Last year, Houston's City Council passed one of Texas' most sweeping anti-discrimination measures, extending new protections to the LGBT community in the areas of housing, employment, and city contracts. Almost immediately, conservative activists started collecting petition signatures to force a citywide referendum on the issue.
It didn't turn out well -- though it initially looked as though opponents of the law had collected the necessary number of signatures, the city attorney, a local jury, and a local judge all concluded that many of the petition signatures were fraudulent. Anti-gay activists needed more than 17,000 signatures to get the matter onto the ballot, and after counting the legitimate signatures, it was clear that conservatives fell short.
Oddly enough, as the NBC affiliate in Houston reported
late Friday afternoon, the Texas Supreme Court took matters into its own hands.
The Texas Supreme Court has suspended the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, ruling that the ordinance either be repealed or put before voters. The court states that Houston City Council has 30 days to repeal the ordinance or the issue will be placed on the November ballot.
I realize that Republicans hold all
of the seats on the state Supreme Court, but this story is bizarre, even by the standards of the Texas GOP.
's Mark Joseph Stern explained
Friday that the ruling "is more of a policy statement than a legal ruling."
[T]he facts here are pretty simple. In order to put a city ordinance to referendum, opponents must gather 17,269 signatures. Opponents of Houston's nondiscrimination law didn't do that. Instead, they gathered several thousand valid signatures and several thousand forgeries. Minus the forgeries, they failed to reach the minimum threshold of signatures. The Texas Supreme Court doesn't care. Instead, it decided for itself that the signatures were valid. Then it ordered that enforcement of the ordinance be immediately stopped and compelled the city council to consider repealing it. If the council fails to repeal it, the ordinance must be put to a popular vote in the November 2015 election. The Texas Supreme Court did not really render a legal judgment in this case. It resuscitated the campaign against an equal rights ordinance that it clearly didn't like.
So, here's the challenge for every conservative who spent a generation condemning the scourge of judicial activism: are you comfortable with the actions of the Texas Supreme Court?
Opponents of Houston's civil-rights measure wanted to be on the ballot, but they failed to collect the necessary number of signatures. Justices on the state Supreme Court have now effectively ordered Houston to put the issue on the ballot anyway, apparently because the justices don't like Houston's civil-rights measure.
It's practically the definition of judicial activism. So where are the voices on the right with concerns about the integrity of the process?