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Robert Pratt

If Texans set aside their credulity, as some are asking us to do, and take seriously the impartiality and legal purity of the special prosecutor in the case of Governor Rick Perry they will then be judging a rather odd interpretation of law related to an executive veto.

The case, as brought to us through the indictment, seems to center on the idea that a veto is legal, for any reason even simple malice, but that threatening a veto is a felony. Writing for the New York Magazine, Jonathan Chait points out that while Texas has a law against certain types of coercion of a public official, such as the Travis Co. D.A., the same law exempts “an official action taken by the member of the governing body.”

Chait then writes: “The prosecutors claim that, while vetoing the bill may be an official action, threatening a veto is not. Of course the threat of the veto is an integral part of its function. The legislature can hardly negotiate with the governor if he won’t tell them in advance what he plans to veto. This is why, when you say the word “veto,” the next word that springs to mind is “threat.” That’s how vetoes work.”

So the argument being proffered is that a veto is OK but threatening a veto is a felony. But, as Chait points out, it is generally and practically understood that a threat of a veto is integral to the function of using veto-power. Otherwise it would be impossible for the executive to use the veto-power to shape legislation because he would be a felon if he threatened such.

I don’t think any appellate court of even basic reputation would have any problem understanding the simple linkage of a veto-threat to the action of a veto as being an official act. But, Travis County found a grand jury of members stupid enough to issue an indictment on this so, it’s possible they can easily find a trial jury equally as stupid – a judge too. Let’s hope for the sake of Justice it doesn’t go that far.

See a complete set of stories and analysis here.