Rusk: Officials retain lawyer in ACLU lawsuit

The Rusk City Council has retained lawyer Johnathan Mitchell to represent the city in a lawsuit recently filed by the American Civil Liberties Union against seven East Texas towns that have declared themselves Sanctuary Cities for the Unborn.

In a 3-2 vote, with Place 4 Council member Martha Neely and Place 5 Council Member Frances Long casting the dissenting votes, following a closed session with the topic listed on a meeting agenda as the sole item of discussion, the council voted to sign a letter engaging Mitchell's service.

According to Rusk City Attorney Anthony King, Mitchell – who, in the past, has served in the Texas Solicitor General's office – has offered to represent the city free of charge

The ACLU's lawsuit, “Texas Equal Access Fund and Lilith Fund for Reproductive Equity vs. City of Waskom, Texas, et. Al,” was filed Feb. 25.

In January, by a 3-2 vote – with Neely and Long casting dissenting votes – the Rusk City Council voted in favor of an ordinance proclaiming itself a Sanctuary City for the Unborn. The following month, members of the Wells City Council unanimously endorsed a similar ordinance.

According to a release issued Feb. 25 by Texas Right to Life, the lawsuit “attacks city ordinances that prevent the abortion industry from setting up shop in their jurisdictions … the lawsuit does not claim the ordinance violates plaintiffs' so-called 'right' to abortion but instead hinges on the right of free association.”

Other East Texas towns listed in the lawsuit include Waskom, Naples, Joaquin, Tenaha and Rusk; cities not involved are Colorado City, Westbrook, Gilmer and Big Spring. 

“We are confident the Sanctuary City for the Unborn ordinances will hold up in court,” the Right to Life release stated. “In passing the ordinance, cities acted within their constitutional rights to self-governance and within the scope of current U.S. Supreme Court abortion jurisprudence.  

“The ordinance language is solid and carefully drafted in expectation of the abortion industry filing a lawsuit,” which Right to Life described as “baseless, selectively targeting smaller cities that have passed the ordinance.”

In its suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas – Marshall Division,” the plaintifs claim that “Although this section of the ordinances cannot be enforced while Roe v. Wade is in effect, the ordinances’ existence misleads residents of these cities as to whether individuals can in fact exercise their right to access abortion.”

Additionally, the suit claims that “The ordinances deem plaintiffs … and other pro-choice organizations, as 'criminal organizations,'” and, as a result, the plaintiffs “are prohibited from operating, speaking and associating within these cities,” and in turn, are hampered when countering or clarifying “the confusion created by the ordinances as to the legality of abortion services.”

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