Is it just us, or is Texas suing the Obama administration a lot lately?
The announcement Wednesday that the Lone Star State is leading an 11-state lawsuit challenging the Obama administration's directives to let transgender students use public school bathrooms felt like the latest in a string of lawsuits led by Texas against the administration.
And it's not just us — Texas does sue the Obama administration a lot. In fact, since Obama came into office in 2008, Texas has sued the government at least 40 times for a cost of about $5 million, the Texas Tribune calculated in December. Climate change proposals, deportation relief, medical benefits for same-sex couples, a requirement that public schools open up their bathrooms to transgender students. The state has either led or prominently joined lawsuits against all these things.
Overall, the state's track record against the Obama administration is a mixed bag. Texas has definitively won seven cases (including dealing a blow to the government's ability to regulate coal emissions) and lost 10 (like trying to get records of how the administration negotiates clean air regulations), according to the Texas Tribune. Others got pulled, and as of the December report, there were 16 still being decided. Some of them are big. The Supreme Court is expected to decide in June whether Obama overstepped his bounds deferring the deportation of millions of undocumented immigrants.
But almost all of the lawsuits have one common theme: freedom — specifically, freedom from the federal government.
And that makes sense given Texas's historical longing for independence, said Lino Graglia, a constitutional law professor from the University of Texas. It won its freedom from Mexico, became its own country and fought for the Confederacy all in a span of about 30 years.
The Fix spoke to Graglia to better understand what it is about Texas's politics and strong independent streak that brings the state to court again and again against the Obama administration. Our conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity:
Okay, let's jump right in. Why is Texas suing the Obama administration so much?
Look, we have a governor [Greg Abbott] who used to be attorney general and who is very litigious and publicity conscious — all in an extremely right-wing state in every way. Certainly, the people disagree with things like making the rule for transgender students in schools. And so he finds this an opportune thing to do.
But Texas's propensity for suing the federal government feels broader than this one administration.
It is. There's this strong feeling in Texas that President Obama is oppressing the states, creating a stronger national government. The governor sees himself as a champion of states' rights, and Texas is a natural leader — having once been a republic, and so large.
Texas is also sort of glorifying our independence. Some even talk about secession. I don't know how many states have that kind of an idea, but it's one that pops up in Texas.
[Editor's note: The state GOP very nearly held a vote at its convention on secession just this month.]
Is there a political benefit to suing the Obama administration so often?
If there's one single thing that unites the conservative movement, it's the claim that the government is too large. Look at Ronald Reagan saying: Government is not the answer, it's the problem. And Abbott is very much a leader of that. He's proposed a lot of constitutional amendments to limit government's power.
In Texas, there is this feeling across most of the state that we are oppressed by the national government. And then the things that happen as a result of national law are also things that make a deeply conservative state unhappy.
Some would argue Texas suing the government is more effective at scoring political points than having any meaningful change.
Well, when you're frustrated, when you're unhappy with the laws and what's happening, all you can do is go to court and hope. Sue somebody.
Is there a sense Texas is doing this just for publicity?
Texas does not lack for publicity. I don't think the state has to go around doing dramatic things to say, 'Hey, notice us!' This is not Idaho.
It seems to be in the news, good or bad, a very great deal of the time. But the governor doesn't mind it, I suppose.