Texas is the epicenter of ongoing national and local government conflict. It’s a conflict over whose authority is more excellent and at what time.
The most recent conflict is focused on the majority-Democratic criminal district attorneys in Texas’ major cities. Several of these senior prosecutors have pledged to their communities that they will exercise their natural discretion and refrain from actively prosecuting individuals who procure abortions or families who seek health treatment for their children that promotes gender equality.
But, statements from prosecutors have prompted conservative politicians in Texas and other states to propose legislation limiting the authority of district attorneys.
“There is an interesting philosophical debate about where power should rest in a state-local system,” says Ann Bowman, a professor at Texas A&M’s Bush School of Government. “How much the state should have, how much local government should have.”
The Fight Nationwide
Several state-local power struggles have parallels to this conflict. Republican state legislators in Mississippi have suggested that Jackson be given city-wide jurisdiction and that judges there be nominated by the state. Jackson is 83% Black and under Democratic rule.
And in Florida, a county prosecutor was fired last year after Gov. Ron DeSantis charged him with failing to uphold certain laws. Although some legislative proposals would establish a procedure for dismissal, the governor of Texas does not possess that authority.
One is from a Republican state representative from the Fort Worth region David Cook of Texas. His proposal would make it illegal for district attorneys to have a general policy of not prosecuting any specific crime. Also included in the bill are financial penalties.
“As a district attorney, you have a job which entails looking at all the cases that are brought in and judging each case on a case-by-case basis,” Cook says. “And so, if you’re making blanket statements and giving blanket immunity, then you’re not doing your job.”
Similar legislation is being moved in Georgia. Consequently, if a prosecutor declined to file charges for a specific offense, the state would establish a committee to supervise them and allow punishment or dismissal.
Big City DAs In Texas Go Quiet
In Texas, many progressive prosecutors who spoke out following the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling aren’t giving interviews about the new legislation. The state association of district and county attorneys advised its members that the influx of legislation about prosecutors “deserves your complete attention.”
WCMU Public Ratio tweeted that These Texas DAs refused to prosecute abortion. Republican lawmakers want them stopped. You can see below:
— WCMU Public Radio (@WCMUNews) March 3, 2023
The declaration by the group to not pursue abortion cases may have been made in haste, according to District Attorney Mark Gonzalez of Nueces County in South Texas, who is currently the target of an unrelated attempt to have him removed from office.
“The statement may have been the straw that perhaps broke the camel’s back,” says Gonzalez, a Democrat. “I think it’d be smarter for us to move in silence, and I think that may have been something we didn’t accomplish.”
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But, he believes that the legislation limiting local prosecutors is part of a more significant backlash against a more progressive approach to law enforcement that aims to lessen mass incarceration and stop its adverse effects.
“We have a different approach to making some changes to it, which can impact people of color and lower economic status,” Gonzalez says. “I don’t know why that’s such a big deal.”
Not every municipal official who defies the government faces backlash. Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, several Texas sheriffs refused to implement the governor’s mask requirement, but there were no numerous suggestions to force them to do so. According to some experts, sheriffs support the state’s conservative government more.