Led by Attorney General Greg Abbott, Texas has fought the federal government for control over various issues, including environmental regulation and oversight of voting laws. This interactive highlights the 18 lawsuits that the state currently has pending against the federal government.
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, impacting two of the state’s lawsuits against the federal government — regarding the state's voter ID law and adopting legislative and congressional redistricting maps without federal approval. The lawsuits are still pending with portions of each case still in litigation. A lawsuit challenging federal health officials who cut off funding for the Texas Women’s Health Program was voluntarily dismissed in January after the state relaunched the program solely with state funds. But Texas filed another suit against the federal government in February challenging the constitutionality of the Dodd-Frank Act.
The Environmental Protection Agency continues to be Texas’ most frequent opponent in legal battles under Abbott, with 14 active lawsuits. To simplify some overlapping arguments, the lawsuits against the EPA are grouped into five main issues for this interactive.
Flip through this interactive to see the nature of the fights and the arguments of Abbott and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.
Skip to: Dodd-Frank Multi-State Challenge | The Contraception Rule | The Endangerment Finding | Greenhouse Gas Regulation | Call to Change Greenhouse Gas Rules | Federal Takeover of Greenhouse Gas Permitting | Cross-State Air Pollution Rule | Redistricting | Texas' Voter ID Law
In 2010, the Obama administration passed the Dodd-Frank Act to avoid an economic collapse like the 2008 financial crisis. Title II of the reform law established the Orderly Liquidation Authority, which can liquidate large financial institutions, including the Texas Treasury Safekeeping Trust Company, which invests and manages assets for Texas agencies. Attorney General Greg Abbott filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the validity of the new authority. Ten other states have also challenged the financial reform, and private plaintiffs include Texas' State National Bank of Big Spring.
Texas challenged Title II of the Dodd-Frank Act on the claim that the law "poses a risk to taxpayer funds" whose money is included in the more than $59 million managed by Texas Treasury Safekeeping Trust Company, which falls within Dodd-Frank's scope. The attorney general's office argued that the sweeping federal policy gives unelected officials authority to take over Texas funds without consent from Texas shareholders.
During testimony in front of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee in March, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said some financial institutions have become so big they are difficult to prosecute because of indications that criminal charges brought upon the institution would negatively affect the national economy. "I think it has an inhibiting influence [and] impact on our ability to bring resolutions that I think would be more appropriate," Holder said.
A provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act requiring employers to provide contraception and free preventive care services, including domestic violence screenings, in employees’ health benefits, will take effect in August 2012. After hearing opposition from religious organizations who said the rule infringed on religious freedom, President Obama revised the rule in February. The rule now exempts religious organizations and requires insurance companies to directly provide free preventive-care coverage for employees at exempted workplaces.
“Obamacare’s latest mandate tramples the First Amendment’s Freedom of Religion and compels people of faith to act contrary to their convictions,” Attorney General Greg Abbott said in a prepared statement announcing that Texas joined six other states and a handful of Catholic organizations in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the contraception rule. The lawsuit also alleges the revision to the rule violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act by “requiring the federal government to troll through an organization’s religious belief” to determine whether the employer should be exempt.
The Obama administration says religious organizations will not be forced to violate their religious beliefs, because the revised rule does not require those employers to subsidize, sanction or have any involvement in the delivery of contraception or preventive care services to its employees. Administration officials also say it will save money. “Covering contraception is cost-neutral since it saves money by keeping women healthy and preventing spending on other health services,” according to a prepared statement released by the administration.
In December 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency issued the Endangerment Finding, which said current and projected levels of six greenhouse gases threatened public health. At the same time, the EPA also determined that greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles contribute to air pollution. The findings did not impose regulations but gave the EPA authority under the Clean Air Act to issue regulations for greenhouse gas emissions.
Texas is attempting to overturn the Endangerment Finding. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said in a press release that the EPA relied on scientific research from a "scandal-plagued" organization that did not provide objective information on greenhouse gases' effects on climate change. He also argued that the impact of the subsequent regulations would cause billions of dollars of damage to the Texas economy.
The EPA argues that scientific evidence supports the finding that greenhouse gases contribute to climate change and harm "the public welfare of current and future generations." The finding was the result of a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court order that directed the EPA to examine how greenhouse gases affect climate change. The court said that if the EPA determined greenhouse gases were harmful, which it did, they should be regulated by the EPA under the federal Clean Air Act.
After issuing the Endangerment Finding, the EPA established three rules to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. The "tailpipe rule" established regulations on motor vehicle manufacturers that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions in new cars. The "timing rule" said that other facilities would also be subject to greenhouse gas regulations when the tailpipe rule started in January 2011. And the "tailoring rule" targeted large polluters by requiring only the permitting of facilities that meet or exceed a threshold for greenhouse gas emissions.
"EPA's crusade to regulate [greenhouse gases] at any cost and at break-neck speed have created an environment of regulatory and economic uncertainty at precisely the wrong moment," Texas attorneys wrote in a court brief. The state argues that it doesn't have the time or resources to comply with the intensified regulations and that compliance could hurt job creation and the economy.
