Last edited: February 14, 2005

Texas Republicans Target One of Their Own

Plan to Put Political Pressure on Sodomy-Law Judge Fizzles

Houston Chronicle, July 3, 2000
801 Texas Avenue, Houston, TX 77002
Fax: 713-220-6575

By Alan Bernstein

It was a plan by Republican Party leaders in Houston to intensify the political heat on a judge from their own party.

The party chairmen in Harris County and 13 surrounding counties would urge 14th Court of Appeals Justice John S. Anderson either to resign or to change his ruling that helped strike down the Texas sodomy law in June.

But the strategy was shelved late last week when some of the GOP chairmen wouldn’t or didn’t sign the letter.

"We had to have consensus (but) we didn’t hear from more than a couple of people who liked it," said Harris County GOP Chairman Gary Polland, one of the officials who devised the plan.

Brazoria County Chairman Mike Golden, for instance, said he didn’t sign the letter because as a non-lawyer he didn’t want to second-guess the opinion of legal experts.

Golden, a Lake Jackson banker, said he talked to other county chairmen who agreed with him that "these judges are intelligent guys, they are highly educated, they are experienced in the law, or else they wouldn’t be judges."

Though the direct attack on Anderson was scuttled, Republicans continue to struggle with the idea that rulings from majority-Republican courts sometimes run counter to party philosophy. The party, which wants to outlaw abortion, recently used its state platform to scold Republican judges who allow girls to bypass a state law that otherwise would require them to notify their parents before getting abortions.

Anderson and Chief Justice Paul Murphy, who voted with him on the sodomy ruling, also were singled out for scorn in the state platform, which was adopted June 16.

Anderson and Murphy ruled on June 8 that the sodomy law violated the state Constitution’s equal rights provision because it singles out homosexuals.

Anderson is unopposed on the November election ballot for a second six-year term on the court. Murphy was not mentioned in the proposed letter because his term continues through 2002.

Another Republican judge, Harvey Hudson, voted to uphold the sodomy law.

The case arose from the arrest of two Houston men who were engaging in sex acts that are legal for heterosexuals. Backed by gay activists, they appealed their conviction in an attempt to get the state law thrown out.

The Texas Republican Party, whose platform says that "homosexual behavior is contrary to the unchanging truths that have been ordained by God," declared that Anderson and Murphy should be defeated at the polls.

Polland and other local party leaders then took the next step by contacting the county party chairmen who would nominate a replacement for Anderson on the ballot if he were to resign. The 14th Court decides civil and criminal appeals only in southeast Texas.

But, like Golden of Brazoria County, some chairmen were unwilling to extend the attacks on Anderson.

Washington County Chairman Richard Stadelmann of Brenham, a Texas A&M University philosophy professor, said he had decided not to sign the letter. Then he got a follow-up document from Harris County GOP Treasurer Paul Simpson saying that the letter to Anderson wasn’t going to be sent after all..

Stadelmann said he wouldn’t agree with the letter because while he thinks homosexuality is wrong, he also thinks the sodomy law discriminated against same-sex couples.

Trinity County Chairwoman Janet Brannen said she was prepared to sign the letter in part because "the morality in this country is really deteriorating."

Other chairmen said they had not seen the letter or the follow-up that withdrew it. Walker County Chairman Andrew Martinez of Huntsville said he waited to see how others would react to the idea of calling for Anderson to switch his legal opinion or step down.

"I am not committed either way," Martinez said. "Some of these guys, they kind of put the cart before the horse."

Anderson declined to comment Monday about the controversy over his ruling.

He said he can’t discuss the case because it is still being considered by the appeals court. Harris County prosecutors have asked all nine judges to reconsider the 2-1 decision. All members of the 14th Court of Appeals are Republicans.

Anderson did say that he plans to stay on the ballot as his party’s uncontested nominee.

Polland, the Harris County GOP chairman, said that a lack of consensus among the 14 county officials was not the only reason the letter was never sent to Anderson. The letter, written by party treasurer Simpson, asked the judge to reverse his ruling. That would be inappropriate for the party to do as long as the case is being considered by his court, said Polland, an attorney who has appealed many of his clients’ cases to the same court.

"What we are going to do is sit back and let the court of appeals decide if they are going to hear the case or not," Polland said. "We will review the case (and) it is possible we will do nothing."

The proposed letter told Anderson his ruling had no legal basis, that it amounted to "the worst kind of judicial activism" and that it contradicted "the will of the people."

Anderson’s ruling said the problem with the sodomy law can be traced to 1973, when the Legislature abandoned a 114-year-old sodomy law banning certain sex acts between all people and adopted the new law, which banned them only for homosexuals.

That created two standards, Anderson wrote, and conflicts with the state Equal Rights Amendment because it equates to sex-based discrimination.

The dissenting opinion by Hudson said the history of the Texas Equal Rights Amendment "suggests the people of this state intended to grant to women the same rights as those already enjoyed by men, not to abolish criminal sanctions imposed for homosexual conduct."

The ruling by Anderson and Murphy technically applies only to the 14th Court of Appeals jurisdiction until the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals rules on it, according to legal experts.

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