The Texas Supreme Court ruled Friday that any legal challenges to a proposed charter amendment on policing reforms must wait until after voters weigh in on the measure in the May municipal election.
While the court did not expressly deny the idea that the charter amendment could violate a state law prohibiting multi-subject charter amendments, Justice Jane Bland wrote that “voters injured by an election irregularity have remedies to address their injury after the election.”
The proposal brought forth by Act 4 SA and other progressive groups seeks to decriminalize marijuana and abortion, ban police chokeholds and no-knock warrants, expand the city’s cite-and-release program for nonviolent, low-level offenders, and create a city justice director to oversee the implementation of those changes.
The measure will be on the May 6 ballot as Proposition A.
Bland also suggested that an effort by three Northside councilmen to skip the City Council vote approving the measure for the ballot could have an impact on its future. Manny Pelaez (D8), John Courage (D9) and Clayton Perry (D10) left the dais shortly before the pro forma vote in February, viewing the measure as unenforceable.
“Sufficient post-election remedies exist that permit the voter to challenge any infirmity in the proposed amendment and its placement on the ballot — after the voters have had their say,” Bland wrote.
Bland was joined by Justices Debra Lehrmann, Jeff Boyd, Brett Busby, Rebeca Aizpuru Huddle and Chief Justice Nathan Hecht in her ruling.
The anti-abortion group Texas Alliance for Life Inc. (TAL) petitioned the Texas Supreme Court on Feb. 10 asking it to force the city to rewrite the proposal as individual ballot measures.
The effort drew a letter of support from Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office, which called the proposal a “grab-bag of provisions” that “flagrantly violates” a state law prohibiting multi-subject charter amendments.
Though City Attorney Andy Segovia has deemed almost all of the measures unenforceable, he told reporters last month that the City Council was still legally required to put the proposal on the ballot.
On Segovia’s advice, the city determined that it must proceed with listing the charter amendment as one measure because it was presented that way to the roughly 38,000 people who signed the petition asking for it to be included on the ballot.
Council approved the ballot 7-0 in the absence of the three council members.
That move triggered a second challenge from TAL’s lawyers, which petitioned the court to remove the charter amendment from the May ballot on the grounds that the San Antonio City Charter prescribes a 10-day delay for ordinances that pass with fewer than eight votes to go into effect. That deadline was Feb. 17, a day after the council vote.
“Our role is to facilitate elections, not to stymie them, and to review the consequences of those elections as the Legislature prescribes,” Bland wrote. “We can readily do so in this instance through a post-election challenge.”
A dissenting opinion from Justice Evan Young pointed to the decision of the three councilmen who were absent from the vote as a pivotal move.
“None of the Court’s stated reasons apply here because they all depend on the same mistaken premise: the existence of a lawfully ordered special election,” Young wrote.
Young noted that in order to hold a special election, a city council must order it at least 78 days beforehand.
“The city council clearly failed to follow that binding legal requirement here,” wrote Young, who was joined by Justices John Devine and Jimmy Blacklock.
In a written response to TAL’s petition, outside lawyers for the San Antonio City Council argued that the city’s 10-day delay doesn’t apply to putting the Justice Charter on the ballot because Texas Election Code supersedes the city’s authority on the matter. The election code doesn’t stipulate the margin by which measures setting an election must be approved, the lawyers wrote.