EDITORIAL: Abbott should drop costly, pointless fight over river blockade

A federal appeals court has ordered Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to remove the lethal structures he placed in the middle of the Rio Grande near Eagle Pass in MaverickCounty. The governor, who has shown time and again that one of his strongest traits is obstinacy, has criticized the ruling and pledged to take his case to the Supreme Court.

For the time being, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said he can move the string of buoys, nets and razor wire to the U.S. riverbank, but it must clear the waterway.

Instead, Abbott should end his million-dollar exhibition and remove the structures completely.

The court — which some consider the most conservative in the country — found that the state didn’t convince the justices of the veracity of any of its major arguments defending the obstructions. State attorneys argued that federal laws prohibiting the blockage of navigable waterways didn’t apply because the Rio Grande isn’t navigable. While large freighters no longer travel up and down the river as they did a century ago, smaller craft can easily use it — in fact, the U.S. Border Patrol runs plenty of patrol vessels up and down the river every day.

The Biden administration sued the state alleging the obstructions violate the Rivers and Harbors Act, which protects navigable waterways.

The state also was unable to provide any evidence that the barriers have reduced illegal migration and smuggling at all; have no significant change has been seen in the numbers of such encroachments since they were placed in July. The state already has had to move them once, after Mexican and U.S. officials showed that they had been placed on the Mexican side of the river.

Abbott, whose bluster and actions obviously are intended to let everybody know that he’s the law around here, needs to remember that the real law rises above everybody, including him — even if he wants to play the kind of sheriff portrayed in old-timey Western movies.

That means that if he were to move the buoys to the riverbank, he would have to respect the laws that protect the rights of property owners — the same laws that have hindered the governor’s stated plans to continue building former President Donald Trump’s wall across the border. Some of the land is under private ownership and other parts are governed by federal easements, and the current administration has made it clear that it opposes such obstructions.

Except in StarrCounty, where the Department of Homeland Security in October announced plans to build new sections of the wall.

Abbott has made his point. The governor, whom is generally assumed to have political aspirations beyond his current office, wants the support of Trump’s minions. Clearly, he has it. Abbott already has the support of those who approve of harsh border security policies and he isn’t likely to lose it if he shows respect for our legal system and complies with the court’s order.

Meanwhile, he needs to focus more attention to other state matters — and stop compromising those needs by continuing to divert so much of state taxpayers’ money to this single lethal border battle.