Ever since Dallas salon owner Shelley Luther decided to defy statewide orders (enacted by Gov. Greg Abbott) to reopen Salon À La Mode in North Dallas, she became a lightning rod in Texas’s new cultural war surrounding COVID-19.
When Luther appeared in front of Judge Eric Moyé, who offered her a chance to apologize to avoid any jail time, she refused and was fined $7,000 and ordered seven days in jail. Republicans around the state and country went into swift action, likening Luther and her fellow stay-at-home protesters to martyrs and even Rosa Parks.
Paxton slammed the ruling. Lt. Governor Patrick paid her fine. And Abbott announced on Twitter that he was “eliminating jail for violating an order, retroactive to April 2, superseding local orders.”
While Luther is able to bask in the 15 minutes of fame (appearing everywhere from Fox & Friends to The View), Moyé was still feeling the wrath. In Texas and all around the country Republican lawmakers have taken to some inflammatory rhetoric about Moyé, most notably Rep. Crenshaw (TX-2) tweeting he was “drunk with power.”
President Trump even retweeted the ultra-right Fox commentator Gregg Jarrett. “Dallas Judge Eric Moyé should be voted out of office November 3rd. Jailing a mother for keeping her salon open to feed her children is an outrageous abuse of judicial power. Demanding she apologize for ‘being selfish’ is absurd. The order to close salons was illegal. Dumb judge.”
For many Democrats in Dallas, the national attention on Moyé is perplexing and even frightening. Dallas County Democratic Party Chair Carol Donovan noted that Moyé was reprimanding an individual who broke the governor’s orders. “Judge Eric Moyé enforced Greg Abbott’s order, only to be unfairly reprimanded by the Republican leadership because they thought it was politically expedient to do so.”
Will Pryor, a former State District Judge and First Assistant Attorney General of Texas, also recognized the bizarre situation with Moyé, who really had no other option than sentencing Luther. “All he did was his job, and it’s a shame he has to suffer [threats] and hate mail.”
In 2008, Moyé, a graduate of Harvard Law School, was first elected to the 14th District Court. Like most of the large cities in Texas, Dallas’s judicial landscape has changed drastically over the decade. During the “Blue Wave” of 2018, Democrats even took back control of the Fifth Court of Appeals in Dallas.
With state leaders like Abbott, Paxton, and Patrick jumping in to criticize Moyé, it’s a reminder that Republicans in Texas are definitely looking to target “liberal” judges in large cities. In 2019 HB 4504 was filed in the legislature just a few months after the November election that booted dozens of Republican judges. It would have set in motion a process for the governor to appoint judges across the state.
Nationally Republicans are moving at a breakneck pace to confirm conservative judges. This week a Senate committee advanced an extremist to serve a lifetime appointment on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit. Senator Lindsey Graham recently appeared on “Trump TV” bragging about what another four years could mean for the judiciary.
With his public rebuking of Moyé’s ruling, Abbott seems to be taking cues from the national Republican playbook regarding judges. As counties grapple with changing COVID-19 guidelines to match with the state, it’s likely Abbott is going to continue to push back against judicial rulings he disagrees with.
Donovan recognizes that the fight over the judiciary is likely to continue, especially as vote-by-mail gains more support as the pandemic continues. “The Republicans want to appoint judges in large cities that are primarily Democrat; yet, they want to elect judges in rural areas that are generally Republican. Republicans should apply the law equally instead of selectively providing the right to vote.”
For now, judges remain on the ballot in all parts of Texas – including Dallas. In November, Moyé will be running against Jessica Voyce Lewis. According to her Twitter feed she was just with the Republican Women of Park Cities at an event with more than 80 people.
Photo: Judge Eric Moyé Campaign