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Commissioners
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A look at Denton County’s redistricting proposal for commissioner precincts
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Denton County officials have released proposals for redrawn commissioner precincts, giving residents until Nov. 9 to weigh in on the new maps. Here’s a look at the changes.

The county publicly kicked off its redistricting process last Tuesday and released two maps Thursday, one for commissioner precincts and one for justice of the peace and constable precincts. Although commissioners plan to approve the maps at next Tuesday’s county meeting, the map for individual voter precincts will not be released until later this year.

Courtesy image/Denton County 

A map shows Denton County’s proposal for the redistricting of its four commissioner precincts.

A map shows the results of the 2018 Denton County judge election by voter precincts.

Precinct 1

Precinct 1, which encompasses Frisco and the growing U.S. Highway 380 Corridor, is set to gain multiple voter precincts in north Denton and between Frisco and Little Elm. In the 2018 election for county judge — which does not perfectly align with the election results for each commissioner precinct — all but one of the incoming voter precincts went to Democratic candidate Diana Leggett.

Precinct 1 will be losing several voter precincts near Corinth, Shady Shores, Oak Point, south of Denton and south of Frisco. The vast majority of those went to Republican victor Andy Eads.

The precinct saw controversy under former Commissioner Hugh Coleman, who led an effort to redistrict in 2019 before the release of the census. He argued his precinct was growing and being stretched too thin on resources, but eventually withdrew his proposal amidst public opposition and warnings of legal consequences.

The seat now belongs to Ryan Williams, who started his term in January after defeating Coleman in last year’s Republican primary.

“This is my first redistricting process, and it is very important,” Williams said via email Monday. “We need to create maps that are fair and lawful, and make sense from a geographical and population standpoint to allow each of us to provide amazing customer service to our constituents.”

Precinct 2

Up for election next year, Precinct 2 was decided by less than 500 votes in 2018, when incumbent Republican Ron Marchant defeated Democratic challenger Brandy Jones. The precinct covers southeast Denton County, including parts of Carrollton, The Colony and Plano.

Precinct 2 is set to lose several precincts near Frisco picked up by Precinct 1, and will also lose some near Carrollton. But it will gain more than 10 precincts by stretching into the middle of the county and further north, absorbing much of what Precinct 1 lost. Most of its lost precincts voted Democratic in 2018, while the majority of its incoming precincts voted Republican.

Marchant could not be reached for comment Monday.

Precinct 3

Precinct 3, which covers Lewisville, Highland Village, Hickory Creek and Lake Dallas, will expand to the west by several voter precincts and pick up a few lost near Carrollton by Precinct 2, gaining about 10 in total. Most of them voted Republican in 2018.

Of the four, Precinct 3 is the only one to lose no voter precincts. Commissioner Bobbie Mitchell said she knew her precinct would need to grow to match the others in population, the most important factor for this year’s process.

“We’re blessed we don’t have any concentrated areas of minorities or anything we have to worry about, so we can just concentrate on making sure we’ve got population equality as far as numbers,” Mitchell said. “I don’t think we really gerrymander. ... We’re never going to get something that everybody’s OK with.”

Precinct 4

Also up for election in 2022, Precinct 4 was decided handily three years ago when Republican Dianne Edmondson defeated Democrat Bryan Webb. The precinct encompasses southwest Denton County and will gain just under 10 voter precincts between Denton and Corinth, more than half of which voted Republican in 2018.

Precinct 4 will lose a similar amount of voting precincts, mostly on its eastern boundary. It also loses three Democratic-voting precincts near north Denton. Edmondson said Monday that she believes the county stuck to its goal of keeping change minimal.

“People don’t need to be moved around unless it’s absolutely necessary,” Edmondson said. “I love Precinct 4 and I hate to have to give up any voters there, but I do understand we’ve got to meet the guidelines to have these as balanced as possible. It’s almost kind of a wash.”

Edmondson said she doesn’t believe her precinct’s changes will have much of an impact on next year’s election, when she plans to run for her second term as commissioner.

“I think I’ll still be reelected because I have almost everything I had in Precinct 4 before, and some added, predominately from Denton,” Edmondson said. “It’s not any major, major changes.”

