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Analysis: Anti-Regulation Party in Texas Has a Strong Taste for Rules

Monday's Supreme Court ruling against two key provisions of the state's anti-abortion law was the latest setback for a band of Republicans who abhor regulatory constraints on business but who regularly try to control the behavior of individuals in Texas.

An anti-abortion protester demonstrated outside the U.S. Supreme Court on June 27, 2016, before the court struck down two key provisions of a Texas abortion law.

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The state’s social regulators were repelled Monday by the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that major parts of their latest attempt to restrict access to abortion violated the rights of Texas women.

It’s the latest setback for a band of Republicans who abhor regulatory constraints on business but who regularly resort to regulation to control the behavior of individuals in Texas.

The abortion restrictions that the nation’s highest court kicked to the side of the road are part of a running theme among Texas Republicans, who routinely hide their political motives behind unsubstantiated claims of public safety.

This time, it was women's health, which they failed to show was threatened and in need of certain protective regulations. State officials said they were trying to protect women, without any evidence that those women were in danger. And the court agreed with the plaintiffs that the effect of the unconstitutional restrictions was to deny health services — and abortions — to women who, under federal law, have a right to those services.

“We have found nothing in Texas’ record evidence that shows that, compared to prior law (which required a “working arrangement” with a doctor with admitting privileges), the new law advanced Texas’ legitimate interest in protecting women’s health,” Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in the majority opinion.

“We add that, when directly asked at oral argument whether Texas knew of a single instance in which the new requirement would have helped even one woman obtain better treatment, Texas admitted that there was no evidence in the record of such a case,” he wrote.

A year ago, the state’s effort to protect “the sanctity of marriage” by keeping same-sex couples from marrying was wiped out by the same Supreme Court in a ruling that, among other things, extended the government advantages for married opposite-sex couples to married same-sex couples. One of the many things erased by that decision was a difference in regulatory treatment of married couples based on their makeup.

Conservatives’ unsupported claims of “rampant voter fraud” mark another opportunity for a cure seeking a disease. Their remedy — the voter photo ID law now pending in federal courts that are working against a Supreme Court deadline — appears to have less to do with ballot security than with keeping more Democrats than Republicans from voting.

And lately, they’ve invented the existential threat of people going to the wrong restrooms in the wake of laws accommodating transgender people in schools and other public facilities.

The folks who claim to deplore regulation also rely on it as a social brake to keep their pet policies in place. It’s not that they hate regulations; they just hate the other side’s regulations.

“The decision erodes states’ lawmaking authority to safeguard the health and safety of women and subjects more innocent life to being lost,” Gov. Greg Abbott said via news release. “Texas' goal is to protect innocent life, while ensuring the highest health and safety standards for women."

U.S. Sen John Cornyn, another high-ranking Texas official who, like Abbott, served on the Texas Supreme Court at one time, had a similar take on Monday's ruling. But where Abbott more or less copped to the anti-abortion intent of the law, Cornyn adhered to the original spin, staying away from innocent life and the unborn and saying this was all about the mothers.

“Today’s ruling sets a dangerous precedent for states like Texas, which the Constitution makes clear should be free to pass laws that are in the best interests of our citizens,” Cornyn said. “Commonsense requirements that abortion clinics be held to the same standards as other medical facilities put the health of the patient first, and today’s decision is a step back in protecting the well-being of mothers across our state.”

Many of the Texas voters who support those Republicans want the state to regulate abortion, same-sex marriage, voter fraud and who does what in which restroom stall.

Elected officials are responsive to voters, whatever else you might think about them. So there must be some reason they don’t just say what they’re trying to do. Limit access to abortion. Stop gay marriage. Give their side an advantage on Election Day. Or rally supporters around an issue on the politically uncomfortable issues around gender identification.

Candy coating politically unpalatable policy in the guise of good government is not exactly a new trick — or one that’s known only to the party that’s currently in the majority. It was Democrats, after all, who spent decades “protecting” the ballot by keeping African-Americans and Hispanics at bay with poll taxes and literacy tests.

The folks who claim to deplore regulation also rely on it as a social brake to keep their pet policies in place. It’s not that they hate regulations; they just hate the other side’s regulations.

In their need for favorable attention from their most ardent partisans, Texas politicians have been operating at the edges of what voters — and the law itself — will allow. A majority of Texans who turn out to vote might accept those policies, or at least let them go unnoticed.

Maybe it seems jarring when the courts step in like this, striking down state laws that sounded somewhat reasonable when Texas lawmakers originated them.

Perhaps that’s because there was something disingenuous about the original sales pitches.

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Politics State government Abortion Gay marriage Governor's Office Greg Abbott John Cornyn Voter ID