Although this was our last day, it was also one we were most anticipating, full of big hitters and topics of particular interest to us.
The Supremes, by Jessica Cuevas
It is not every day that the opportunity to see one-third of the Texas Supreme Court , including the Chief Justice, presents itself. The LEAP Ambassadors were ecstatic to see and hear from the longest serving member of this court, who has been elected seven times, the 27th Chief Justice: Chief Justice Nathan Hecht. We also had a chance to see Justice Brett Busby, who was appointed in February of 2019, and Justice Rebeca Huddle who was appointed in October of 2020.
I had previously taken Dr. John Domino’s online Judicial Systems course, and hearing the Justices speak of their process for choosing a case and who gets to determine who writes the opinion, was an in-person version of his class! Out of all the hundreds of cases that get appealed and that they receive, they only listen and select about 10% of the cases for the docket.
These are usually cases the Justices believe to be important in determining the legal development in Texas. This process can be extensive since each justice reviews the cases on their own and only reconvenes to discuss which cases they would like to cover.
Typically when this occurs, they are unanimous in agreeing on which cases they would like to listen to and which ones they would rather not. For a case to not be heard or selected, two-thirds of the court need to agree that there is no important legal question being asked. If one of the justices disagrees with this decision and would like to advocate for this case, they can explain why it is important at their next meeting. If the case gets four votes then it is granted, hence “the rule of four.” For the most part, this court prides itself on its collegiality since they tend to be in consensus on many of the cases.
I learned that it is not unusual for a dissenting opinion to become the majority opinion after hearing different sides of the issues and finessing the legal ruling, which is an interesting process. Unlike the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS), where the Chief Justice gets to choose someone from the majority opinion to write it, the Texas Supreme Court has the justices draw blue index cards that determine the cases they will write. They do this to prevent one justice from being extremely knowledgeable in one area of the law, and so that everyone has a basic understanding of every area.
Yvette even got the chance to ask the Justices what a typical day for them looks like.
Of course, the justices responded by saying that there is no “typical day,” but there are days that they dedicate specifically to just reading, writing, or having hearings. During hearings, the justices like to ask questions to the lawyers so that they can elaborate on the areas where they see gaps to better understand the case they are trying to make and know what direction they are focused on and why. They want to be persuaded. A member of the audience asked the justices for their thoughts on term limits, to which Chief Hecht responded with how he thought there should not be any for members of the judicial branch since it takes time to develop the experience to become a judge and a good one at that. Funny enough Justice Busby remarked that of course, Chief Justice Hecht would not want term limits, since he is the longest serving member of the court.
One-on-one with Ted Cruz
Staying with TTF’s emphasis on fluidity across the political spectrum, our second session of the day was a one-on-one session with U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, moderated by Senior correspondent at the Washington Examiner, David Drucker.
We noticed that major speakers were typically hosted at the Paramount Theatre. I particularly enjoyed the wonderful venue and the art deco design, perhaps because I work for the Old Town Theatre in Huntsville.
Senator Cruz shared with the audience some of his family history, and more specifically, his father’s process through immigration, which he then compared to today’s immigration process. Senator Cruz gave a vivid description of what the border and the Rio Grande look like today.
Drucker then prompted the topic of his presidential run. Senator Cruz said he looks back on his campaign fondly and enjoyed running for President. Although in 2016 he was not the main target of political attention, Senator Cruz was engaged and deliberate with his campaign.
His comments, and at times his mere presence, seemed to irritate the crowd, many of whom came to simply heckle him. To his credit, Senator Cruz said a few times that he will be more than happy to sit-down and have a conversation with everyone. However, he indicated he would not engage in yelling back and forth across the auditorium is not a conversation. Senator Cruz said in an ideal world, both parties could sit at a table together and strive to find a solution.
When it was time for questions from the audience, the first one was about gun control, and this set the tone for the remainder of the program. The audience strongly disagreed with Cruz, and they let their feelings be known.
Beto is Back
Beto is a favorite of the Texas Tribune, and we have seen him present at more than one, and each time he is a featured speaker and a crowd favorite. This time was no different, although the office for which he is running is different. Having run for the TX Senate, then for President, he is now running for Governor against Abbott. Beto went into great detail on his history, past experiences running for various elected positions, and what changes he would make if he became the next Governor of Texas.
Beto had an exciting track to becoming a politician from El Paso, Texas; as a dream to become a part of a band, he decided to attend Columbia University in New York. He soon realizes the hectic New York lifestyle was not for him and headed back to El Paso as a businessman. He became more interested in local politics, serving as a council member and being mayor pro tempore. He also was a US House member for six years, before embarking on his failed bids for Senator and President, respectively.