Response

The Denton County Democratic Party has been critical of the county’s redistricting process, saying officials haven’t given enough time for public input. In a weekend news release, the party took aim specifically at the plans for Precincts 2 and 4, with chair Delia Parker-Mims stating, “The Commissioners Court gerrymandering ensures that Republicans will have little competition in Precincts that are up for reelection in 2022.”

Reached Monday, Parker-Mims expanded further, saying she believes commissioners set out to seize control of the very competitive Precinct 2.

“My main focus is on [Precinct] 2 and I think that is their main focus,” Parker-Mims said. “We think they’ve simply broken the integrity of that community. ... We’re going to present alternative maps and we’re going to let the public know that is not the only option.”

Denton County Republican Party Chair Jayne Howell could not be reached Monday for comment on the map proposals.

Residents can view the maps and give feedback online at dentoncounty.gov. They also have two county meetings Nov. 2 and Nov. 9 when residents can speak publicly about redistricting. Commissioners plan to vote on the new maps on Nov. 9.


Dancers entertain the crowd during the University of North Texas’ Día de los Muertos celebration at the mall outside Willis Library on Monday. The University Program Council, UNT Multicultural Center, Sigma Lambda Beta and ÚNeTe presented the event, which featured a performance by Folxlórico.


State
Supreme Court hints it may allow challenge to Texas abortion law

WASHINGTON — After almost three hours of lively arguments Monday at the Supreme Court, a majority of the justices seemed inclined to allow abortion providers — but perhaps not the Biden administration — to pursue a federal court challenge to a Texas law that has sharply curtailed abortions in the state.

That would represent an important shift from a 5-4 ruling in September that allowed the law to go into effect. Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett, who were in the majority in that ruling, asked questions suggesting that they thought the novel structure of the Texas law justified allowing the providers to challenge it.

Kavanaugh said that permitting a challenge might amount to closing a loophole. Barrett said the law was structured to prevent the providers from presenting a “full constitutional defense.”

A decision to allow a challenge would not conclude the case or address whether the law itself is constitutional. Instead, it would return the case to lower federal courts for further proceedings. Moreover, it was not clear whether, if the court allowed either the providers or the administration to sue, it would temporarily block the law while the case moved forward.

The law, which went into effect Sept. 1, was drafted to evade review in federal court, a goal the state has so far achieved. The law, which bans most abortions after about six weeks and includes no exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest, has caused clinics in the state to turn away many women seeking the procedure.

There is little question that the ban itself is unconstitutional under two key Supreme Court precedents, Roe v. Wade in 1973 and Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992. Those rulings prohibited states from barring abortions before fetal viability, or about 23 weeks.

The question for the justices was whether abortion providers and the Biden administration are entitled to challenge the law in federal court. Officials in Texas say the novel structure of the law, known as Senate Bill 8, forbids such challenges.

Lawyers on both sides said the stakes were very high.

“To allow Texas’ scheme to stand would provide a road map for other states to abrogate any decision of this court with which they disagree,” said Marc A. Hearron, a lawyer for the providers. “At issue here is nothing less than the supremacy of federal law.”

Judd E. Stone II, solicitor general for the state of Texas, said allowing the providers to sue would “alter bedrock doctrines organizing the federal courts.”

Kavanaugh appeared most interested in whether the justices could find a way to permit the abortion providers to pursue their challenges by suing state officials even though the law was written to try to preclude that approach, notably by barring state officials from enforcing it. The providers instead sought to sue state judges and court clerks.

Defenders of the Texas law have invoked a 1908 Supreme Court decision, Ex parte Young, that appears to bar lawsuits to restrain state courts. But the broader meaning of the 1908 case, Kavanaugh suggested, was that states could not totally evade challenges to laws said to be unconstitutional.

The Texas abortion providers should be able to sue at least court clerks, he suggested.

For her part, Barrett took issue with the state’s assertion that providers could adequately challenge the law by violating it, getting sued and defending themselves by arguing that the law is unconstitutional.

“The full constitutional defense cannot be asserted in the defensive posture, am I right?” she asked.

The law does allow defendants to argue that the law had imposed an undue burden on the right to abortion, drawing on language from the Casey decision. But Barrett suggested that the defense permitted by the law was far too narrow.

The court’s two most recent precedents on abortion, she said, allowed courts to consider “the law as a whole and its deterrent effect.”

