Author Archives: Cassandra Pollock

The Brief: The deadliest mass shooting in Texas history

Emergency vehicles outside First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs on Sunday, Nov. 5, 2017, where a mass shooting has taken place. 

Thanks for reading The Brief, our daily newsletter informing you on politics, public policy and everything in between. Forward this email to friends who may want to join us. They can sign up here. — CP

What you need to know

At least 26 people walked into a Central Texas church Sunday morning and never returned home.

Sutherland Springs, the tiny San Antonio-area town home to around 650 residents, is now also home to the deadliest mass shooting at a place of worship in U.S. history — and the deadliest mass shooting in Texas history. Here’s what you need to know:

• The gunman killed a 5-year-old, a 72-year-old and at least 24 others between those ages at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs. Around 20 others were taken to nearby hospitals with “minor” to “very severe” injuries. Law enforcement didn’t officially identify the gunman Sunday and said it was too early to speculate on a motive for the killings but U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, who represents the area, told The Texas Tribune that the shooter was Devin Kelley of Comal County. The gunman fled the scene after firing inside the church and was found dead inside a car, officials said, adding it was unknown whether he committed suicide. 

• Sutherland Springs has a population of around 643 — so if all of the victims were locals, as Tribune reporter Alexa Ura points out, at least 4 percent of the town’s population was killed in Sunday’s shooting. “We’re not sure if that number will rise or not,” Gov. Greg Abbott said Sunday night at a news conference. “This will be a long, suffering mourning for those in pain.” Cuellar said the church’s 14-year-old daughter and a pregnant woman were among the victims.  

• Up until Sunday, the worst mass shooting in Texas history happened in 1991, when a 35-year-old man drove his truck into a Luby’s in Killeen and killed 23 people before fatally shooting himself. The deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history happened last month, when a 64-year-old fired on a crowd of music festival attendees in Las Vegas and killed more than 50 people. Two years ago, 21-year-old Dylann Roof shot and killed nine people inside a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina. And exactly eight years ago on Sunday, an Army psychiatrist shot and killed 12 soldiers and 1 civilian at Fort Hood. CNN has a list of the deadliest mass shootings between 1949 to the present.

• Prayers — and some calls for tighter gun control laws. “May God be w/ the people of Sutherland Springs, Texas,” said President Donald Trump on Twitter. Other Texas officials, such as Attorney General Ken Paxton and state Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, echoed similar sentiments — but many Democrats said the deadly shooting is evidence that tighter gun ownership laws are needed. “Once again gun violence destroys lives, while this Congress, owned lock, stock, and barrel by the NRA refuses to act,” said Congressman Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, on Facebook. We have a compilation of tweets from Texas officials on the Sutherland Springs shooting here.

• Trump called the shooter a “very deranged individual” while speaking at an event in Japan. “I think mental health is your problem here,” Trump said in a video by the Associated Press. “We have a lot of mental health problems in our country — as do other countries — but this isn’t a guns situation. I mean, we could go into it but it’s a little bit soon to go into it.”

Other stories we’re watching today:

• Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith is talking with state Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, at The Austin Club in Austin this morning. Join us for a conversation with the newly announced candidate for speaker of the Texas House, or watch a livestream here at 8.

• The Texas Senate Education Committee is holding a hearing in Houston today to discuss Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts for schools. Follow Texas Tribune reporter Aliyya Swaby for updates.

Tribune today

• Ross Ramsey says it’s easiest to judge public officials the same way you judge folks at work: Are they doing a good job?

• How has voting in Texas changed over the years? Here’s what several veteran voters told us.

• Texas has a host of high-profile legal battles in the works. We’re tracking some of the most significant cases.

• Counterprotesters at last year’s Houston rally say their presence wasn’t influenced by a Russian Facebook ad but by the white supremacists who said they’d be there.

• The filing deadline for Texas’ 2018 primaries is coming into sight — and so are concerns among some prominent Democrats about their party’s statewide ticket.

• There’s a new layer in the debate over protesting the national anthem at Texas’ grade schools. Tell us your story.

• State Sen. Charles Perry and state Reps. Dustin Burrows and John Frullo talked with us on Friday about the upcoming race for speaker of the Texas House. Did you miss the event? Check out our recap.

• The Trump administration wants the U.S. Supreme Court to invalidate a lower court ruling that allowed an undocumented teen under federal custody in Texas to get an abortion.

• Another undocumented immigrant — Rosa Maria Hernandez, a 10-year-old who was detained after gallbladder surgery in Texas — is set to be reunited with her family.

Pencil us in

Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith is interviewing state Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, at The Austin Club on Nov. 7.

