By Reese Oxner
A state district judge on Wednesday morning is hearing arguments from abortion rights groups challenging Texas' restrictive abortion law in what could be the first court hearing over the statute's constitutionality.
David Peeples, a retired state magistrate judge, is presiding over the hearing, which started at 9 a.m. and is expected to last all day. Peeples will hear over a dozen cases filed in state court challenging Senate Bill 8, which effectively bans abortions after about six weeks.
These lawsuits — filed by Planned Parenthood, doctors, social workers, abortion fund organizations, practical support networks and lawyers — were consolidated by Texas' multidistrict litigation panel and will be heard together. The plaintiffs have asked that the court declare Texas' new law unconstitutional.
"In short, SB8's enforcement mechanism, created to subvert one constitutional right, violates the Texas and United States Constitutions," wrote attorneys representing the plaintiffs.
The lawsuits are the latest challenge against the controversial law. While other courts have already had hearings on the law, this could be the first one to hold discussions over its overall constitutionality. It's unclear what the outcome of the hearing will be or what weight it could hold overall.
"Today is the first day since SB 8 went into effect that the people of Texas will be heard on this law," Anna Rupani, Fund Texas Choice executive director, said during a Wednesday press conference before the hearing. "All you've seen so far in courts has been on procedure."
Rupani said the law especially affects low-income people and people of color by putting financial and geographical barriers in the way they seek care.
The lawsuits target Texas Right to Life, a prominent anti-abortion organization that helped draft Texas' law and has vowed to sue violators — although the group has not yet filed suits against anyone.
Texas Right to Life, in an October statement on its website, said it believes these lawsuits will not affect the overall way the law is enforced in the state.
"These lawsuits do nothing towards preventing the Texas Heartbeat Act from being enforced against other individuals and groups within the abortion industry, should they violate the law," the organization said.
The U.S. Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments in two other cases challenging the abortion law, is also expected to rule soon on whether to allow the challenges to proceed. During those hearings, the majority of justices expressed concerns with the way the Texas law is enforced. The statute forbids state or law officials from enforcing it, instead relying on private citizens to sue those who violate it.
Wednesday's hearing can be viewed live on this YouTube channel.
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By Jonathan Lee
The Planning Commission was split Tuesday on whether to help save an eclectic lakefront estate from demolition by zoning it historic amid concerns over tax breaks and the likelihood that a previous owner participated in segregation as a business owner.
The property in question, known as the Delisle House, is located at 2002 Scenic Drive in Tarrytown. The main house, with Spanish and Modern influences, was built in 1923 by Raymond Delisle, an optician. A Gothic Revival accessory apartment was built in 1946. The current owner applied to demolish the structures in order to build a new home.'
Historic preservationists, for their part, overwhelmingly support historic zoning, which would preserve the buildings in perpetuity. The Historic Landmark Commission unanimously voted to initiate historic zoning in July, citing architectural significance, landscape features and association to historic figures. City staffers recommend historic zoning, calling both structures one-of-a-kind examples of vernacular architecture.
Tarrytown neighbors have also banded together to stop the demolition. Many have written letters, and a few spoke at the meeting. “How could anyone buy this property with the intent of destroying it?” Ila Falvey said. “I think it’s an architectural treasure.”
Michael Whellan, an attorney representing the property owner, said that the claims made by preservationists are shaky. The buildings are run down, he said, and have had substantial renovations. A structural engineer hired by the owner said any attempt at preservation would involve tearing down and rebuilding – an undertaking Whellan said would likely cost millions.
Whellan also argued that any historical significance derived from the property’s association with Delisle and longtime owner C.H. Slator is dubious. “These men are not noted for any civic, philanthropic or historic impact,” he said.
What’s more, according to Whellan, Slator likely participated in segregation as the owner of the Tavern on North Lamar Boulevard between 1953 and 1960.
A city staffer, however, said she found no evidence to support the claim. “We would never landmark a property where a segregationist lived, or there was a racist person,” Kimberly Collins with the Historic Preservation Office said.
Commissioner Awais Azhar couldn’t support historic zoning in part due to lingering uncertainty about Slator. “Focusing on that factor is not here to disparage an individual or family. It is not about playing the race card. This is an important assertion for us to consider as Planning commissioners,” Azhar said.
Commissioner Carmen Llanes Pulido said that allegations of racism should come as no surprise. “We’re talking about white male property owners in the 1950s, in Austin, on the west side – and of course they were racist,” she said. But she argued that allowing the house to be demolished based on these grounds does nothing to help people of color who have been harmed by racism and segregation.
The question of tax breaks was also controversial. Michael Gaudini, representing the property owner, said that the tax breaks associated with historic zoning would exacerbate inequality by shifting property tax burdens to less affluent communities. City staffers estimate that the property, appraised at $3.5 million, would get either a $8,500 or $16,107 property tax break annually, depending on whether a homestead exemption is applied.
Commissioner Grayson Cox preferred the commission focus not on tax breaks but on whether the structures merit preservation. “To me, nothing in the historic preservation criteria lists, is this person deserving of a tax break or not?”
Azhar, on the other hand, said he plans to propose a code amendment getting rid of city property tax breaks for historic properties.
The commission fell one vote short of recommending historic zoning, with six commissioners in support and three opposed. Azhar and commissioners Claire Hempel and Greg Anderson voted against.
The odds of City Council zoning over an owner’s wishes are slim. Nine out of 11 members must vote in favor, and there have only been a handful of such cases over the past several decades.
What's new in Austin food & drink this week:
- Nau's Enfield Drug closing after losing their lease. Did McGuire Moorman Lambert buy the building, with its vintage soda fountain?
- Nixta Taqueria Chef Edgar Rico named to Time Magazine's Time 100 Next influencer list, after winning a James Beard Award earlier this year.
- Question: From what BBQ joint did pescatarian Harry Styles order food this week?
- Austin Motel is opening the pool and pool bar Wednesday nights in October for Freaky Floats.
- Vincent's on the Lake closing due to "economic conditions and low water levels [at Lake Travis]."
- Cenote has closed its Windsor Park location. The East Cesar Chavez location remains open.
- The Steeping Room on N. Lamar has closed.
- Local startup It's Skinnyscored new financing for its gluten-free pasta business.
- P. Terry's opened a new location in Kyle, at 18940 IH-35.