Texas Supreme Court Orders City to Change HERO Ballot Language

The Texas Supreme Court has ordered city officials to reword the ballot language for the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, stating in a Wednesday ruling that the current language incorrectly calls for a vote on the repeal of the law, rather than the law itself. 

"The City Council is directed to word the proposition such that voters will vote directly for or against the ordinance," the court ruled.

It's an enormous victory for semantics, and Houston attorney Andy Taylor, who's led the anti-anti-discrimination charge (how's that for proper wording?) states in a press release that "Once again, the highest court in this state has delivered a message to the Mayor to stop abusing her authority. It's time to stop the games that are wasting taxpayers' money." And if there's one thing we can all agree on, it's that a lawsuit over hair-splitting sentence structure is a judicious use of taxpayers' money.

The high court in July suspended the ordinance, commonly known as HERO, citing flaws in how officials tabulated the number of petition signatures opposing the measure, which "prohibits discrimination in city employment and city services" based on sex, race, age, sexual orientation and gender identity, among other things. 

Houston City Council voted 12-5 to publish the ballot measure thusly:

Shall the City of Houston repeal the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, Ord. No. 2014-530 which prohibits discrimination in city employment and city services, city contracts, public accommodations, private employment, and housing based on an individual’s sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, familial status, marital status, military status, religion, disability, sexual orientation, genetic information gender identity or pregnancy?

But in a motion filed earlier this month, Taylor called the wording "a legal recipe for an electoral disaster. Voters will be confused, because someone who is against the proposition cannot vote against, and vice-versa."

Frankly, we found Taylor's language more confusing than the ballot wording, but the thing that really stuck out was Taylor's other complaint — rejected by the court — that the language shouldn't include the words "Houston Equal Rights Ordinance." 

“It is simply a gratuitous, albeit intentional, insertion designed to give proponents an edge at the polls," Taylor wrote, adding that the ordinance's supporters wouldn't want "Child Predator Protection Act" appearing on the ballot.

The difference, of course, is that only one of those is accurate nomenclature. 

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