Austin, Texas — Local representatives of this metro area’s largest suburban county are the targets of a civil liberties lawsuit.
All four Williamson County commissioners and the county judge — comprising the Commissioners Court, the county’s governing body — are being sued for civil rights violations by a former applicant who had sought an open constable position.
The applicant, Robert Lloyd, described in a June 17th report by local news station KXAN-TV as “a 27-year law enforcement veteran”, asserts that, during his interview with the judge and commissioners, he was interrogated about his views on political and religious issues such as gay marriage, abortion, religion, as well as for whom he voted in the last election .
“Such questions are illegal…” KXAN-TV reports.
Lloyd’s allegations are corroborated by other candidates who had applied for the constable position, according to the station.
As research on June 18th by usedview.com has discovered, all five members of the County Commissioners body are active in the Republican Party. Particularly in recent years, the Texas GOP has largely been dominated by far-right extremists of the Tea Party — prompting some Texans on the left to call it the “Texas Taliban”.
In the lawsuit, Lloyd is represented by attorneys of the Texas Civil Rights Project (TCRP). One of them is renowned TCRP leader Jim Harrington.
In an interview with Austin’s Fox news station KTBC-TV, Lloyd related some details of his conversation with Commissioner Lisa Birkman during his job interview.
“The question that was asked of me was what was my opinion of gay marriage?” Lloyd told the Fox reporter. “I was kind of taken back, I was just unprepared for that.”
He continued: “And when I answered that question the best that I could, Commissioner Birkman said to me, Robert, if you are appointed as constable, you better come up with a better answer than that.”
KTBC-TV reports that, via a public information request, the TCRP obtained handwritten notes taken by some commissioners during the constable applicant interviews. The notes appear to corroborate Lloyd’s allegations of politically charged questions.
For example, under Lloyd’s name, one of the commissioners noted: “prolife and gay rights, not definitive.” On another line was the note: “R vote.”
KXAN reports that several members of the Commissioners Court defended their political questioning of the job candidates.
County Commissioner Valerie Covey told the station that “In general, this is a process that is different than a normal employment interview, because it is an elected position.”
Precinct 2 Commissioner Cynthia Long asserted the questions were justified because the constable position was an appointment “through a statutory process that is political by nature.”
County Judge Dan Gattis said in an email that a variety of questions were asked that were relevant to someone being appointed as an elected official.
However, attorneys contacted by the media doubted those arguments would prevail in court. Lloyd’s lawsuit argues that these inappropriate questions violated Lloyd’s first and 14th Amendment rights, including the right to free association and equal protection under the law.
According to TCRP lawyers, two of the other applicants for the constable position are now also joining Lloyd’s lawsuit. In addition, the civil rights group has initiated a criminal complaint with the Williamson County District Attorney’s office, requesting a criminal investigation.
Increasingly, extremist-right Republican lawmakers across the USA have been accused by the left of abusing established norms of democratic process and civil liberties at the state and local level.