Last edited: February 14, 2005

Texas GOP Plan to Bend Sodomy Judge

PlanetOut, July 19, 2000

SUMMARY: Taking a back door approach to upholding the sodomy law, a Republican official tried to pressure a judge considering its constitutionality.

A letter that was never sent to its intended target indicates just how precious Texas’ gay-and-lesbian-only sodomy law is to at least one local Republican leader, who might now be investigated by state police. Harris County Republican Party chair Gary Polland had drafted a letter to Republican Judge John S. Anderson, hoping to reverse his majority opinion in a panel of the state’s 14th Court of Appeals 2 - 1 ruling in June striking down the law as unconstitutionally discriminatory. Anderson is running for reelection in November.

Polland sent the draft to 13 other county party leaders, almost none of whom wanted to sign on. District Judge Jack Hunter, a Democrat, wants Polland investigated for possible improper influence, obstruction of justice, retaliation, or coercion of public servants or voters. Yet Polland has enough insight to say that the main reason the letter wasn’t sent is that prosecutors have appealed to the full bench of the 14th Court of Appeals (all of whom are Republicans) and it would be inappropriate to send the letter when the case is pending in Anderson’s court. Polland shrugs off Hunter’s criticism as partisan, citing his own right to free speech.

In June, a week after the ruling was handed down, the Texas Republican Convention adopted a platform plank saying that homosexual acts are "contrary to the unchanging truths that have been ordained by God." Based at least as much on anti-abortion as pro-sodomy-law sentiment, the platform also targeted for electoral defeat both Anderson (despite his lack of opposition) and the other vote to strike the law, Chief Justice Paul Murphy (who won’t be seeking reelection until 2002). Apparently the state party platform was Polland’s inspiration to call on Anderson to reverse his ruling or resign, but of the county party chairs contacted by the Houston Chronicle, only Janet Brannen of Trinity County said she was ready to sign his letter.

Judge Hunter wrote to the Texas Supreme Court, Governor George W. Bush (the Republican presidential nominee-apparent), the Texas Rangers, and other officials, denouncing Polland’s draft letter. Hunter wrote, "The judiciary should not be subjected to this clear attempt to influence the outcome of a pending case. The independence of the judiciary as the third branch of government is the cornerstone of a free society." In response to Polland’s charge that his objections were politically motivated, Hunter told the Corpus Christi Caller-Times that, "This is not a Democratic or Republican or Libertarian or Vegetarian issue. This is a judicial issue involving integrity and independence." The Houston Chronicle shared his outrage in an editorial.

Hunter also wrote to state Representative Jaime Capelo, who hopes that Judicial Affairs Committee chair Senfronia Thompson will hold a hearing on the issue. To Capelo, it doesn’t matter that Polland’s letter wasn’t actually sent to Anderson, because the judges have certainly gotten the message — although Capelo continues to trust that the judges will rule based on the facts and the law.

Polland, in the draft letter he says was "leaked," accused Anderson of being an "activist" judge and legislating from the bench, rather than the "strict constructionist" he believes is the "will of the people" when they vote for a Republican. But according to a spokesperson for Anderson, it’s precisely because Anderson is a strict constructionist that he had to strike down the law: when the legislature removed heterosexuals from the 19th century law in 1974, they left it in violation of the state constitution’s Equal Rights Act. (The prosecution’s appeal will claim there is no violation because male-male and female-female acts are treated the same.)

The criminal case that finally brought that question before the appellate court is a notorious one. Thanks to a false report of an armed break-in by a third party, sheriffs literally broke into a private home, found John Lawrence and Tyrone Garner engaged in sex there, and arrested them. Supporters of the sodomy law have tried to claim the situation was a set-up to create a test case (since earlier civil lawsuits seeking to strike down the law have been dismissed) but Lawrence and Garner absolutely deny it; the man who filed the false report served jail time for doing so.

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