AUSTIN, Texas – More and more, Texas and the Biden administration are dragging each other to court.
First it was over immigration enforcement on the U.S.-Mexico border. Then a Texas ban on most abortions. Then this week, just days after the Justice Department urged the U.S. Supreme Court to halt the nation's most restrictive abortion law, Attorney General Merrick Garland brought another lawsuit against America's biggest red state, this time over restrictive new voting rules.
With President's Joe Biden's own domestic priorities remaining stuck despite his party controlling Congress, his administration is simultaneously trying to knock down pillars of a hard-right agenda the Texas GOP muscled through over the last year. Doing so could provide a boost to Democrats, who are searching for a win as they confront an already stormy outlook heading into the 2022 midterm elections.
But putting up the fight is still short of sweeping federal legislation sought by Democrats, and a conservative majority on the Supreme Court could ultimately stand in the way.
Although the justices signaled on Monday they would allow Texas abortion providers to pursue a court challenge to a controversial law that has banned most abortions in the state since September, it was not clear whether they would let the restrictions remain in place for now.
“It seems like every harmful law in the state of Texas ends up in federal court,” Democratic state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer said. “Republicans control every lever of government in the state of Texas. If they wanted to celebrate Christmas in the month of April, they have the votes to do it. But just because they have the votes, that doesn’t necessarily make it so.”
Texas Republicans have defended their laws as legal, and Gov. Greg Abbott reacted to the latest lawsuit by tweeting: “Bring it.”
Depending on the party in the White House, big states have become eager centers of resistance. California proudly sued the Trump administration more than 120 times. During the Obama administration, Abbott's biggest applause line was that his former job as attorney general was to go into the office, sue the federal government and go home.
Not even a week after Biden was sworn in, Texas eagerly resumed the role of chief antagonist to a Democratic president, suing over a 100-day moratorium on deportations. Texas has not let up since and rushed to challenge the Biden administration at just about every turn, including a lawsuit filed Friday over COVID-19 vaccine mandates for private businesses.
“The Biden Administration’s new vaccine mandate on private businesses is a breathtaking abuse of federal power,” said Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton, calling the requirement “flatly unconstitutional.”
The Biden administration's latest suit against Texas, filed Thursday, targets provisions of a sweeping GOP-backed elections overhaul that outlasted months of protests from Democrats, including a 38-day walkout that had ground the state Capitol to a halt over the summer.
Texas is one of at least 18 states that have enacted new voting restrictions since the 2020 election, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. The laws were part of a GOP campaign in the name of election security, partly driven by former President Donald Trump's claims the election was stolen.
The Biden administration also sued Georgia over its new election laws. But the bigger goal for Democrats continues to remain out of reach: new federal elections laws they say are needed to counteract the wave of GOP voting measures. Those efforts, however, have been unable to overcome opposition by Senate Republicans, who have called it a power grab.
On Monday, the Supreme Court justices sounded less convinced that the Justice Department lawsuit against Texas over its abortion law should go forward. Justice Elena Kagan suggested that a ruling instead in favor of the providers would allow the court to avoid difficult issues of federal power.
More than 100 prosecutors and former judges signed in opposition to the law in a brief filed by the group Fair and Just Prosecution, which argued that letting the Texas law stand would allow states to create an end run around federal law.
“The fact that it’s Texas means more women have been impacted,” said Miriam Krinsky, the group's executive director. "But if any state had chosen to bring this type of illegal construct, I think we would have found a lot of troubled people around the country willing to come together to speak up.”