Its always so gratifying when you can say “I told you so”, especially when you have an appellate court backing you up.
As I noted a month ago, it seemed to me there were serious questions about the State of Texas taking custody of all 460-odd children living at the YFZ Ranch, a fundamentalist polygamy sect located in Eldorado, Texas, just south of my home in San Angelo.
Background (shamefully omitted from my first post): The YFZ (Yearning For Zion) Ranch was founded by the FLDS (Fundamentalist Latter-Day Saints) a few years ago. The FLDS split off from mainstream Mormons back when the Mormons officially gave up polygamy. They have run into trouble with the law at some of their other locations, and their current “Prophet”, one Warren Jeffs, is actually serving time as an accessory to (statutory) rape in connection with an underage marriage in his church. Their Eldorado ranch was raided after an anonymous call, since determined to have been a hoax, in which a “16 year old girl” (actually a woman in her thirties with no connection to the FLDS) claimed to have been beaten and raped there.
The Texas Court of Appeals heard an appeal relating to the seizure of children at the ranch, and threw the state out on its ear. Basically, the Court of Appeals found that the state had presented no evidence that met the statutory requirements for summarily seizing children from their parents, namely, that the children were in imminent physical danger and that there was no alternative to seizing them.
The appeal related only to 38 children, and so its not entirely clear yet exactly what its effect will be on the other 400-odd children (the number jumps around as some are found to be adults, and others are born). The language of the opinion is pretty sweeping, though. The state presented exactly the same case with respect to all of the children, and the Court of Appeals even indulged in a bit of obiter dicta, noting (even though none of the children in the appeal were pubescent girls) that the state had not even presented evidence that the pubescent girls at the ranch were in imminent physical danger.
The local court was in the process of grinding through the “60 day hearings” (so called because the state has to come back and make a full case 60 days after the emergency seizures). An attorney I know who is involved in the case told me the 60 day hearings had been cancelled. At this point, I see little alternative for the state other than returning the children to the ranch, but the state has obviously been planning to shut down the YFZ Ranch for some time, and I don’t expect it to just give up and go home. Careers are on the line, after all.
Certainly the FLDS is a distasteful lot, but this seems a pretty clear case of state overreach. The core of the state’s case can be fairly summarized as a claim that being raised in the FLDS is per se abuse. The Court of Appeals declined to start down that dangerous road, and should be applauded for it.