep these devastating weapons off our streets is to add the threat of private lawsuits, we should do just that.”
It’s hard to believe the governor actually believes that a copy-cat SB 8 is “the most efficient way. . . ,” given that earlier he blasted the Texas law as a cynical attempt to undercut federal law. It’s more likely that he has at least a couple of ulterior motives:
One, feeling empowered after handily surviving a recall effort in October, he may be positioning himself for higher office in 2024 or beyond. Newsom has never lacked for ambition, or self-regard.
Two, he’s alarmed, as all Americans ought to be, at the willingness of Republicans in Donald Trump’s thrall to resort to vigilantism, whether it’s storming the Capitol on Jan. 6 (or at least excusing the outrage), intimidating election officials, lionizing a foolish teen-aged vigilante who killed two people in Kenosha, Wis., encouraging anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers to bully pharmacists and physicians, or crafting anti-abortion legislation to thwart legal challenge. Newsom may be trying to wake up his stunned and benumbed fellow Democrats.
Sen. Hughes’ anti-abortion law has been labeled “a stunt.” Unfortunately, it’s a stunt that is working, with the Supreme Court’s tacit blessing. The Golden State governor’s gun proposal is likely a stunt, as well. If it wakes up Americans — Democrats, Republicans, independents and enough Supreme Court justices — to the vigilante danger we face, his ploy will be worth it.
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