Texas civil rights lawyer Lee Merritt is running to replace Texas state Attorney General Ken Paxton (R), he revealed this week. Paxton is up for re-election in 2022, and at present, he’s facing scandals including allegations that he “abused his office and participated in bribery to help a campaign donor,” as local Texas outlet KERA News put it. Paxton also helped promote the conspiracy theory that the outcome of the 2020 presidential election was dubious, and to that end, he asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Joe Biden’s victories in four particular states. (The court declined.)
Merritt tied his decision to run against Paxton to the appalling treatment that Black Texans have faced from local law enforcement. Marvin Scott III, who was Black, recently died in the Collin County Jail after an arrest over alleged marijuana possession. Scott “had a documented history of schizophrenia, and was undergoing a manic episode,” KERA summarized based on Merritt’s remarks, and while in custody, “corrections staff had pepper sprayed him, covered his head with a spit hood, and forcefully tied him down to a bed.”
Discussing the case, Merritt said as follows:
‘I’ve decided that, this case being the line, that I’m running against Ken Paxton for attorney general in 2022… Our community — and I don’t mean the Black community, I mean Texas — will die from this. It will rip up this state if we don’t address this, because they’re going to keep killing us. Law enforcement will keep killing people suffering from mental health crises and it will cause additional trauma to the community.’
Merritt has been involved in an array of civil rights cases connected to incidents of violence against Black Americans. In Texas, he brought a lawsuit against the Balch Springs Police Department after the death of 15-year-old Jordan Edwards, and the officer responsible for Edwards’s killing was convicted of murder and sentenced to 15 years in prison. Other recent cases mirror the Scott incident in Collin County — in Bexar County, Texas, for instance, a Black veteran named Damian Daniels was killed while on his porch after telling local cops that he’d been hearing voices.
Although Texas has traditionally leaned Republican, in 2020, Trump won the state by just over five-and-a-half percent, which was lower than his winning margin in 2016. Another high-profile recent statewide election was even closer — Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz won re-election against challenger Beto O’Rourke in 2018 by a little over two-and-a-half percent.