Commentary: Cities should end their assault on liberty and rule of law

Independence and defiance are Texas traditions. After all, one of the most famous statements our Founding Father Sam Houston ever made was that “Texas has yet to learn submission to any oppression, come from what source it may.” It’s unsurprising that independence and resolution are greatly valued in a state born from a group of poorly armed and inadequately trained civilians who stood up to a powerful nation with a large army based on that nation’s failure to adhere to its own constitution.

The conviction that nobody is above the law, then, is another proud tradition of our state, the very foundation of our independence and our defiance. The tradition of stubbornness remains strong across Texas today, but the tradition against lawlessness is sadly eroding among a few of Texas’ local governments.

Take our capital city, for instance. The city of Austin recently declared itself a “freedom city” — meaning that it will make every effort to thwart enforcement of the immigration and drug laws duly enacted by representatives of the people, based on trumped-up claims of racism among its own police officers — while seeking to deny its residents the freedom to use a disposable bag at the grocery store, take an Uber to the airport, call your ailing mother while driving to the airport or have a compost bin in the backyard.

Liberal politician Adlai Stevenson once said that “a hypocrite is the kind of politician who would cut down a redwood tree, then mount the stump and make a speech for conservation.” The city of Austin — and several cities with similar laws — seems to embody that label today.

Although hypocrisy may just elicit an eye roll and a chuckle, these policies reflect a much deeper problem — the increasing disdain of local governments for the rule of law.

My office receives complaints regularly that cities, counties, school districts and other local governments in Texas are defying state statutes prohibiting sanctuary-city policies, protecting the right to keep and bear arms, setting the minimum wage, preventing electioneering on the taxpayer’s dime and violating transparency of government meetings. Regardless of where one falls on the political spectrum, those complaints should raise a great deal of concern for anyone who enjoys living in a state that is both safe and free.

As a former legislator, I understand the need to fight hard for policies that comport with your principles. As a law enforcement officer, I understand the discomfort of standing up and enforcing a law that may go against your own political beliefs. Most importantly, as a Texan who enjoys the blessings of liberty that are so central to our state’s values, I understand that neither liberals nor conservatives benefit when public officials think they are above the law.

The people of Texas will not allow the rule of law to be subordinated to the political ambitions of city officials eager to score a few points with their base.

In late June, the Texas Supreme Court made clear that bag bans like the one in Austin violate state law. In light of the Supreme Court ruling, Austin recently announced that it would stop enforcing its own bag ban and other cities should follow its lead. But the bag ban is only one manifestation of a larger problem.

When a statute or Supreme Court ruling prohibits a local government action — like they have recently done with sanctuary cities and bag bans — Texans will demand those governments adhere to the law. As the person who has the privilege of being attorney general, I call on the city of Austin and other cities in Texas to put an end to their pattern of disrespect for the rule of law and to afford due deference to the liberty state law affords Texans.

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