What we’re reading

• Early voter turnout in Hidalgo County nearly doubled this year in comparison to the last constitutional amendment election in 2015. (The Monitor)

• Title IX experts who spent nine months investigating how Baylor University responded to sexual violence reports have verified the school’s ongoing corrective actions. (Waco Tribune-Herald)

• Julián Castro will decide whether to run for president by the end of 2018. (The Austin American-Statesman $)

• Cedar Hill City Council members voted to pump an estimated $160 million into a new downtown development. They failed to mention that a handful of town officials — the mayor included — and their families owned at least 25 properties inside that chunk of land. (The Dallas Morning News $)

• A small charter school in Houston pays its superintendent around $250,000 and owns a condo it used taxpayer money in 2011 to buy that’s valued at $450,000. (The Houston Chronicle $)

Photo of the day

Mourners pray during a candlelight vigil for the victims of the Sutherland Springs First Baptist Church shooting on Nov. 5, 2017. The vigil was held across the street from the church. Photo by Robin Jerstad for The Texas Tribune. See more photos on our Instagram account.

Quote to note

“I rule it out 99 percent.”

— Wendy Davis, the 2014 Democratic gubernatorial nominee, on whether she plans to run for governor again next year.

Feedback? Questions? Email us at thebrief@texastribune.org. As always, thanks for choosing The Brief — if you liked what you read today, become a member or make a donation here

Correction: An item in Friday’s version of The Brief misspelled Jenifer Sarver’s name. 

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Report: Trump’s judicial nominee from Texas called transgender kids part of “Satan’s plan”

Ken Paxton's first assistant attorney general, Jeff Mateer.

Jeff Mateer, a high-ranking official in Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton‘s office who President Donald Trump has nominated for a federal judgeship, said in speeches in 2015 that transgender children are part of “Satan’s plan” and argued same-sex marriage would open the floodgates for “disgusting” forms of marriage, according to CNN.

“In Colorado, a public school has been sued because a first grader and I forget the sex, she’s a girl who thinks she’s a boy or a boy who thinks she’s a girl, it’s probably that, a boy who thinks she’s a girl,” Mateer said in a May 2015 speech first reported by CNN, referencing a Colorado lawsuit that involved a transgender girl’s parents suing her school for prohibiting her from using the restroom she preferred. “I mean it just really shows you how Satan’s plan is working and the destruction that’s going on.”

In that same speech, Mateer also criticized the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage as bringing the nation back to a time of “debauchery.”

“I mean, it’s disgusting,” he said. “I’ve learned words I didn’t know. There are people who marry themselves. Somebody wanted to marry a tree. People marrying their pets. It’s just like — you know, you read the New Testament and you read about all the things and you think, ‘Oh, that’s not going on in our community.’ Oh yes it is. We’re going back to that time where debauchery rules.”

Last week, Trump nominated Mateer as a district judge on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas.

Mateer, who joined Paxton’s office in 2016 as Texas’ first assistant attorney general, has a long record of championing religious expression in the public eye. Before his stint as first assistant attorney general, he spent six years heading the legal team at the First Liberty Institute, a Plano-based conservative legal defense foundation with a history of pursuing cases involving government entities engaged in disputes over religious liberty.

The group (which added “First” to its name in 2016) sued an East Texas high school last year for preventing cheerleaders from carrying banners with bible verses during athletic events. It also waged a battle in 2015 against an ordinance enacted by the city of Plano that extended anti-discrimination protections to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

Mateer was one of five Texas judicial nominations Trump made last week and among two with ties to the First Liberty Institute. Trump’s other Texas nominations were:

  • Matthew Kacsmaryk, a deputy general counsel to the First Liberty Institute, to be a U.S. district judge on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District.
  • Walter David Counts III, a United States Magistrate Judge, to be a district judge on the U.S. District Court for the Western District.
  • Fernando Rodriguez, who currently works as a field office director for International Justice Mission in the Dominican Republic, to serve as a U.S. district judge on the U.S. District Court for  Southern District.
  • Karen Gren Scholer, a partner at Carter Scholer PLLC in Dallas, to be a U.S. district judge on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District.
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The Brief: Battle lines are (curiously) drawn in Texas’ redistricting fight

Good morning and happy Wednesday, folks. Thanks for reading The Brief, our daily newsletter informing you on politics, public policy and everything in between. Forward this email to friends who may want to join us. They can sign up here. — CP

What you need to know

The Texas Legislature isn’t likely coming back for an overtime round in Austin anytime soon — at least not to draw a new congressional map. What does that mean for one of the most gerrymandered districts in the country? Here’s what you need to know:

• A quick table-setter: A federal court in San Antonio ruled last week that two of Texas’ 36 congressional districts — CD-27 and CD-35 — discriminated against minority voters and violated the U.S. Constitution and Voting Rights Act. With the next election cycle in sight, the move set up a redistricting frenzy, and the panel of judges gave the state three business days to decide whether they wanted the Legislature or the court to redraw the map.

