Free Market Foundation, ACLU, Texas Eagle Forum PAC

Affiliate: ACLU of Texas
February 13, 2008 12:00 am

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Texas Citizens Frozen Out Of Speaker’s Race Debate

AUSTIN, Texas – A broad-based coalition of plaintiffs today filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Austin that challenges a state law blocking individuals and organizations in Texas from engaging in true public debate over the election of the speaker of the Texas House of Representatives.

The law, enacted in 1973, bans expenditures by organizations or “groups of persons” on “anything of value” to influence the election of the Texas speaker. Neither “anything of value” nor “group of persons” is clearly defined. The law further prevents an individual – other than a candidate for speaker – from spending more than $100 “for the cost of correspondence to aid or defeat the election of a speaker candidate.”

The penalty for violating the law is up to one year in jail and a $4,000 fine.

“To anyone with even the slightest interest in the First Amendment, this law is a disgrace,” said Kelly Shackelford, President of the Free Market Foundation. “Since when do legislators have the right to pass a law banning citizens from speaking about what those same legislators are doing? This law is flatly unconstitutional.”

Lisa Graybill, Legal Director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, said: “The ACLU, the Free Market Foundation and the Texas Eagle Forum disagree on many issues. But we are united in our conviction that this law is unconstitutional.”

As presiding officer of the Texas House, the speaker is one of the state’s most powerful and influential political figures. The speaker controls the legislative calendar, appoints House committee chairmen, and enjoys broad authority to set the lawmaking agenda for the state.

“The First Amendment protects nothing if not the rights of ordinary Americans to talk about their political representatives. Yet Texas law effectively forbids citizens from advocating who should be the next speaker,” said James Ho of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, lead counsel for the plaintiffs. “If the government can stop individuals from discussing the vote for speaker, then there is nothing to prevent bans on speaking about any other matter before the Legislature.”

Hiram Sasser, Director of Litigation for the Free Market Foundation’s legal arm, the Liberty Legal Institute, said: “We’ve joined forces with some unlikely bedfellows to fight a clearly unconstitutional state law that muzzles the collective voice of Texas citizens.”

The plaintiffs are seeking a preliminary injunction, then a permanent injunction, preventing the Texas Ethics Commission from enforcing the challenged law.

The suit was filed in the Austin Division of the Western District of Texas by the Free Market Foundation; ACLU of Texas; Texas Eagle Forum PAC; Shackelford, who lives in Allen, Texas; and David Broiles of Fort Worth, Texas. Broiles is Board Vice President-Legal for the ACLU of Texas, but is a party to this suit as an individual.

Defendants, who are named in their official capacities, are:

David Reisman, Executive Director of the Texas Ethics Commission.Texas Ethics Commission members Raymond R. Davenport III, Wilhemina Delco, Ross Fischer, Jim Graham, Tom Harrison, Paula M. Mendoza, David Montagne and Nicholas C. Taylor.John Roach, District Attorney for Collin County, Texas, representing district and county attorneys in the State of Texas as a class.

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