Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Sept. 16, 2015.
A scary mistake in Irving
Irving police knew right away that MacArthur High School freshman Ahmed Mohamed, 14, did not have a bomb.
If they had thought his homemade electronic gizmo was anything other than a handmade clock, as he said, they would have cleared the area and imploded it.
It didn't even look like a bomb. Only a box with wires.
Yet they handcuffed and removed Mohamed simply to investigate whether he meant to scare anyone and whether the clock violated Texas' 1983 law against look-alike bombs.
Bomb threats are a common nuisance in today's schools. Students and teachers are understandably concerned about safety and classroom disruption.
But it is not illegal to build a clock or wire up a box. Campus officers and city police must be careful not to waste precious time and resources on distractions, and school officials should not overreact.
Knowing it neither was a bomb nor looked up close like one, police still led Mohamed away in handcuffs, and school officials suspended him three days, claiming a violation of the code of conduct.
Mohamed has been invited to the White House to show off his clock. Irving officials should give him an apology to take along.
Houston Chronicle. Sept. 16, 2015.
End executions: Bizarre trials make a compelling case to halt the death penalty in Texas.
Television screenwriters have little trouble populating courtroom dramas with plots pulled from the headlines, transcribing real-life legal travails into weekly viewing pleasure. The trial of James Calvert in Tyler, outside Dallas, will be more difficult to convert into easy watching. Calvert, who is charged with murdering his ex-wife and kidnapping his young son, has transformed his own trial into a disturbing spectacle that puts at risk the idea of justice for all.
After firing his court-appointed attorneys early last year, Calvert took to defending himself with a farcical style that likely did more to hurt than help his case. He waived his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, only to ask for it back. He tried to call objections by yelling "foxtrot." Calvert's behavior was considered so disruptive that the court even forced him to wear a 50,000 volt shock belt that could be controlled by a nearby jailer, according to KLTV 7, a Tyler news station.
As a man facing the death penalty, Calvert was literally digging his own grave. There's little sympathy for Calvert if he proves to be a murderer, but the pride we hold in our criminal justice system should be based upon the promise that all people are guaranteed a fair trial. Calvert's actions worked to undermine that promise not only by failing to put up an adequate defense, but also by prejudicing the jury.
In these sorts of circumstances, judges must carefully balance the Sixth Amendment's right to represent oneself with the guarantee of competent representation. It is a tough determination, but the trial judge acted wisely when he terminated Calvert's self-representation and reappointed the attorneys that Calvert had earlier fired. The ultimate punishment - death - merits our highest standards of care.
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals will address a similar question when it hears the case of Scott Panetti next week. Panetti, who had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, delusions, hallucinations and manic depression, represented himself in a murder trial marked by his own bizarre behavior. The case made headlines when he dressed in a cowboy suit and attempted to subpoena the Messiah. However, the real story came after the guilty verdict, when jurors said they gave him the death penalty for murdering his wife's parents in 1992 because his behavior in the courtroom was so frightening that they wanted to make sure he would never re-enter society. At the time, Texas did not offer life without parole. Knowing what we know now, it is hard to claim that Panetti received a fair trial or adequate representation. The appeals court stayed his execution at the last minute last December.
The Panetti case also served as a capstone opinion for Judge Tom Price, who sat on the Court of Criminal Appeals from 1997 until this year. In a six-page dissent, Price wrote that his 40 years with a front-row seat to our death penalty process convinced him that Texas should end executions.
"Based on my specialized knowledge of this process, I now conclude that the death penalty as a form of punishment should be abolished because the execution of individuals does not appear to measurably advance the retribution and deterrence purposes served by the death penalty; the life without parole option adequately protects society at large in the same way as the death penalty punishment option; and the risk of executing an innocent person for a capital murder is unreasonably high, particularly in light of procedural-default laws and the prevalence of ineffective trial and initial habeas counsel."
If our courts must act as machines of death, then they should do so with exact precision. Cases like Calvert and Panetti's show how something as serious as life and death can easily be turned into a farce.
Unwed fathers have rights, too
Consider: A single man who is a U.S. citizen fathers a child with a non-citizen woman outside the United States. For this child to be considered eligible to be a U.S. citizen, the father must have lived in this country for 10 years, five years after he turned 14.
There is a different standard, however, for the child of a single woman. The mother must have lived in the United States for one year before giving birth for that child to be considered eligible.
A U.S. district judge recently ruled that this difference violates the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. It's gender discrimination. The federal government should not appeal. What Judge David Ezra decided is in full accord with progressed standards of gender equality.
As a recent Express-News article explained, the case revolves around Leonardo Villegas, 41, of Eagle Pass. His father was U.S. born and lived in this country for all but five years. His Mexican mother gave birth in Mexico, in 1974. Three years later, his parents married and the family lived in Eagle Pass.