He believes in stricter gun laws, specifically moving the age from 18 to 21 to own an AR-15. Regarding our border crisis, Beto advocates that we need immigrants to work for us, which would ultimately benefit our economy in his eyes. Lastly, he touched on universal health care by opting in on Obamacare’s Medicare program.
We will (likely) know the outcome of Beto’s latest bid by the end of the night on November 8!
Public Health Sessions
I got to venture on my own a bit on this last day of the festival and go to some sessions that specifically piqued my interest. The most impactful event I went to was named “Reality Bites,” which featured a panel that discussed trust in science. The panel consisted of Andrew Dessler, Jehmu Greene, Jennifer Mercieca, and Allison Stewart and was narrated by John Schwartz.
Jennifer Mercieca spoke compellingly about how she and her dad would watch television news together when she was young. Today, however, with programming and advertising often working off algorithms, she and her dad watch very few of the same programs. The news today pushes for reactions, often by appealing to those who already agree with them.
The panel collectively agreed that Republican propaganda has been increasing for years, and its effects are now quite obvious. By 2020, when the pandemic hit, the George Floyd riots were pervasive, and the outcome of the 2020 election tilted Democratic, Republicans were left trusting few media figures and even fewer federal government officials–with the exception, of course, of President Trump.
Allison Stewart, a public health information analyst, discussed how the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded differently than previous health scares. In the past, the facts have largely spoken for themselves, and those facts would prompt people to get vaccinated or take precautions, but that didn’t happen in 2020–in fact, resistance to this has morphed into a full-blown anti-science agenda.
I missed the first LEAP event with Dr. Peter Hotez, Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, but thankfully I was able to hear him speak on COVID-19 with Dr. Celine Gounder, who served on the Biden-Harris COVID-19 Advisory Board. The session was narrated by the CEO of the Texas Tribune, Evan Smith.
Peter Hotez, being an expert in vaccines, spoke highly of vaccine efforts, but he does not fully agree with mandatory vaccines. Dr. Grounder was also somewhat critical of the CDC for not communicating the airborne nature of the disease. She believed think the mask mandates helped save lives.
Overall, I had a chance to hear from inspiring figures in public health and communications, which appeals to me greatly as a Public Health major. Both of the sessions focused on miscommunication and disinformation in the media, and they both emphasized that the media–and their algorithms–are as much to blame as the people who refuse to see facts.
As a fantastic conclusion to the night, we once again took our seats in Paramount Theatre to hear from the closing speaker. Wyoming Representative, Liz Cheney, took the stage to a standing ovation.
Congresswoman Cheney has had an extensive career as an attorney and as an employee of the State Department. She has served as Wyoming’s lone congressperson since her win in 2019 and will remain in congress until January.
Although she is a Republican, she does not shy away from speaking out against certain members of the party, especially Former President Donald Trump. Congresswoman Cheney credits this as the reason for her loss during the Republican primaries.
Congresswoman Cheney is Vice Chair on the House Select Committee to investigate the Attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6. Most of the conversation centered around Evan Smith asking questions relating to the attack, and Congresswoman Cheney disclosing little. She did describe that the members on the committee decided to operate slightly differently than typical committee hearings. Instead of giving each member 5 minutes during a hearing, the committee has split the hearings up so that two or three members are given the time needed to examine evidence.
Smith then asked the Congresswoman a very straightforward question, that I’m sure many in the audience wanted to ask as well: “Will you run for President?” She avoided giving an answer, which in turn led to another question. Smith phrased the question in such a way that hinted to her recent loss of her seat, and how will she keep fighting. Congresswoman Cheney assured the crowd that even though she is no longer going to be a congresswoman, she is certainly not going anywhere and will continue to put her country first.
To finish off a great day of new experiences, we were able to add to the list an Indian restaurant called Asiana Indian Cuisine.
With the entrees, our waiter highly recommended ‘the bullet,’ which was nan bread with jalapenos that may have been a little too spicy for us but still very tasty. Our favorite had to have been chicken 65, cubes marinated in spices. Having the assorted platter of samosa, spring rolls, reshmo kabobs, and keema samosa it was delicious.
Next up were entrees from the vegetable saag paneer, having a blend of cottage cheese and spinach, chicken tikka masala with a creamy tomato butter sauce, and the butter chicken!
Professor Yawn returned to an authentic traditional dish by getting the curry chicken.
Lastly, for dessert, we had carrot halwa, which was not a favorite, but we did enjoy the Zauq-E-Shah. This was a great way to top off our day!