Justice Samuel Alito, who had been in the majority in September, said he did not see how the Supreme Court could allow suits against clerks in state courts.

“A clerk performs a ministerial function,” he said. “Somebody shows up with a complaint, wants to file a complaint, and assuming the formal requirements are met, the clerk files the complaint. The clerk doesn’t have the authority to say, you can’t file this complaint because it’s a bad complaint.”

The four justices who dissented in September — Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan — did not seem to have changed their minds about the law. And Justices Alito, Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch asked questions that suggested they thought the federal courts had no role to play.

The law allows private citizens to file suits in state courts against doctors, staff members at clinics, counselors, people who help pay for the procedure and even drivers who take a patient to a clinic. Such plaintiffs, who do not need to live in Texas, have any connection to the abortion or show any injury from it, are entitled to at least $10,000 and their legal fees if they win.

Roberts asked a telling question.

“Assume that the bounty is not $10,000 but a million dollars,” Roberts said, adding, “Do you think in that case the chill on the conduct at issue here would be sufficient to allow federal court review prior to the end of the state court process?”

Stone said no. That answer did not seem to satisfy the chief justice.

“Nobody is going to risk violating the statute,” he said, “because they’ll be subject to suit for a million dollars.”

Stone said the Texas law “is capped at much less than that.”

“Yeah,” Roberts said, a little irritated. “My question is what we call a hypothetical.”

Solicitor General Elizabeth B. Prelogar, representing the federal government, said the Texas law was designed “to thwart the supremacy of federal law in open defiance of our constitutional structure.”

“States are free to ask this court to reconsider its constitutional precedents,” she said, “but they are not free to place themselves above this court, nullify the court’s decisions in their borders, and block the judicial review necessary to vindicate federal rights.”

Several justices, including ones who had shown sympathy for the providers’ challenge, seemed wary of allowing the federal government to sue states for enacting laws said to violate the Constitution.

“You say this case is very narrow, it’s rare, it’s particularly problematic,” Roberts said. “But the authority you assert to respond to it is as broad as can be.”

When the court agreed to hear appeals in the two cases — Whole Woman’s Health v. Jackson, No. 21-463, and United States v. Texas, No. 21-588 — it put them on an exceptionally fast track. But the court said it would decide only the procedural questions of who is entitled to sue, not the constitutional one of whether the law violates precedents guaranteeing a right to abortion until fetal viability.

In December, the justices will hear arguments in a separate case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, No. 19-1392, which takes on a Mississippi law that bans abortions after 15 weeks. That case is a direct challenge to the constitutional right to abortion.


News
Jenna Ryan should get 60 days in prison for Jan. 6 riot, US prosecutors say

Jenna Ryan, one of the alleged U.S. Capitol rioters from Denton County, and one of the first locals to plead not guilty, will be sentenced Thursday for her actions on Jan. 6 in Washington, D.C.

Ryan took a plane from Denton with a group to attend then-President Donald Trump’s rally on Jan. 6, the day Congress gathered to count electoral votes to formalize Joe Biden’s presidential victory. She broadcast the riot on social media throughout the day, according to court records.

She initially pleaded not guilty in March on charges related to the riot but then changed her plea to guilty of one misdemeanor count of parading, demonstrating or picketing in a Capitol building. She’ll be sentenced in federal court Thursday.

The maximum sentence is six months in prison and a fine up to $5,000, but attorneys for the U.S. government are requesting a 60-day sentence and $500 in restitution.

Neither Ryan nor her attorney had returned a phone call for comment by Monday afternoon.

Michael Maslanka, a law professor at the University of North Texas’ law school in Dallas, said the riot cases piqued his interest because some folks connected to the riot have argued that they were exercising their First Amendment right to free speech, a topic he teaches in one of his classes. Maslanka said sentencing is up to the judge’s discretion.

“Judges have sentencing guidelines, but they have a lot of discretion,” Maslanka said. “If she does not show remorse, as [another] defendant in the D.C. matter, she could go to jail. With judges, you need to show some sort of remorse. The failure to do that may trigger the judge to impose a more harsh sentence than they would otherwise.”

Michael Maslanka

In charging documents, Ryan was charged with entering and remaining inside the U.S. Capitol Building without permission. She was charged after being arrested on Jan. 15 by the FBI Dallas office.

