This session's infusion of Tea Party sentiment in the legislative process has affected the standard law and order calculus that we use to gauge the potential fate of various bills. That "Tea Party sentiment" can be boiled down to this: "The government is the enemy. You work for the government. Do the math." Think we're kidding? Earlier this session, unsuspecting prosecutors who came to testify on a bill that would impair your budgets had to fend off a chairman who equated prosecutors with the Mafia, prompting one DA to profess surprise that he had apparently traded his white hat for a black one when he entered the Capitol. But that was just one early incident; let us share with you a more recent example.Shannon's not the first to notice the difference between small government and Big Government conservatism: The Economist this week featured an article describing how the former approach is transforming the politics of criminal justice, including a discussion of initiatives in Texas. But it's especially notable (and heartening) that such sentiments now extend beyond budgeting to Fourth Amendment questions.
Earlier this week, SB 1717 by Duncan/Lewis, an omnibus judicial reform bill, became what we call a "Christmas tree," so named because of all the amendments that other members tried to "hang" on it. Many of those amendments were formerly dead bills, including HB 1507 by Christian, a prosecutor-supported bill that would authorize non-lawyer JPs to issue evidentiary search warrants in smaller counties. Once offered, the amendment immediately started taking fire from several House members—urban and rural, Democrat and Republican—who expressed concerns about expansive searches, especially relating to blood draws in DWI cases. Now, there has always been some generalized resistance at the capitol to the existence of non-lawyer magistrates, but this time, the anti-government Tea Party effect crystallized that opposition into a solid voting bloc that defeated the amendment by a stunning vote of 17-121. As a result, the author of the amendment joined the ignominious "100 Club" for putting forth a matter that drew over 100 "nay" votes. We bring this to your attention because it is only one of several indications that things are changing at the state capitol. Just be glad that we passed some blood draw legislation last session, because if we hadn't, that bill would be D.O.A. this session. And that, friends, is the new legislative math for the foreseeable future.
RELATED (5/31): From Ilya Somin at The Volokh Conspiracy, "The Tea Party Movement and Popular Constitutionalism."