Why Is Texas #WaitingForLyle?

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You’ve noticed a higher-than-usual level of anxiety on Monday and Thursday mornings this month.

#WaitingForLyle keeps showing up in your social media feeds.

If you’ve concluded that your friends are waiting for news of a Lyle Lovett tour, or album release, you are wrong.

Texans have their eyes on the Supreme Court of the United States as their term winds down and decisions for the cases argued before them this term are announced.

Burnt Orange Report wanted to offer you a quick guide to why so many Texans are on edge, and how you can be among the first to know what shakes out when the court next gathers, which ought to be this Thursday.

Why should Texans care more than anyone else?

Fewer than a dozen cases that are to be decided “on the merits” remain on the court’s agenda for this term, and three of them with major policy implications originated in Texas.

What’s “On the Merits?” 

The Supreme Court, as an appeals court, decides primarily two types of cases. In some instances, they are ruling on whether something procedural that happened in a lower court was correct. The court didn’t allow this evidence for this years, but it should have, for example. The other cases , those decided on the merits, will lead to a ruling of whether a law or decision or policy can or cannot be enforced. The Texas cases we’re awaiting will be the final say on the topics they address.

So, What Have We Got?

UT TowerFisher v. University of Texas at Austin – Affirmative Action
Abigail Fisher, in 2008, applied, but was not accepted, to The University of Texas at Austin. Like plenty of Texas kids.

But unlike plenty of Texas kids, she decided to challenge the admissions decision, claiming she, as a white student, was disadvantaged by the school’s top 10% admissions policy, which had been put in place to help the school attract a student body more broadly representative of the state’s population.

She did eventually go elsewhere for college—LSU, in fact. She graduated, and now work in finance in Austin. NPR reported on that, and on how she got involved in the case, a story which provides insight into how plaintiffs for political/policy impact litigation are recruited.

United States v. Texas – Immigration, specifically DAPA
DACA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, allows people who came to this country without documentation as children to obtain authorization to work, as long as they meet certain conditions, without risk of being deported (i.e. deferring action on any proceedings). DAPA expanded that opportunity to parents of Americans and lawful permanent residents, a policy which would keep families together and allow them to take part legally in the economic life of the country.

You know how Greg Abbott used to brag about waking up in the morning and suing the federal government? Well, this case is his baby. Can Texas even bring this lawsuit? Can the federal government create policies like DAPA? Did they follow the correct procedure for doing so? That’s what we’ll find out when the decision is announced.

Abbott is looking for bragging rights and, quite possibly, stories he can tell on the campaign trail. Many in Texas, however, are fearful of what will happen to their parents and families. The stakes are very, very high.

Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt – Abortion hb2
Flash mobs on bridges … long nights with the State Affairs Committee … Tiff’s Treats & pizza … wearing orange … Wendy Davis’s filibuster … and it all comes down to this case.

The Texas legislature, determined to restrict access to abortion so severely that the right exists without any practical means to exercise it, passed a law that would cause most abortion clinics in the state to close. Come and take it? Well, they sure are trying. That’s what this case is all about.

Who’s Hellerstedt? Commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services. Whole Woman’s Health operates clinics around the state, and throughout the country. Its clinics in McAllen and El Paso have been open, then closed, then open while the court has weighed the question of just how far the state can go to “promote health” by restricting access to a constitutionally-protected healthcare procedure. If Hellerstedt, standing in for the State of Texas, wins, clinics providing abortion throughout the state will close. We will have gone from almost 40 clinics to 8. For the entire state.

Of Texas.

Which is huge.

And populous.

This case could shape abortion legislation and litigation for the next several decades.

Wait, Who’s Lyle?
Neither crocodile nor crooner, Lyle is Lyle Denniston, one of several professionals who power SCOTUSblog. Supreme Court of the United States Blog, its full name, is not the official blog of the court, or a government entity at all. It simply covers the Supreme Court and its decisions.

On days when decisions are handed out, #waitingforlyle starts trending about 9:45 a.m. EST. That’s because the court releases decisions on paper while the judges who wrote the decisions read them from the bench. Lyle waits for the boxes to come out, grabs a copy of each decision as it is handed out, and runs out to his team to let them know what case it is and what the holding (decision) is.

Lyle is not the only one waiting, and as the term winds down and the stakes get higher, quite a scrum assembles awaiting the clerks.

Yes, in 2016, some of the nation’s most important policy decisions first become known because someone is particularly adept at grabbing a hand-out and running fast enough to someone else with wifi and a phone.

Amy Howe does not have her own hashtag, but she’s Lyle’s partner on decision days, running the live blog with updates. She patiently answers questions until the clerks appear, at which point, she puts an end to the nervous chatter by announce she’s waiting for Lyle. Thus, a hashtag was born.

If you want to be among the first to know how these Texas cases will be decided, stick close to your computer and pull up SCOTUSblog. Browse their plain English break-downs of how the court works on decision days, where you’ll learn that decisions are announced according to the justice who wrote them, and that they work in reverse seniority order—in other words, newer justices get to read their decisions first. You can also browns their explanations of the few cases left this term, Texan or otherwise. Or, check Twitter for #waitingforlyle.

What Day will the Texas Cases be Decided?
Traditionally, the most contentious cases come out at the end of the term. Rarely, the term extends into July when the justices truly cannot decide or need more time. Right now, the Court has announced that it will release some decisions this Thursday, June 23rd. The next release will be Monday, June 27th. Unless the Court decides otherwise and announces another day when decisions come out, which it could always do.

For the sake of Texans’ collective nerves, let’s hope we don’t go into July.



The photo of Lyle Lovett by Pat Padua was used under Creative Commons license. 


About Author

Andrea Greer

Andrea, an activist, fundraiser, feminist, writer, and baker, is not as tall as you think she is. She's been at this a long time, and wants to know what you are doing to make the pie higher and raise more hell. Her mother would like you to know she's got a law degree.

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