Villegas gained legal residency but never went through the naturalization process to become a citizen. He served two prison stints. The problem is that even immigrants who are legal residents can be subject to deportation for committing various crimes. After Villegas served his second sentence, a judge took his green card and ordered him deported.
Villegas told the Express-News that he has five children, ages 4 to 15, and a construction business. He would have nothing in Mexico. He sued the federal government, arguing that he is a U.S. citizen, and Ezra's ruling makes him a citizen. It was the right call.
But in Villegas' case, it's clear that the law unjustly singled him out. His father was clearly a U.S. citizen by any standard.
Villegas is given less chance of success on appeal, and that's unfortunate. Even if the federal government appeals because it fears a precedent is being set, Villegas' circumstances dictate consideration.
Abbott changing Texas tone on Mexico
Gov. Greg Abbott's visit to Mexico this month has yielded a refreshing change in Texas' tone about its relationship with its neighbor.
"This trip has yielded significant outcomes that will ultimately strengthen the bond between Texas and Mexico," Abbott said at the conclusion of his Mexico trip. "I look forward to continuing our dialogue and working with Mexico to ensure greater prosperity on both sides of the border."
Last week, the governor made a trip to McAllen and stressed the need for improving border infrastructure to help the economies of Texas and Mexico grow.
"One thing that we must do to expedite that trade - so that you can make more money, all right? - is to work on the transportation infrastructure, to speed up that process," Abbott said in McAllen, according to the Valley Morning Star. "We signed an agreement with the country of Mexico to work on developing that type of cross-border-trade mechanism so that we can improve the economies of both sides of the border."
As Abbott headed to Mexico City earlier this month, this editorial board said he had an opportunity to reset Texas' strained relationship with Mexico. It appears he has grabbed that opportunity.
The governor will make his first visit to El Paso since his Mexico trip this week, hosting a political fundraiser and throwing out the first pitch at the Gildan Triple-A Baseball National Championship at Southwest University Park.
We hope he will take time during the visit to further discuss his vision for Texas' relationship with Mexico, and the border region's role in that relationship.
Domestic politics - both in Texas and the United States as a whole - have made security almost the exclusive focus of the Mexico relationship in recent years.
Security always is a legitimate concern of government. But it should not be the all-consuming issue with Mexico that it has become, particularly in the Republican presidential primary and last year's statewide GOP primaries in Texas.
Texas is uniquely placed to return the conversation about the U.S.-Mexico relationship to its proper balance. It is in the state's interest to lead a conversation that is as much about facilitating legitimate commerce as it is about interdicting illicit trade.
In our global economy, Mexico and Texas are uniquely situated to exploit competitive advantages in industries like aerospace, advanced manufacturing and energy.
Abbott deserves credit for recognizing the need to reboot the Texas-Mexico relationship.
He is doing so at some political risk. The Republican political conversation has little room for discussions that portray Mexico as anything other than a threat.
But Texas' governor is looking at the long game, beyond the politics of the moment.
A strong relationship with Mexico is in Texas' best interest, and vice versa. Our economic and cultural ties are deep, and those connections make Texas and Mexico stronger.
We look forward to Gov. Abbott's continuing leadership in this area.
San Angelo Standard-Times. Sept. 20, 2015.
Jade Helm is over, and we survived
Ordinarily the conclusion of something uneventful doesn't merit comment. But the Jade Helm 15 military exercise prompted so much fear and anxiety a few months ago that taking note of its ending last week deserves at least some attention.
And, in case some hadn't noticed, there has been no declaration of martial law. To our knowledge, not a single firearm was confiscated. Nor were any Walmarts transformed into detention or extermination centers.
Indeed, the maneuvers that were staged in Texas and six other states were so low-key that only a relative handful of people even saw evidence they were happening. Those of us who expected that are left to wonder whether the people who viewed Jade Helm with alarm are relieved or disappointed.
In the end, the only real damage was to Texas' reputation after late-night comics and others ridiculed leery residents and Gov. Greg Abbott's order that the State Guard keep an eye on the operation. In effect, he was telling Texas' militia to get ready to fend off the U.S. military's prospective takeover that it had announced months earlier and that was explained in considerable detail to local officials everywhere the troops would train.
No doubt a New York Times article in mid-July irked some people in Christoval, which is near where some troops were set to train. Depending on your point of view, it was either unflattering or not - although any story that mentions someone burying guns to keep them from being seized by federal troops is sure to prompt a lot of readers to think there's some paranoia at work.
The article ended with County Commissioner Bill Ford tactfully offering an explanation for why it was implausible the military was invading. "If the government has an idea they can come in and take over, and take guns away, the stupidest place they could come is West Texas," he was quoted as saying. "There's more guns and ammo here and more people willing to use them than any combat area they've fought in."
Farewell, Jade Helm. Thanks for the excitement.