Paxton Deputy: Words in the Law Matter, Except When They Don’t

by Jose Medina

Jeff Mateer, who was recently hired as a top deputy of indicted Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, doesn’t believe there is such a thing as church-state separation. When he has spoken at schools or colleges, he has offered $100 to anyone who can point to where “separation of church and state” is mentioned in the Constitution.

“It’s not there,” he likes to say.

It’s odd, then, that when it comes to the law that required Paxton to offer to the general public the opportunity to apply for Mateer’s job, Mateer wants you to stop focusing so much on the letter of the law.

According to the Dallas Morning News, Paxton was required by state law to post Mateer’s position publicly if outside candidates were under consideration. Paxton didn’t post Mateer’s position nor did he publicly post the position of his new communications director Marc Rylander, who was previously a pastor at Paxton’s church in Plano.

But Mateer says that’s all cool. From the DMN article:

Mateer told The News that Paxton’s office believes the law allows the attorney general to appoint “people who are at the level of deputy and above.”

While this flexibility is not mentioned in the statute itself, Mateer said it would be “a misreading of the law” to interpret it to require leadership positions be advertised.

“It’s important that the attorney general, or any leader of any of the state agencies, has in his leadership positions persons he trusts and believes have the ability to lead the particular organization,” said Mateer. “Those have been, historically, positions that have been appointed, and I think that is across the board, not just in the attorney general’s office, but across Texas state government.”

Mateer previously worked as an attorney for First Liberty, a far-right “religious freedom” anti-LGBT group that likes to pretend that the constitutional principle of church-state separation hasn’t been repeatedly upheld by the courts even if those specific words are not in the Constitution.

If you’re interested, here’s the state law in question. You won’t find the words “people who are at the level of deputy and above” in there, but, in this case, Mateer wants you to look past that and instead accept his interpretation.

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