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Governor Rick Perry, still in the news after his two-county felony indictment last month, has —through his attorneys— filed a motion to quash (nix) the charges against him. The charges, abuse of office and coercion, are alleged by Perry's attorneys to be unconstitutionally void for vagueness.
The pleadings are a familiar tactics, as Perry's team recently raised most the same points in habeas petition a week or two back. At its core, the argument suggests that, not only are the charges against Perry ludicrous, but that the statutes used to prosecute him are inherently constructed improperly.
Now, many unfamiliar with legal proceedings (in a virtually obligatory disclosure, I am not an attorney) may contend that arguing the legality of a statute you are charged under means that you have stipulated your guilt under that statute. For better or for worse, the law simply does not work like that.
Still, the arguments raised by the void-for-vagueness approach should prompt an interesting conversation about the last-ditch effort commonly used by defense attorneys for crimes large and small. The current controlling precedent throughout the nation on what constitutes an unconstitutionally void statute stems from the Supreme Court. Justice George Sutherland wrote in the 1926 case of Connally v. General Construction Co. that such laws are those that "men of common intelligence [to] necessarily guess at its meaning and differ as to its application."
In recent practice, this plausibly low bar for striking down a law has been raised somewhat intensely. Using the standards needed to strike abuse of office or coercion statutes, most laws on drug dealing or sexual assault could probably be tossed as well. Also, what constitutes a person "of common intelligence"? What discerns a "guess" from a reasonable conclusion? How large must two people's disagreement be in order for it to truly "differ"? Even Justice Sutherland's instructions on vagueness may be too vague by his own standards.
Perhaps Perry's team should come up with a different strategy. Though perhaps you disagree? I suppose I might be too vague.
State Sen. Wendy Davis, the Democratic candidate for governor, made headlines last week after she expressed her support for a minimum wage hike. Specifically, she proposed raising the wage to $10, a more than 33 percent hike from the current federal minimum of $7.25. Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican candidate for governor, quickly fired back by stating his steadfast opposition to such a proposal, claiming it would especially cost jobs for entry-level, training positions.
The economics of a minimum wage hike are still up for debate. At its core, the controversy is predicated on the tradeoff between the elimination of jobs and the overall increase in utility among those still employed. Most studies, such as a high-profile one by the Congressional Budget Office, show that a minimum wage hike to $10 would actually result in a net gain to the economy. Other studies, such as one examining a proposal to raise the minimum wage in Seattle to $15, show a net negative.
But even if Davis beats the enormous odds and is elected governor, such a proposal would still be quite quixotic. The State Legislature will certainly still be heavily controlled by Republicans next year, and their representatives will undoubtedly still be hostile to such a bill. A far more realistic idea would be to change state law to allow for counties and municipalities, such as Austin, to raise their minimum wages to a higher level.
State law currently requires the entire state to stick to the federal minimum. Austin in the past has tinkered with the idea of lobbying the State Legislature to change that onerous regulation, but to no avail. As it is, the city can only set minimums for its employees and contractors.
Legislators, namely Republicans, should be far more amenable to the idea of local control. That big government should not be bullying local — more direct — representatives of the people into submission.
And students should be wildly supportive of such a measure. While many young people indubitably would be not be hired with a higher base wage, the research shows that — assuming a $10 wage would now be used — many more would be benefited with higher salaries.
Horwitz is an associate editor.
This week, the two major candidates for governor — Attorney General Greg Abbott (the Republican) and state Senator Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth (the Democrat) — unveiled new television commercials, ostensibly to be broadcast far and wide throughout the State in suceeding weeks. The Labor Day holiday, of course, is typically seen as the start of open season on TV ads, and this campaign is proving to be no exception, with the airwaves already heating up.
The Abbott ad, entitled "Garage," details his struggle with recovery following a jogging accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down. It is an uplifting ad that is narrated by Abbott himself, focusing on the way in which he claims that he would run the State if elected. "Just one more," he says, is his life strategy. Voters who do not know him will surely be inspired by his positive and good-hearted message.
The Davis ad, entitled "Court," on the other hand, is negative. An ominous narration lambasts Abbott for defending cuts to public schools and for even allegedly defending standardized testing for four year old schoolchildren. The reality, however, is a bit more complicated than that. The ad then shifts back to Davis' alternative, which simply consists of broad promises to mitigate standardized testing and lessen bureaucratic waste.
Upon first glance, it may seem that I wish to fault Davis for going negative while her opponent slings no mud and simply focuses on himself. However, the unfair nature of politics almost forces Davis into such a box. Poll after poll has shown that Davis has very high name identification, possibly even higher than Abbott's. The recognition, however, is mostly negative, as a result of her almost universal association with a filibuster against anti-abortion regulations. Since it is easier to take down your opponent's positive identification than build your own, this is simply what Davis must do. Abbott can be merely complacent with maintaining the status quo. Only time will tell which strategy is succesful.
Horwitz is an associate editor.