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Woman charged with threatening judge, Democratic congresswoman, LGBTQ people, others

Abigail Jo Shry made threats in voicemail to judge’s chambers

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U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia (Screenshot/YouTube KHOU 11 News)

A Texas woman has been charged with threatening to kill U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan, who is overseeing one of the cases against former President Donald Trump, along with U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), Democrats in D.C. and LGBTQ people.

Federal prosecutors with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Protective Service filed a criminal complaint on Aug. 11 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas accusing 43-year-old Abigail Jo Shry of relaying the threats in a voicemail to Churkan’s chambers in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Aug. 5.

According to the filing, Shry began her message by addressing the judge — who, along with Lee, is Black — with racist language, including the n-word, before vowing “to kill anyone who went after” Trump, “including a direct threat to kill” the congresswoman, Democrats in D.C. and “all people in the LGBTQ community.”

“If Trump doesn’t get elected in 2024,” she said, “we are coming to kill you, so tread lightly, bitch.”

Chutkan was assigned to the case prosecuting Trump for his efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election. On Friday, granting a request from the prosecutor in the case, Special Counsel Jack Smith, she issued a protective order against the former president warning him against making “inflammatory statements” about the case.

“The more a party makes inflammatory statements about this case which could taint the jury pool or intimidate potential witnesses, the greater the urgency will be that we proceed to trial to ensure a jury pool from which we can select an impartial jury,” Chutkan said.

Investigators who traced Shry’s voicemail to her cell phone say she denied having any plans to travel to D.C. or Houston to carry out the threats but warned that if Lee “comes to Alvin, then we need to worry.”

On Wednesday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Sam Sheldon denied bail for Shry on the grounds that she had been charged several times for similar conduct over the past year, ordering that she be detained for 30 days.

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Texas

Federal judge halts Texas porn law, says violates First Amendment

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U.S. District Judge David A. Ezra of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas issued a preliminary injunction Aug. 31 that blocked a Texas law from taking effect the following day that would have required adult websites to use “reasonable age verification methods,” such as government ID, to ensure users who are accessing explicit content are aged 18 or older. 

The law, Texas House Bill 1181, which Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed on June 12, 2023, also required that websites display in 14-point font or larger the following warning: “Pornography is potentially biologically addictive, is proven to harm human brain development, desensitizes brain reward circuits, increases conditioned responses, and weakens brain function.” There were provisions in the law that should the website operators fail to adhere to the requirements, Texas attorney general would be able to sue non-complaint adult websites for $3 million per year.

In his ruling, Ezra noted that:

  • The law violates First Amendment rights of creators and consumers
  • The law has a chilling effect on legally-protected speech
  • Parental filters are a less restrictive and more effective method of protecting minors
  • The state does not have the right to compel speech in the form of health warnings

“The state has a legitimate goal in protecting children from sexually explicit material online,” Ezra wrote and added: “But that goal, however crucial, does not negate this Court’s burden to ensure that the laws passed in its pursuit comport with established First Amendment doctrine.”

“This is a huge and important victory against the rising tide of censorship online,” says Alison Boden, executive director of Free Speech Coalition. “From the beginning, we have argued that the Texas law, and those like it, are both dangerous and unconstitutional. We’re pleased that the court agreed with our view that HB1181’s true purpose is not to protect young people, but to prevent Texans from enjoying First Amendment protected expression. The state’s defense of the law was not based in science or technology, but ideology and politics.”

The Free Speech Coalition has argued that these new and expensive verification technologies present an unreasonable burden for both sites and users, stressing that members of the adult industry already register with parental filters and other software to help parents easily block adult content.

“The ruling rebuffs nearly every argument made by state legislatures, and not only in Texas,” says Boden. “While Texas presented the most straightforward path to securing a ruling like this, the issues are the same whether in Utah, Louisiana or Virginia. Anyone who attempts to bring a case in those jurisdictions faces little hope of success. We are thrilled with the decision and thank our co-plaintiffs for joining this battle and defending the industry. We are confident that the law will ultimately be struck down permanently.”

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Texas governor signs ‘Save Women’s Sports Act’

Transgender athletes barred from teams that correspond with their gender identity

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Texas Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signs the “Save Women’s Sports Act” on Aug. 7, 2023. (Photo courtesy of the Office of the Governor)

Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday signed Senate Bill 15, or the “Save Women’s Sports Act,” which bars transgender athletes from competing on sports teams that match their gender identity at Texas universities and colleges. 

The law specifies that athletes compete on teams corresponding to the student’s biological sex listed on their birth certificates. Monday’s signing at the Blagg-Huey Library on the campus of Texas Woman’s University was purely ceremonial, as the governor had previously signed the measure two months ago.

“The legacy of women’s sports will be safeguarded for generations to come because of the law I am about to sign,” Abbott said. “Women in Texas can be assured that the integrity of their sports is protected in our great state.”

The Dallas Morning News reported that in addition to conservative lawmakers and other interested parties, Abbott was joined by former college athletes Riley Gaines and Paula Scanlan. Gaines, who attended the University of Kentucky, has built a media career stemming from her appearance at the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships in March 2022. During the 200 freestyle event she tied with Lia Thomas, a trans student athlete from the University of Pennsylvania. Scanlan was on the swim team with Thomas.

“This is huge news, not only for Texans but for girls across the country,” said Gaines. “This new law will protect the integrity of women’s sports by prohibiting men from competing against women’s athletes at Texas colleges and university.

