There’s a new John Mitchell in town. Like Nixon’s attorney general, the lawyer who wrote the Texas anti-abortion bill that took effect Sept. 1 and was promptly upheld by the US Supreme Court, is said to be a brilliant legal tactician. He clerked for Antonin Scalia, and became the solicitor general of Texas while still in his 30s. Now 45, Jonathan F. Mitchell, was the star of a piece by Michael Schmidt in the NY Times Sept. 12:
“With its ideological balance recast by President Donald J. Trump, the court refrained from blocking a new law in Texas that all but bans abortion — a potential turning point in the long-running fight over the procedure. And it was the deeply religious Mr. Mitchell, a relative unknown outside of Texas in the anti-abortion movement and the conservative legal establishment, who was the conceptual force behind the legislation.”
Not surprisingly, “Mr. Mitchell was raised in a religious Christian home... He attended Wheaton College, a small school in Illinois that ‘prepares students to make an impact for Christ,’ according to its website. Friends refrain from calling him on Sundays, as they know he spends at least several hours at church.”
In the spring of 2019, an anti-abortion activist, Mark Lee Dickson, consulted Mitchell about an ordinance he had drafted to outlaw abortion clinics in Wascom, Texas (population 2,000). To shield the town from lawsuits, Mitchell suggested, “a provision... stripping the town government of authority for enforcing the ban. Instead enforcement power would be given to ordinary citizens, who could bring lawsuits themselves to uphold the ban.”
The all-male Wascom city council promptly passed the innovative measure by a 5-0 vote. “The ordinance received little attention,” according to Schmidt, “even though it appeared to be the first time that a city in the United States had passed a law that outlawed abortion since the Roe v. Wade decision 46 years earlier.”
With the zealous Mr. Dickson carrying the tactical message across Texas, “more than 30 small cities and towns adopted ordinances that would deputize ordinary citizens to enforce them... Mr. Mitchell was so confident in the provision that he assured the towns he would represent them at no cost to taxpayers if they were sued.”
Catching the wave, the state legislature passed –and deputized citizens to enforce– a uniquely restrictive ban on abortions after the fetal heartbeat can be detected, which is typically around six weeks. (Roe v. Wade had effectively permitted abortion before fetuses could survive outside the womb, which is usually 22 to 24 weeks.) The new Texas law makes no exception for pregnancies caused by incest or rape. Citizens, even those from other states, can sue clinics, their personnel, and anyone helping a woman get an illegal abortion, even the friend who drove her to the facility, and collect a $10,000 bounty if the suit is successful.
There used to be 40 abortion clinics throughout Texas. Now there are 24. Many may close in the days to come.
The Naming of the Shrewd
Another resourceful right-winger, Christopher Rufo, is cited in a piece about critical race theory (CRT) by Jelani Cobb in the Sept. 20 New Yorker. The proponents of CRT are legal scholars who pointed out a sad truth: supposedly significant court victories have led to insignificant progress over the years for African Americans.
The trouble with Critical Race Theory is the fancy name itself – three words that mean absolutely nothing unless you’re in the know. The phrase reeks of academia, from whence it comes. This obvious fact occurred to Rufo, who understood how to exploit it.
As explained by Cobb, “For the past several months conservatives have been waging war on a wide-ranging set of claims that they wrongly ascribe to critical race theory... As Christopher F. Rufo, an activist who launched the recent crusade, said on Twitter, the goal from the start was to distort the idea into an absurdist touchstone. ‘We have successfully frozen their brand –’critical race theory’– into the public conversation and are steadily driving up negative perceptions. We will eventually turn it toxic, as we put all of the various cultural insanities under that brand category,’ he wrote. Accordingly, CRT has been defined as black supremacist racism, false history, and the terrible apotheosis of wokeness’.“
Branding — searing a symbol into the flash with a red-hot iron as proof of ownership – is what ranchers did to cattle and slaveowners did to people who tried to escape. That was in the old days.