Taking Texas to Trial: Public Opinion on Texas' High Profile Cases

Cassandra Pollock and Emma Platoff have a nice piece in The Texas Tribune this week that highlights some of the highest profile legal fights the state is currently involved in (there are quite a few). When it comes to legal cases in general, and legal rights in particular, it's important to note that public opinion can often act as a poor guide to a just outcome, and in many cases, may have no relevance on particular legal proceedings. With that caveat aside, public opinion is useful in determining how elected officials, including the Attorney General, might react to court decisions, and further, whether the state chooses to push ahead in the legal process in the face of adverse decisions. Below is a table that reproduces parts of Pollock's and Platoff's Tribune story (though you should really read the whole thing), with relevant public opinion following (click on any of the topics to jump to that section of public opinion).

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A lot20%
Not very much25%
Nothing at all19%

Taking Texas to trial: the latest on the state's court battles, by Cassandra Pollock and Emma Platoff (via The Texas Tribune)
Topic The Backstory The Case The Latest
The “sanctuary cities” law Gov. Greg Abbott in May signed Senate Bill 4, a high-profile measure that seeks to ban “sanctuary” jurisdictions in the state. The measure allows local law enforcement to question detained or arrested people about their immigration status and requires jailers to honor all detainers. Officials who don’t comply with federal authorities could face jail time and penalties that exceed $25,000. Cities, local governments and immigration rights groups began suing the state over SB 4 soon after Abbott signed it, arguing it would unfairly target minorities and open the door for racial profiling. Proponents of the law argue it’s constitutional and not pre-empted by federal immigration law. Key parts of the law were temporarily halted before its Sept. 1 effective date, including that requirement for jailers to honor all detainers. But a panel of judges on the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in September that the detainer provision can go into effect as the case plays out in court. The 5th Circuit is set to hear arguments in the case Nov. 7. 
Redrawing the state’s House and congressional maps The Legislature drew new boundary maps for state and federal lawmakers on the heels of fresh census data in 2010 — maps minority rights groups say discriminate against black and Latino voters. A panel of San Antonio judges drew temporary ​maps ahead of the 2012 elections​, and lawmakers enacted similar maps in 2013. ​Texas has been using those ever since. The legal battle, which has been six years in the making, reignited when the same trio of judges ruled in March that three of Texas' 36 congressional districts​, as drawn in 2011,​ violated the U.S. Constitution and Voting Rights Act and ​flagged ​violations ​on the state's House map soon after that. In August, that panel ruled parts of both current​ maps​ needed to be redrawn​ ahead of the 2018 elections​ to address intentional discrimination that carried over from 2011.​ Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton ​has​ appealed both rulings to the U.S. Supreme Court. The high court in September halted those lower court rulings while ​it considers Paxton’s appeal. Efforts to redraw the two maps are now on hold, making it more likely the current ones will remain intact for the 2018 elections.
State ban on second-trimester abortion procedure In a dilation and evacuation abortion, which is the most common second-trimester abortion procedure, doctors use surgical instruments to grasp and remove pieces of fetal tissue. Critics have decried the procedure as “dismemberment abortion”; medical professionals consider it the safest way to terminate a second-trimester pregnancy. Senate Bill 8, which Abbott signed into law in June, includes a provision that bans dilation and evacuation abortions unless the fetus is deceased. That ban was set to go into effect Sept. 1 but was temporarily blocked this summer by U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel after several abortion rights groups sued the state over the provision. Yeakel’s block remains in effect. Meanwhile, arguments kicked off Nov. 2 in Whole Woman’s Health, et al. v. Ken Paxton, et al. The trial is expected to last several days.
Fetal remains At stake are the rules surrounding how health providers must handle the remains of aborted fetuses. Anti-abortion lawmakers, citing the importance of respecting “the dignity of the unborn,” argue that fetal remains should be buried or cremated. But abortion groups and health providers argue that these rules are overly burdensome. In January, U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks blocked Texas from enforcing a rule requiring that fetal remains be buried or cremated, saying that the regulation, part of the state’s administrative code, imposed an “undue burden” on the right to an abortion. But Senate Bill 8, signed into law this June, put the same language on fetal remains into state law. The legal challenge is still pending.
Voter ID In 2011, the Texas Legislature passed what was widely considered to be the nation’s strictest voter ID law, requiring citizens to present one of seven forms of identification at the polls. For proponents, that law was critical for defending the integrity of elections; for critics, it disenfranchised minority voters less likely to have certain forms of identification.  After the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the 2011 law disproportionately burdened minority voters, the Texas Legislature this year passed Senate Bill 5, a softened version of the voter ID law that permitted Texans without photo identification to vote if they presented certain acceptable alternatives and signed affidavits swearing a “reasonable impediment” prevented them from obtaining the identification. But a federal judge threw out that law, too, ruling that it intentionally discriminated against black and Latino voters and failed to correct the 2011 law’s problems. Blocking that ruling, a three-judge panel from the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in September that Texas may use its revised voter ID law for future elections. That means the softened law could take effect as soon as Jan. 1. But that could change next month — the 5th Circuit is set to hear oral arguments on the case Dec. 5.
Language interpreters In 2014, late Williamson County resident Mallika Das brought her son to the ballot box to help her vote due to her limited English proficiency. But he wasn’t allowed to help her cast a ballot because an election official said he didn’t meet the state’s language interpreter requirements, which required him to be registered to vote in the county. Das’ dilemma prompted groups to sue the state, challenging Texas’ election requirements for language-minority voters. In August, a three-judge panel of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the requirements violated the Voting Rights Act.  It remains unclear whether the state will appeal the court ruling. Depending on the outcome, thousands of Texas voters could be impacted — millions of households in the state speak languages other than English.
Same-sex marriage benefits After the U.S. Supreme Court declared same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states in June 2015, public employers in Texas extended marriage benefits for spouses of current and retired gay and lesbian employees. Two taxpayers — represented by same-sex marriage opponents — sued the city of Houston over its benefits policy. Those plaintiffs lost in a lower state court and appealed to the Texas Supreme Court, which in June tossed out the ruling and suggested the case legalizing same-sex marriage didn’t fully address the right to marriage benefits.  Houston filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court on Sept. 18, asking it review that ruling, and has continued providing benefits to all of its married employees. The high court hasn’t announced whether it plans to take up the case. 
Child welfare Texas’ child welfare system has long been criticized for failing to properly serve the tens of thousands of children in its care. In 2015, U.S. District Judge Janis Jack ruled that Texas had violated foster children’s constitutional rights by placing them in a system where they “often age out of care more damaged than when they entered.” Texas has responded that it is the role of the Legislature, not the courts, to fix the problem. Abbott signed four major child welfare bills into law this May. State efforts to reform the agency continue while the federal court case is still pending.

