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The Lone Star Way

Why Texas’ legal war with the federal government could be the biggest one yet


The following is from the April 5, 2012, edition of Time. SMU Political Science Professor Cal Jillson, author of Lone Star Tarnished, provided expertise for this story.

April 11, 2012

By Hilary Hylton

The debate over what has come to be called Obamacare moved into the eye of a political storm last week as the U.S. Supreme Court weighed the law’s constitutionality. With its civilized tone, the legal discourse was akin to the calm in the center of a hurricane. But at the periphery of the same storm, a multitude of other legal fights are sweeping through federal courts across the country, evidence of the tumultuous relationship between conservative states and the federal government. Some of the strongest winds are blowing out of Texas, a state with a passionate independent streak and a long history of conflict with the federal government.

Some 26 state attorneys general lined up against the Obama Administration on the health care law. Among them was Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, 54, who has made his state a leader in the fight against what he sees as overweening federal power by bringing some 23 lawsuits to federal court, an unprecedented number even for Texas. Abbott, a former Republican Texas Supreme Court justice, has challenged the feds on issues ranging from voter ID to women’s health care, and from clean-air rules to contraception coverage. Last week, Abbott was in Washington to observe the oral arguments on health reform and tweet his impressions: “[Justice Anthony] Kennedy said #Obamacare changes the historic relationship between gov’t and individuals,” he observed, clearly pleased. . .

“Texas has such a long and prickly relationship with the federal government,” says Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University. In the decade after the state joined the Union in 1845, Texans were vocal in their criticism of Washington for failing to protect the border with Mexico and for not aiding with the fight against Indians on the frontier, says Jillson. Then, following the discovery of vast offshore oil reserves in the 1930s, the state battled the federal government to retain control of its reserves. Dubbed the “tidelands controversy,” the epic battle culminated in 1953, when Congress recognized Texas’ rights under its Annexation Agreement, an issue on which President Dwight D. Eisenhower had campaigned and promised to settle to the satisfaction of Texans. . .

Jillson and other Texas political observers see Abbott’s legal challenges to the Obama Administration as both emblematic of the Texas spirit and a sure sign of his ambitions for higher office. Both Perry and Abbott view the “Obama Administration and the federal government as interfering with the state’s prerogatives at every turn,” Jillson says. Overreach is a term that appears in press release after press release issued by the offices of both Perry and Abbott.

Read the full story.

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