“It’s pretty amazing that this law is even necessary,” Gaines continued. “If you have eyes and a brain and any amount of common sense, you can easily comprehend the fact that men, on average — and this is a fact — are taller, stronger, more powerful, can jump higher than women. It’s biological reality.”

When asked by a reporter if he understood that in the eyes of the LGBTQ community the law made them feel marginalized and how would respond to that Abbott snapped back that women like Gaines and Scanlan — not LGBTQ people — were the true victims of marginalization.

“These are the women who committed their lives — altered their lives — so that they can compete, and yet you heard Riley talking about how she was marginalized,” Abbott said. “She was the winner, and she was denied that victory.”

The Dallas Morning News noted that critics charge that the law seeks to address an issue that largely doesn’t exist. Only about three dozen openly trans athletes have competed at the collegiate level across the country, and none have been known to compete at a Texas college or university.

Asked by the Dallas Morning News about that criticism during a news conference after the bill signing, Abbott laughed but did not answer.

Also present outside the library as the event was underway were about 200 protestors, many who spoke with the Dallas Morning News telling the paper they believed the Abbott’s priorities were out of step with the wishes of the majority of Texans.

Asked by the Dallas Morning News about that criticism during a news conference after the bill signing, Abbott laughed but did not answer.

Also present outside the library as the event was underway were about 200 protestors, many who spoke with the Dallas Morning News telling the paper they believed the Abbott’s priorities were out of step with the wishes of the majority of Texans.

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LGBTQ activists sue to block Texas’ new drag law

Senate Bill 12 to take effect Sept. 1

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Drag artist Brigitte Bandit and other attendees wait to testify against Senate Bill 12 in March. Bandit is among the LGBTQ Texans and advocacy groups trying to black the new law, which goes into effect Sept. 1. (Photo by Leila Saidane/The Texas Tribune)

By Rebecca Schneid | LGBTQ Texans and advocates filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday to block a new state law that criminalizes some drag shows — and other performances — if they occur in front of children.

Senate Bill 12, which goes into effect on Sept. 1, originally sought to classify all drag shows as sexual performances, but it was dramatically altered throughout the regular legislative session. The version the Legislature eventually approved criminalizes performers that put on sexually explicit shows in front of children as well as any businesses that host those shows.

But it’s how the law defines sexually explicit behavior that spurred the lawsuit.

The complaint argues that SB 12’s language is overly broad, allowing for too much discretion for police, prosecutors and municipalities to decide what is or is not illegal.

“In its zeal to target drag, the Legislature passed a bill so yawning in scope that it criminalizes and restricts an enormous swath of constitutionally protected activity,” says the lawsuit, which was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas. “The state has threatened the livelihood and free expression of many Texans.”

Under the law, business owners would face a $10,000 fine for hosting sexually explicit performances in which someone is nude or appeals to the “prurient interest in sex.” Performers caught violating the proposed restriction could be slapped with a Class A misdemeanor, which carries a maximum penalty of a year in jail and a $4,000 fine.

The Attorney General’s office, whose acting leader is one of the defendants in the suit, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday. State Sen. Bryan Hughes, who authored SB 12, and several co-authors of the legislation also did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The plaintiffs, represented by the ACLU of Texas, argue that SB 12 violates the First and 14th Amendments because the law “discriminates against the content and viewpoints of performances and imposes prior restraint on free expression.”

According to the Dallas Morning News, attorneys who have reviewed the bill say it could end up criminalizing behavior common at everything from Pride parades to bachelorette parties.

The bill classifies the use of “accessories or prosthetics that exaggerate male or female sexual characteristics,” accompanied with sexual gesticulations as sexual conduct.

Brigitte Bandit, an Austin-based drag performer and one of the plaintiffs, criticized the addition of “accessories or prosthetics” to the bill.

“Is me wearing a padded bra going to be [considered] enhancing sexual features?” Bandit asked lawmakers earlier this year. “It’s still really vague but it’s still geared to try to target drag performance, which is what this bill has been trying to do this entire time, right?”

In a press release attached to the complaint, Bandit stated that they will not allow the drag community to be “used as a scapegoat or a distraction by politicians.”

Other plaintiffs are the Woodlands Pride, Abilene PRIDE Alliance, Extragrams LLC and 360 Queen Entertainment LLC.

In addition to the acting attorney general, they are suing the district attorneys of Montgomery and Bexar Counties, the county attorney of Travis County, the City of Abilene, Woodlands Township, Montgomery County and Taylor County.

GLAAD, Equality Texas and the Transgender Education Network of Texas released a statement criticizing the law and portraying it as an attempt to unconstitutionally restrict the lives of LGBTQ Texans.

“The goal of this law is to chip away at our freedoms and eventually erase queer and trans existence from the public sphere,” said Andrea Segovia, senior field and policy advisor for TENT. “The plaintiffs of this case demonstrate true Texas values by standing strong for queer and trans rights. We’re supporting them every step along the way.”

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Editor’s note: More than 200 speakers are now confirmed for the 2023 Texas Tribune Festival in downtown Austin from Sept. 21-23. Each year, the Festival engages, challenges and surprises attendees with unexpected talent mashups, must-see interviews and more, curated by the award-winning journalists at The Texas Tribune. See the lineup and get tickets today.

The preceding article was previously published by The Texas Tribune and is republished by permission.

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues. Disclosure: The ACLU of Texas has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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