• Questions over whether there’d be a redistricting-focused special session were answered Fridaywhen Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced Gov. Greg Abbott didn’t intend to bring lawmakers back to the Capitol to draw a new congressional map. Paxton also revealed a state plan to wriggle free of any consequences, asking the Supreme Court to overturn the lower court’s ruling that the state intentionally discriminated against black and Latino voters and requesting that the current map stay intact ahead of the 2018 elections.

• There’s something curious about CD-35, a long and slender stretch of land in Texas that begins south in San Antonio, runs through parts of Austin and stops just short of Round Rock. Democratic U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, who has represented the district since 2011 when lawmakers divided his old district, called the state’s appeal Friday “desperate” and “highly questionable” in a statement. Want to take a look at CD-35 for yourself? Here you go.

• What’s next? Texas and its opponents — groups representing minorities in the state — are scheduled to return to court to fight over a new map Sept. 5. There’s still a question mark next to whether judges will OK new political boundaries without pushing back the state’s 2018 primaries. If that happens, it could shake up races across Texas — just look at Ted Cruz’s election to the U.S. Senate in 2012, when battles over the state map delayed the primary elections. To cap this off, judges still haven’t ruled on the legality of the state’s House map, which could open up a host of other hurdles ahead of election season.

Other stories we’re watching today:

• The UT Board of Regents is set to meet this morning to talk university tuition for 2019-2020. The Texas A&M Board of Regents is scheduled for a meeting this afternoon to discuss how a “White Lives Matter” rally that was slated for Sept. 1 was handled, among other things. Follow Texas Tribune reporter Matthew Watkins for updates.

Tribune today

• From Ross Ramsey: Let the 2018 Texas Republican primaries begin.

• Angela Paxton, wife of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, may have an eye on a seat in the Texas Senate — which could shake up the race there in 2018.

• An anti-abortion group didn’t serve as many patients as they thought they could, and they’re losing more than $4 million in state funding because of it.

• Don’t forget: Tell us which local control issue we should explore next as part of our ongoing Power Trips series.

Pencil us in

The full program for the 2017 Texas Tribune Festival is now available! Join us for three days of the best conversations in politics and public policy, Sept. 22-24. Check it out.

What we’re reading

Links below lead to outside websites; we’ve noted paywall content with $.

Along with bashing the mainstream media at a rally in Arizona last night, President Trump said NAFTA will probably be terminated. (Politico)

Follow the leader: The University of Texas at Austin’s decision to remove its Confederate statues could lay the groundwork for similar moves at other universities. (AP)

White nationalist Preston Wiginton has been — and remains — a thorn in Texas A&M University’s side. (The Chronicle of Higher Education)

Add Hidalgo County to the list of local governments and cities opposed to Senate Bill 4, the state’s new “sanctuary cities” law. (The Monitor)

U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke stopped in Waco to talk legalizing marijuana and said he’d support impeaching President Trump. (The Waco Tribune-Herald $)

State Sen. Van Taylor’s started his GOP bid to replace Sam Johnson in Congress. (The Dallas Morning News $)

Photo of the day

The scene where a Confederate statue at the University of Texas at Austin once stood, following the university’s removal of its remaining related monuments Aug. 21. Photo by Shelby Knowles. See more photos on our Instagram account.

Quote to note

“Mrs. Ken Paxton will make an interesting opponent.”

Matt Langston, a spokesperson for Dallas County GOP Chairman Phillip Huffines, about Angela Paxton eyeing a seat in the Texas Senate.

Feedback? Questions? Email us at thebrief@texastribune.org. As always, thanks for choosing The Brief — if you liked what you read today, become a member or make a donation here

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What the latest U.S. Supreme Court rulings mean for Texas

With its current term ending this week, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday delivered a handful of rulings on high-profile cases, including President Donald Trump’s executive order barring entry into the U.S. from several predominantly Muslim countries.

The justices will return to a full plate in October. Meanwhile, here are the highlights from today’s rulings, and what they mean for Texas. 

