A handful of conservative Republicans are threatening corporate law firms operating in Texas with criminal prosecution, civil sanctions and even disbarment if they play any role in their Texas employees going out of state to get abortions.
In a three-page letter sent to the global law firm Sidley Austin, the 11 members of the Texas Freedom Caucus accuse the firm of being “complicit in illegal abortions” and assert the “consequences that you and your colleagues will face for these actions.”
But leaders at several law firms describe the threats as “extreme political debauchery and legally dubious” and say that these Texas legislators have abandoned the GOP’s longtime principles of being pro-business and small government.
Legal experts say that any actions described by the Texas Freedom Caucus almost certainly violate the First and 14th amendments to the U.S. Constitution, as well as the Commerce Clause in Article One which prohibits states from enacting laws that excessively interfere with interstate commerce.
The letter authored by Texas Freedom Caucus chair and state Rep. Mayes Middleton is addressed to Sidley management committee chair Yvette Ostolaza and is copied to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.
The Texas Freedom Caucus posted an open copy of the letter on its website, and scores of law firms operating in Texas were aware of the threats by Sunday. Legal experts say the letter may have been addressed to Sidley but is meant to threaten all law firms and even Texas companies.
Dozens of corporate law firms and even several large companies operating in Texas have publicly stated that they would provide financial and other assistance to employees who seek to travel to obtain any healthcare-related reproductive services if those services are no longer allowed in the states where they work.
Several states, including Texas, had legal provisions in place that outlawed abortion if the U.S. Supreme Court ever reversed Roe v. Wade, which it did last month in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.
The Texas Freedom Caucus cites Texas Civil Statutes 4512.1, which was passed in 1974 and “imposes felony criminal liability on any person who furnishes the means for procuring an abortion knowing the purpose intended.”
“To the extent that Sidley is facilitating abortions performed in violation of article 4512.1, it is exposing itself and each of its partners to felony criminal prosecution and disbarment,” Middleton wrote.
The legislators also threatened to introduce new bills next year that would “prohibit any employer in Texas from paying for elective abortions or reimbursing abortion-related expenses – regardless of where the abortion occurs and regardless of the law in the jurisdiction where the abortion occurs,” Middleton wrote.
In addition, Middleton said the legislation would “require the State Bar of Texas to disbar any lawyer who has violated article 4212.2 by furnishing the means for procuring an abortion knowing the purpose intended.”
The Texas Lawbook identified more than 20 corporate national law firms operating in Texas – including Sidley, Kirkland & Ellis, Gibson Dunn, Latham & Watkins, Simpson Thacher, White & Case, Alston & Bird, Orrick, Wilson Sonsini, Hogan Lovells – that have stated publicly or in memos to their employees that the firms will provide financial assistance to those who wish to seek reproductive healthcare in other states.
Only three Texas-based law firms – Akin Gump, Susman Godfrey and Vinson & Elkins – have publicly made such a commitment.
A spokesperson for Houston-based V&E, which is the largest law firm in Texas by lawyer headcount and second in revenues, told The Texas Lawbook the law firm “will, as part of its health plan, provide a travel benefit for covered health care services that are unavailable locally.” V&E was the first Texas law firm 25 years ago to offer same-sex benefits to its lawyers and staff.
Several large Texas-headquartered corporate firms – Baker Botts, Bracewell, Haynes and Boone, Jackson Walker, Locke Lord and Winstead – have not made public their position on the issue.
A handful of law firm leaders said they found it interesting – or unfortunate – that the Texas Freedom Caucus chose Sidley and its new firm leader, Yvette Ostolaza, as the posterchild target for their campaign.
A firm with 2,000 lawyers worldwide, Sidley has nearly 200 attorneys in Texas and generated revenues of $250 million in its Texas offices in 2021, according to The Texas Lawbook 50.
A first-generation Cuban American whose parents fled the tyranny of Fidel Castro, Ostolaza grew up in a working-poor neighborhood of Miami. She learned English from watching Sesame Street. Her family told her she was crazy for thinking about going to college. But earlier this year, Sidley made Ostolaza, a litigation and corporate investigations partner in the Dallas office, the chair of its global management committee earlier this year. She is the first Hispanic woman to lead or co-lead a large global corporate law firm.
The Texas Freedom Caucus letter can be found here: https://www.freedomfortexas.com/uploads/blog/3b118c262155759454e423f6600e2196709787a8.pdf.