The “sanctuary cities” law

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Strongly support22%
Somewhat support15%
Somewhat oppose9%
Strongly oppose41%
Don't know13%

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Strongly support41%12%6%
Somewhat support24%18%7%
Somewhat oppose9%13%8%
Strongly oppose10%35%72%
Don't know16%22%7%

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Strongly support18%25%28%
Somewhat support12%16%25%
Somewhat oppose8%15%10%
Strongly oppose53%15%22%
Don't know8%30%15%

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Strongly support44%
Somewhat support14%
Somewhat oppose14%
Strongly oppose19%
Don't know/no opinion9%

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Strongly support11%52%72%
Somewhat support12%16%16%
Somewhat oppose27%11%5%
Strongly oppose38%10%3%
Don't know/no opinion13%10%4%

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Strongly support53%25%31%
Somewhat support14%20%13%
Somewhat oppose11%21%18%
Strongly oppose15%17%30%
Don't know/no opinion7%17%9%

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Local law enforcement agencies decide policies for their officers45%
Officers should always be able to question a person’s immigration status44%
Don't know/no opinion11%

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Local law enforcement agencies decide policies for their officers70%42%26%
Officers should always be able to question a person’s immigration status15%51%69%
Don't know/no opinion15%8%6%

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Local law enforcement agencies decide policies for their officers39%55%56%
Officers should always be able to question a person’s immigration status54%26%29%
Don't know/no opinion7%19%16%

Redrawing the state’s House and congressional maps

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Don't know28%

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Don't know26%43%27%

State ban on second-trimester abortion procedure & Fetal remains

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By law, abortion should never be permitted.17%
The law should permit abortion only in case of rape, incest or when the woman's life is in danger.26%
The law should permit abortion for other reasons, but only after the need for the abortion has been clearly established.15%
By law, a woman should always be able to obtain an abortion as a matter of personal choice.38%
Don't know5%

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By law, abortion should never be permitted.12%8%22%
The law should permit abortion only in case of rape, incest or when the woman's life is in danger.14%28%38%
The law should permit abortion for other reasons, but only after the need for the abortion has been clearly established.11%10%19%
By law, a woman should always be able to obtain an abortion as a matter of personal choice.57%45%19%
Don't know6%8%2%

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Strongly support25%
Somewhat support19%
Somewhat oppose10%
Strongly oppose29%
Don't know17%

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Strongly support12%27%38%
Somewhat support14%15%24%
Somewhat oppose8%16%10%
Strongly oppose50%29%10%
Don't know17%14%18%

Voter ID

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Very favorable51%
Somewhat favorable15%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable9%
Somewhat unfavorable6%
Very unfavorable16%
Don't know / No Opinion3%

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Very favorable23%44%78%
Somewhat favorable18%26%12%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable12%8%5%
Somewhat unfavorable11%8%2%
Very unfavorable33%13%2%
Don't know / No Opinion3%2%1%

Language interpreters

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Don't know/no opinion15%

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categoryLean DemocratNot very strong DemocratStrong Democrat
Don't know8%3%3%

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Don't know/no opinion11%19%22%

Same-sex marriage benefits

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Gays and lesbians should have the right to marry55%
Gays and lesbians should not have the right to marry32%
Don't know13%

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Gays and lesbians should have the right to marry77%58%32%
Gays and lesbians should not have the right to marry15%20%52%
Don't know8%22%16%

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Gays and lesbians should have the right to marry74%61%50%43%
Gays and lesbians should not have the right to marry17%28%35%41%
Don't know9%11%15%16%

Child welfare

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A lot12%
Not very much30%
Nothing at all25%

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Don't know enough to have an opinion43%