Left Return

Once burdened by debt and internal politics, a rejuvenated Texas ACLU is back mixing it up with those who dare to trample on the U. S. Constitution.

"Community associations are a foreclosure racket," says the always quotable and colorful Brooks. Her attorney agrees.

"It's just a real scam, for a lack of a better word," says Kahne. "The homeowners associations are little nonprofit corporations that sometimes are headed up by petty tyrants that use their positions to take people's property. They not only control what the owners can and can't do with their property and how tall their grass is and what color their front door is, they also indulge in nonjudicial foreclosures."

In November state District Judge Patrick Mizell of Houston ruled that the Northglen Association had acted improperly in some of its dealings with Brooks, who owns a rent house in the Northglen subdivision. However, the judge refused to rule on her and Kahne's contention that the Texas Property Code, which gives homeowners associations their power, is unconstitutional.

"The Court believes," wrote the judge, "that any such decision should be made by the Court of Appeals or the Texas Supreme Court." Which is exactly where Brooks and Kahne are headed, in addition to the Texas legislature.

And when they get there, they will likely find Will Harrell.

On the day before Al Gore concedes the presidential election -- for the second and final time -- to George W. Bush, the Texas state capitol resembles an academy for Secret Service agents. They give longhaired Will Harrell the fish-eye treatment as he makes his way to the office of State Senator Mike Moncrief of Fort Worth. Moncrief has agreed to sponsor an ACLU-backed bill that would prevent law officers from jailing citizens for crimes that do not carry a penalty of jail time. Later Harrell meets in the capitol's basement cafeteria with Stetson-wearing Gary Bledsoe, president of the Texas chapter of the NAACP. The two activists agree to work in tandem on numerous pieces of legislation, including the proposed moratorium on the death penalty, a bill on racial profiling -- which they refer to as government-mandated racism -- and funding the legal representation of indigents.

Although Bledsoe has just returned from Florida, where he helped file lawsuits on behalf of African-American voters who claim their constitutional rights were violated by being denied access to the polls, both he and Harrell seem to sense that another Bush presidency is imminent. In Harrell's opinion, this is both good and bad for the civil liberties business. Obviously, he opines, Bush will likely have the opportunity to appoint U.S. Supreme Court justices who do not have the same interpretation of the constitution as the ACLU does. But Harrell also believes there is reason for optimism.

"I think he will make an absolute buffoonery of his political party and his political movement," says Harrell with a smile. "And it will be a whole lot easier to attack and demonstrate what's wrong with him at the helm. The international spotlight will really bring world and national attention on the issues of Texas, the death penalty being No. 1 among them. His record in Texas will follow him to the White House. And that will add fuel to our fire."

And, Harrell hopes, more money and members to the ACLU rolls.

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