The EPA says it developed the three rules to quickly respond to the need to regulate greenhouse gases and protect public health. Although the federal government did not give direct orders to issue these rules, it argues that federal agencies often develop administrative rules to comply with federal laws, which in this case is the Clean Air Act.
The Clean Air Act gives states authority to regulate facilities that emit air pollution, but the EPA must approve the states' plans to ensure that the regulations meet federal air quality standards. When the EPA finalized new rules for permitting greenhouse gas emissions in 2010, the agency said Texas was not following the federally approved plan and that the regulations in place would not meet federal standards. The EPA ordered Texas to change its regulatory process within one year in order to meet the new standards.
Attorney General Greg Abbott said in a news release that the EPA is "flouting the law by denying Texas the opportunity to manage its own air permitting program." Texas was the only state to refuse to set a timeline to revise its regulatory plan, which effectively meant Texas would not make changes to its permitting process to meet the new requirements for greenhouse gas emissions. Texas' attorneys argue that the state's regulations are not inadequate, and that the changes issued by the EPA will damage energy independence and the economic recovery of the state.
The EPA says Texas is in violation of the regulatory processes approved by the federal government because the rules implemented by the state are less stringent than federal requirements. The EPA began issuing permits for greenhouse gas emissions across the state in 2011, and the federal agency says most facilities are already in the process of reducing emissions to comply with federal standards.
In 2011 when Texas refused to comply with the EPA's order to change its regulatory programs to implement new federal standards for greenhouse gas emissions, the EPA took over the permitting process for greenhouse gas emissions across the state. A federal appeals court denied Texas' request to temporarily halt the federal government from intervening in the permitting process.
Texas' attorneys say the EPA has violated the federal Clean Air Act, which gives states the authority to regulate air pollution. In the latest court ruling, the attorney general's office issued a statement that said the "unlawful overreach" of the EPA puts "the jobs and livelihoods of thousands of Texas families and businesses at risk."
The EPA says it is following the Clean Air Act, which requires the agency to step in if a state fails to properly implement federal standards. The agency says the new rules are "common-sense" provisions intended to protect the health of Americans, and that immediate implementation of the rules is important in Texas, the largest greenhouse gas emitter of any state because of its size and the large number of refineries, power plants and other industrial facilities.
In 2011, the EPA issued the so-called cross-state air pollution rule to replace the Clean Air Interstate Rule, which was invalidated by a court ruling. The new rule imposes a harsher cap on sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions, which can cause acid rain and heavy smog. The rule applies to power producers and companies whose emissions cross state lines and cause pollution in other states.
Texas challenged the rule, saying it puts a significant financial burden on power companies. The attorney general's office also argued it could threaten the reliability of Texas' electric grid by forcing power producers to shut down older plants. A federal appeals court granted Texas' request to delay implementation of the cross-state air pollution rule until the court can rule on its merits. In two other lawsuits, the state is also specifically challenging the heightened standards for emissions of sulfur dioxide and particulate matter.
The EPA said in a news release that it is following the Obama administration's orders to protect public health "through common-sense clean air standards." The nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide emissions inhibit downwind states' ability to meet federal air quality standards and contribute to particulate matter in the air that can accumulate in the respiratory system and cause cardiovascular disease, lung disease or other respiratory problems. The agency says the rule will protect 340 million Americans from smog and soot pollution, prevent 34,000 premature deaths and save $280 billion annually on health care.
The Republican-led state Legislature approved new district maps in 2011 that required federal approval under the Voting Rights Act. Rather than go through the U.S. Department of Justice, Abbott sued to get the maps approved. A federal panel in San Antonio drew interim maps that still favored Republicans but gave more power to minority voters and Democrats. In June, the Supreme Court struck down parts of the Voting Rights Act indicating the maps no longer required federal approval. The lawsuit is still pending with portions of the case still in litigation.
Abbott has argued that the maps enacted by the Legislature satisfy all necessary legal requirements and that the lower court "improperly extended the Voting Rights Act beyond the limits imposed by the Constitution."
The U.S. Justice Department argued in court that the Republican-drawn maps do not comply with the federal Voting Rights Act because the lines do not maintain or increase "the ability of minority voters to elect their candidate of choice." Because minorities represented the majority of the state's population growth in the last 10 years, Democrats and minority groups say that at least three of the state's four new congressional seats should go to minority-led districts.
Texas lawmakers approved a voter ID law in 2011 that requires citizens to show photo identification before they can vote. Under a provision of the federal Voting Rights Act, certain states, including Texas, must have new election laws approved by the Department of Justice before they can take effect. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down parts of the Voting Rights Act, and Texas announced shortly after that the voter ID law would go into effect immediately. The lawsuit is still pending with portions of the case still in litigation.
Abbott and other proponents of voter ID say requiring voters to show valid photo identification will deter or prevent election fraud. Abbott has said he would "fight for the same right that other states already have to protect their elections.”
Democrats and minority groups say the voter ID law passed by Republicans is intended to disenfranchise minority voters, particularly Hispanic voters. The Department of Justice denied Texas' application for preclearance of the law in March and said Texas did not prove the law wouldn't disenfranchise minority voters.