According to court records filed Thursday, U.S. government attorneys say Ryan “repeatedly communicated a lack of remorse” following the riot. They cited her multiple television interviews and social media posts, including one photo showing her standing in front of a broken Capitol window and a tweet calling it “one of the best days of my life.”

“She has entered a guilty plea and accepted responsibility for at least her physical presence inside of the Capitol,” the sentencing memorandum states. “Nevertheless, the defendant’s participation in a riot that actually succeeded in delaying the Congressional certification combined with her promotion and celebration of violence, her consistent and public lack of remorse, her dishonesty and sense of impunity, her mercenary exploitation of the riot, and her greater potential to incite future violence renders a custodial sentence both necessary and appropriate in this case.”

Maslanka said punishment falls on a continuum and that Ryan’s case is in the middle. He said one D.C. resident was given probation because they accepted responsibility for what they did, which was trespass into the Capitol building, but they didn’t engage in or incite violence.

“The other end of the continuum, in the DFW area just a few weeks ago, [Troy Smocks] was sentenced to 14 months, and part of what he was sentenced is, he wasn’t even at the Capitol, but he made statements on social media inciting others to violence at the Capitol, and he had a long history of other crimes,” Maslanka said. “When you incite others to violence … that type of language and interstate commerce will get you in more trouble.”

Smocks, 59, admitted making a post on the social media site Parler the day of the riot that stated: “Prepare our weapons, and then go get’em. Lets hunt these cowards down like the Traitors that each of them are. This includes RINOS, Dems, and Tech Execs. We now have the green light.”

In the sentencing memorandum, the U.S. government says Ryan falsely claimed she didn’t know Jan. 6 could and would become violent, promoted violence in and beyond the Capitol, actively and widely spread false information that downplayed or denied the violence on Jan. 6, gave false information regarding her own actions, promoted her business during the riot and made public statements after her arrest believing she wouldn’t go to jail because she has “blonde hair,” “white skin,” “a great job” and “a great future.”

“The judge is going to decide [jail time], not you,” Maslanka said. “It’s not a good posture to take. You have to show some contrition. … I don’t see any contrition here. I see defiance, unless there’s something I don’t know.”

Jenna Ryan Sentencing Memorandum

Six other Denton County residents have been charged in connection with the Jan. 6 riot, with charges ranging from entering Capitol grounds without permission to assaulting police officers at the riot.

Hearings for the other six are scheduled through the remainder of the year and in January 2022.


University_of_north_texas
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38th annual Hurley Seminar to discuss Vietnam War
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The University of North Texas Military History Center’s Hurley Seminar this weekend will focus on the Vietnam War, about 50 years after the U.S. decided to begin withdrawing troops from Vietnam.

“Conventional War or Insurgency: The Strategy and Tactics of the Vietnam War” is the theme of the center’s 38th annual conference, which begins at 8:30 a.m. Saturday at the UNT Union.

Topics in past seminars have included various aspects of World War II, the U.S Civil War, the future of war and more.

“People should attend the seminars because military events or wars profoundly affect our lives,” said Al Murdock, executive council member for the Military History Center. “I hate wars, with their immense destruction of lives, but I cannot ignore them, because they change everything — people, cultures, languages, technologies, attitudes and more. Therefore, we need to know more about them.”

Different perspectives will be considered when speaking on America’s 10,000-day war in Vietnam. Retired U.S. Army Col. Ramon “Tony” Nadal will be participating as a speaker and will reflect on his experiences in the war. Historian Andrew Wiest, who has written several books on the Vietnam War, will consider questions on the war’s strategic direction during his talk, including whether the war was winnable.

One speaker will talk in the morning, followed by a question-and-answer session. After, there is a luncheon, where the other speaker will talk.

The annual seminar was created by former UNT president and retired Air Force Gen. Al Hurley in 1983. Since then, the seminar has introduced new aspects by adding historians and national security officials to deepen discussions.

“We are unique in that we still have a strong military history program,” said professor Geoffrey Wawro, director of the Military History Center. “Such programs are in decline elsewhere, despite the continuing prevalence of war and strategic dilemmas around the world.”

Reservations for the event may be made online at untuniontickets.universitytickets.com, with general public tickets at $50 each.


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