August 07, 2014

HERO Opponents Challenge Petition Rejection In State Court, City Moves To Make It A Federal Case

On Tuesday, opponents of the so-called "Houston Equal Rights Ordinance" filed suit in state court to overturn the city's decision that they lacked sufficient petition signatures to put a repeal measure on the ballot. Yesterday the city responded with an attempt to take the matter into federal court.

The city seems to think that they have a "smoking gun" in the form of a training video used by ordinance opponents.

During her weekly press conference after Wednesday's City Council meeting, Parker referred to a training video that shows Dave Welch, of the Houston Area Pastor Council and a leading opponent of the ordinance, explaining the rules signature gatherers needed to follow. With a power point presentation behind him, Welch tells the audience the unique repeal referendum process "makes it more challenging for us."

Signature gatherers must be registered city voters, Welch said. If they are not, the entire page gets thrown out.

"Let me repeat that so everybody really understands that," Welch said.

Parker said she had not seen the video, but that her staff had been "enjoying" it.

"So, it's kind of amusing if, in fact, his own language is used against him in court," Parker said.

On the other hand, the opponents believe that the injection of the city attorney into the verification process after the city secretary had determined their were sufficient valid signatures to put the repeal measure on the ballot. Some 2200 signatures were then thrown out based on technical issues such as circulators and notaries failing to complete all blanks on the petitions.

Personally, I believe those seeking to repeal the ordinance are barking up the wrong tree if they are going to use that argument as the main one for overturning the city's decision. While the courts have traditionally looked askance at using hyper-technical reasons to throw out otherwise valid signatures on petitions, I'd argue that there is a better basis for challenging the city's decision, one which will potentially rehabilitate many more signatures. I wrote about this in my earlier post on the failure of the petition effort.

A court challenge to the residency requirement is likely to succeed. Let's be honest -- the city charter here in Houston has some rather stringent requirements for petition circulators. Not only must they be registered voters, but they also must be city residents -- a requirement that invalidated a lot of otherwise valid signatures. But there have been a number of federal court decisions in recent years that have invalidated such requirements on the state level -- including a 1999 decision by the Supreme Court that did so. It therefore seems unlikely that the requirement in the city charter would stand up to constitutional scrutiny.

I would therefore suggest that rather than the technical issue of who was involved in the decision on petition validity, that the opponents of the ordinance instead focus on the constitutional question of the validity of the requirement that circulators be registered voters and city residents.

|| Greg, 09:33 AM || Permalink || Comments (13) || Comments || TrackBacks (0) ||

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