Opponents of the so-called Justice Charter have filed an emergency petition asking the Texas Supreme Court to require separate votes for each of its provisions, including decriminalizing marijuana and abortion and banning police chokeholds and no-knock warrants.

Progressive groups last month submitted roughly 38,000 petition signatures to get the proposed charter amendment included on the May municipal election ballot, a move San Antonio City Attorney Andy Segovia signed off on last week.

On Friday the anti-abortion group Texas Alliance for Life Inc. (TAL) filed a petition requesting that the city reject the proposed ballot language, which it says violates a state law prohibiting multi-subject charter amendments, and require each issue to be listed and voted on separately.

“Respondents have no discretion to force voters to approve or reject, all or nothing, charter provisions dealing with issues as varied as theft, graffiti, or prohibiting cooperation with state agencies regulating abortion providers,” wrote attorney Eric Opiela, a former executive director of the Republican Party of Texas.

City Council is expected to order that the ballot proposition appear on the May 6 ballot Thursday, a formality they don’t get to exercise judgment over. The deadline for setting the May ballot is Friday.

“Once Friday’s deadline passes, it is impossible for Respondent, San Antonio City Council to add additional measures to the May 6, 2023, ballot, preventing the separation of the proposed charter amendments into their separate subjects as required by law,” Opiela wrote.

“The tens of thousands of residents who signed this petition understood that each of these police reforms are part of a comprehensive approach to public safety, and we expect to vote on them in the same way they were presented — as one unified package,” Act 4 SA Executive Director Ananda Tomas said in a statement Sunday night.

Segovia said the city would defer to the amendment’s authors.

“We have until noon on Tuesday to respond to the Texas Supreme Court. Our position remains that the Council will put the petition on the ballot as one Justice Policy proposal because that was the way it was presented to those who signed the petition,” Segovia said in an email Sunday.

TAL’s petition says it was filed on behalf of Maria Teresa Ramirez Morris, “a qualified voter of the City of San Antonio” and a TAL supporter.

The proposal has already caught the attention of local and statewide conservative groups, who fear the charter amendment could be a new model for other cities if it succeeds.

Act 4 SA worked with the statewide liberal group Ground Game Texas, run by former Democratic Congressional candidates Mike Siegel and Julie Oliver, to craft the amendment.

“The writ of mandamus is without merit,” said Siegel, a former Austin assistant city attorney and the current general counsel for Ground Game Texas.

“Texas courts are clear that the ‘single subject’ rule for legislation is interpreted broadly, and the major elements of the Justice Charter all fall under the subject of police reform,” Siegel said. “Ground Game Texas and Act 4 SA will intervene to defend the Justice Charter as a single, comprehensive reform that will be presented to San Antonio voters for adoption on May 6, 2023.”

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Andrea Drusch

Andrea Drusch writes about local government for the San Antonio Report. She's covered politics in Washington, D.C., and Texas for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, National Journal and Politico.