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The Brief: Dec. 4, 2014

With two sentences, a federal appeals court in New Orleans stopped the execution planned for Wednesday night of Scott Panetti.

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The Big Conversation

With two sentences, a federal appeals court in New Orleans stopped the execution planned for Wednesday night of Scott Panetti, whose history of severe mental illness had spurred opposition to his execution from across the political spectrum.

"We are grateful that cooler legal minds have prevailed and the 5th Circuit wants to take a more in-depth look at this situation," Kathryn Kase, Panetti's Houston-based attorney, told the Tribune's Terri Langford.

The Houston Chronicle's St. John Barned-Smith spoke with Jordan Steiker, who directs the Capital Punishment Center at the UT law school. "What's most disturbing about this case, he was likely incompetent when he committed the crime, he was likely incompetent when he stood trial, and he was likely incompetent when he represented himself at trial," Steiker told Barned-Smith, "the problem is many courts in Texas, and the Fifth Circuit, used such a low bar for competence, you can have a serious mental illness and still be deemed competent at time of execution."

Meanwhile, Betsy Woodruff of Slate spoke with some of the conservatives who were behind the push from the right to stop the Panetti execution. One of those was Pat Nolan, director of the American Conservative Union Foundation’s Center for Criminal Justice Reform. Woodruff links the conservative outcry on Panetti to longstanding efforts by social conservatives to reform "jail first" approaches to combating crime:

"The conservative push-back against Panetti’s execution wasn’t an official move that group made. But because influential social conservatives who focus on criminal justice reform know each other and communicate regularly about those issues, it wasn’t hard for them to organize their efforts for Panetti.

“'I really think it’s an answer to prayer that the 5th Circuit has put a stay on the execution,' said Nolan."

The Day Ahead

•    Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst drops by for an 8 a.m. breakfast conversation at the Austin Club. We will livestream the event for those unable to make it in person.

•    The House Administration Committee meets at 9:30 a.m. in the Capitol Extension to discuss press credentialing for the upcoming legislative session. (agenda)

•    The House Select Committee on the Fiscal Impact of Texas Border Support Operations meets at 10 a.m. in the Capitol Extension to take testimony from agencies taking part in the border surge. (agenda)

•    The House Appropriations Committee meets at 1:30 p.m. in the Capitol Extension to discuss the state spending cap, the revenue estimate and the major cost drivers in the budget. (agenda)

Trib Must-Reads

Allegations About Asbestos Stir Controversy in Kilgore, by Reeve Hamilton

Abbott Takes Lead in Immigration Challenge, by Bobby Blanchard

Perry Stepping Up His Presidential Game, by Reeve Hamilton

Perry to Require State Agencies to Use E-Verify, by Bobby Blanchard


Republicans shout down Ted Cruz, Politico

Ted Cruz Tries, and Fails, to Win Over the WSJ, National Review

Stockman remains in eye of a political storm, Houston Chronicle

Ex-Kaufman JP’s murder trial near end after defense calls no witnesses, The Dallas Morning News

Grand Jury Clears Jasper Police in Beating Caught on Tape, Texas Observer

Health costs in 2013 grew at slowest rate since 1960, Vox

Texas Railroad Commission approves new pipeline permit process, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Most missing brains were disposed of years ago, UT says, Austin American-Statesman

Quote to Note

“I think there’s a lot of pent-up demand out there in our society to stop the hypocrisy.”

— Bexar County Clerk Gerard “Gerry” Rickhoff, explaining to the San Antonio Express-News why he plans to keep his office open "around the clock" if a stay preventing same-sex marriages is lifted

Today in TribTalk

For now, the future of transit in Austin is the bus, by Jace Deloney

Trib Events for the Calendar

•    The Texas Tribune Festival presents a one-day symposium previewing the 84th Legislature on Dec. 5 at the Austin Community College Highland Campus in Austin

•    A Panel Discussion on the Transformation of Medical Education in Texas, on Dec. 9 at the UT Health Science Center in San Antonio.

•    Meet the New Guys: A Conversation With Incoming Members of the Texas Senate on Dec. 11 at The Austin Club

•    A Conversation With U.S. Rep.-elect Will Hurd on Dec. 18 in Austin

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Politics David Dewhurst Greg Abbott Rick Perry Ted Cruz