Federal judge blocks Texas drag ban

Plus, a look at tonight's GOP debate.


On Tuesday, a federal judge struck down a law signed by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) that would have banned drag queen performances in the state. In Judge David Hittner’s ruling, he determined that Senate Bill 12, which would make public performances in front of minors that could be interpreted as sexually explicit illegal, was “unconstitutionally vague.”  

“The Court sees no way to read the provisions of SB 12 without concluding that a large amount of constitutionally-protected conduct can and will be wrapped up in the enforcement of SB 12,” Hittner wrote.

“It is not unreasonable to read SB 12 and conclude that activities such as cheerleading, dancing, live theater, and other common public occurrences could possibly become a civil or criminal violation.”

The ruling is a major victory for LGBTQ rights in Texas and is the result of diligent legal advocacy by queer activists and the ACLU who all mobilized to block the Sept. 1 implementation.

“Texas queens and kings from across our great state have been targets of threats and misinformation as a result of the anti-drag law,” Texas drag queen Brigitte Bandit, who is one of the plaintiffs in the suit that grounded SB 12, told PBS in August. “Our community will not be used as a scapegoat or a distraction by politicians who do not know who we are or what we do.”

Events like “Drag Queen Story Time” and other performances involving queer artists have become a major culture war talking point for the far-right, but their efforts to remove them from the public square via legislation have proven ineffective — and the Texas ruling could prove to be the nail in the coffin.

David McCormick, a GOP candidate for  U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania, may not even reside in the state he’s seeking to represent. The one-time hedge fund CEO and Bush acolyte ran in 2022 as well, but he was narrowly defeated by Dr. Mehmet Oz in the Republican primary.

McCormick, who grew up in Pittsburgh, appears to spend the majority of his time in a rented, $16 million mansion in Connecticut, the Associated Press found. And this is not the first time his geographic commitment to Pennsylvania has been in question.

The front-runner to represent the party defended himself by saying that he’s just trying to be “a good dad.”

And if there’s a political problem with that, so be it. But this is a distraction,” McCormick said on "Fox and Friends" last week.

A Pennsylvania Democratic Party spokesperson rejected McCormick’s excuses, telling Vanity Fair that he is “lying about living in Pennsylvania.”

He “won’t be able to fool Pennsylvanians about where he really lives or his record of enriching himself and his Wall Street friends at their expense,” Maddy McDaniel concluded.

What we’re looking for during the GOP’s second primary debate

Once again, Republican primary candidates will convene tonight to engage in rigorous, intellectual discussion about the future of this great nation. And, for better or for worse, the Heartland crew will be viewing the whole thing to provide some “post-game” analysis and highlight the most (inevitably) bizarre and deranged moments.

As of writing, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, former Vice President Mike Pence, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum are the seven qualifying candidates participating. Former President Donald Trump will once again not make an appearance.  

Here’s what we’ll be keeping tabs on as the debate plays out at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif.:

How will candidates respond to the UAW strike?

While some notable conservative lawmakers like Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) have positioned themselves as “pro-worker” Republicans, candidates like Haley — who was a notorious union buster as governor — and Scott have taken up classic, anti-labor stances against the ongoing United Auto Workers strike.

But where will candidates like DeSantis and Ramaswamy, who fancy themselves populist antagonists to corporate, liberal elites, fall on this question? As the old saying goes: “Which side are you on?”

With a collapsing DeSantis campaign, who can solidify themselves as the best alternative to Trump?

DeSantis, as we noted on Monday, has fallen precipitously in the polls. Meanwhile, candidates like Ramaswamy and Haley appear to be passing him in the horse race. For the former, that was in part due to a spectacle-filled, polemical presentation at the first debate. And the latter used her establishment bonafides to win over more moderate voters. Will we see a repeat performance by either candidate? Or will other dark horse contenders step up to become the next Trump whipping boy?

Will we see a return to anti-woke rhetoric?

At the last debate, if you planned to take a shot every time someone said “woke,” you would have been parched. The candidates — perhaps seeing the writing on the wall from last year’s midterms — ignored the culture war in favor of more (what we’ll politely call) normal talking points and topics. But for the GOP base, screeching to the high heavens about how the Woke are destroying everything from your local Arby’s to the military-industrial complex is their new national pastime. Will this prove too tempting for candidates hoping to make a big splash?

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Jamie Larson