Sunday, July 26, 2015

Texas Supreme Court OK's Referendum Petitions On Houston's Equal Rights Ordinance

As previously reported, in May 2014 the Houston, Texas City Council passed an Equal Rights Ordinance that attracted significant opposition because of its ban on discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Opponents circulated petitions to get a repeal referendum on the ballot.  The City Secretary certified that there were sufficient signatures on the petitions, but the City Attorney disputed that conclusion and City Council refused to move ahead with the reconsideration of the Ordinance that is required when a valid referendum petition is filed. (See prior posting.) Litigation ensued in various courts.  In In re Jared Woodfill, et. al.,  (TX Sup. Ct., July 24, 2015), the Texas Supreme Court conditionally granted a writ of mandamus to proponents of the referendum, holding:
The Charter ... gives the City Council no discretion to reevaluate the petition; instead, it requires “immediate[]” action by the City Council following the City Secretary’s certification....
The City Council is directed to comply with its duties, as specified in the City Charter, that arise when the City Secretary certifies that a referendum petition has a sufficient number of valid signatures. Any enforcement of the ordinance shall be suspended, and the City Council shall reconsider the ordinance. If the City Council does not repeal the ordinance byAugust 24, 2015, then by that date the City Council must order that the ordinance be put to popular vote during the November 2015 election. The writ will issue only if the City Council does not comply.
Josh Blackman's Blog has more on the decision, as does the Houston Chronicle.