  • Parts of Trump’s travel ban are back. The Supreme Court ruled that provisions of Trump’s travel ban on six mostly Muslim countries can take effect, and agreed to hear full oral arguments on the case in the fall. Under the ruling, people from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen will be barred from entering the U.S. — but only if they lack formal and documented ties to America. While the Texas congressional delegation remained largely mum when Trump first issued the order in January, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton led a 16-state coalition supporting the travel ban and said in a Monday press release that the high court “clearly did the right thing.”
  • The Supreme Court acted on religious freedom issues, too. The high court announced it will consider this fall whether a business should be forced to offer its services to a same-sex couple if its owners object on religious grounds. The issue centers on the case Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd. v Colorado Civil Rights, where a Colorado baker argued he had a constitutionally protected right to deny a wedding cake to a same-sex couple based on his religious beliefs. The Supreme Court also issued opinions Monday on two other related cases, ordering the state of Arkansas to list the names of same-sex parents on birth certificates and ruling that the state of Missouri can’t deny public benefits to a church just because it’s a religious entity. Those cases might have implications for existing Texas legislation, including this session’s bill permitting the religious refusal of adoptions by certain agencies. 
  • A cross-border shooting case was sent back to a lower court. The U.S. Supreme Court tossed Hernandez v. Mesa, a lawsuit that followed the 2010 shooting death of Mexican teenager Sergio Adrian Hernandez Guereca, back to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. The high court ordered the 5th Circuit to revisit its previous ruling that the victim’s family could not sue the U.S. border patrol agent who killed him. The agent fired across the Rio Grande and killed Hernandez on the Mexican side of the international boundary.
  • A Texas death row inmate could face execution soon. In a 5-4 decision along ideological lines, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against Erick Davila, a 30-year-old convicted in the 2008 shooting deaths of a child and her grandmother. The high court decided that lawyers used during the original trial and subsequent appeals should not be treated equally, making Davila’s case ineligible for review in federal court. Davila v. Davis was the third Texas death penalty case the Supreme Court has considered this term, but Monday’s ruling marked the first time the court sided with the state against the inmate. 
  • The high court declined to hear a Second Amendment case. The Supreme Court passed on considering Peruta v. California, a case involving the right to carry guns outside the home. Multiple gun-related proposals were considered during the legislative session that ended in May, including one Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law to significantly reduce the cost to obtain a license to carry a handgun

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Texas’ new immigration law is in court Monday. What’s happened so far?

San Antonio Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller speaks to protesters in front of the federal courthouse where U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia is hearing arguments against Senate Bill 4, the so-called sanctuary cities law, on June 26, 2017.

A long day is expected in San Antonio on Monday as U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia hears a lawsuit over Texas’ controversial new immigration enforcement law. The measure, known as Senate Bill 4 or the “sanctuary cities” ban, has drawn fierce opposition in recent weeks as lawsuits and press conferences have piled up. Expect more fireworks as the day continues, and follow Texas Tribune reporters Julián Aguilar and Alana Rocha for updates.

Here’s what you need to know: 

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The U.S. Supreme Court will hear a Wisconsin redistricting case. What does that mean for Texas?

The U.S. Supreme Court announced Monday it was taking up a case from Wisconsin on partisan gerrymandering — the first time in more than a decade the court will consider the constitutionality of redrawing political maps based on partisanship. What could the move mean for Texas, which is in the middle of its own legal fight over redistricting maps?

Here’s what you need to know: 

  • What happened in Wisconsin? A federal appeals court ruled the state drew district lines benefitting Republicans that were so partisan that they violated the U.S. Constitution. Depending on the ruling, up to seven states’ congressional maps could be affected — including Texas, according to Michael Li, redistricting and voting counsel at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice.

  • Texas has its own redistricting case, too. In March, a panel of judges ruled that three of the state’s 36 congressional districts were illegally drawnThat same panel of judges then took issue with the Texas map of state house districts, which they said intentionally discriminated against minorities statewide and in particular districts, a month later. The trial on both maps is set to begin in July.

  • But the cases are very different: The Wisconsin case revolves around whether partisanship played too large a role into redistricting, while the Texas case focuses on race. In fact, part of Texas’ argument claims redistricting was indeed based on partisanship — something courts have allowed in the past. “A rule against partisan gerrymandering will have a major impact for communities of color, where partisanship unfortunately has often been used as an excuse for actions that hurt minorities,” Li said in a statement.

  • What’s next? It’s unclear if the Wisconsin case, which the U.S Supreme Court is set to consider in its term that begins in November, could affect the pending case in Texas, because of the different timelines and arguments being made. And the justices must also decide whether they even have the jurisdiction to rule in the Wisconsin case, a question they left open in accepting the case. But the high court could ultimately establish a new limit on the role politics plays into redistricting. If that were to occur, it would almost certainly affect map drawing in Texas going forward and give opponents of the current Texas’ maps a new avenue to challenge them. 

How Texans are reacting: The state’s top Republican leadership — Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Attorney General Ken Paxton — all played a role in the state’s last round of redistricting, but none had weighed in on the U.S Supreme Court’s announcement as of midday Monday.

State Rep. Rafael Anchia, a Dallas Democrat and chair of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus in the Texas House, tweeted that the caucus would keep an eye on the Wisconsin case closely as the Texas trial begins next month.

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Reporters Jim Malewitz and Alexa Ura contributed to this report.  

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