Texas Supreme Court Suspends HERO Ordinance

Good news for homophobes: The Texas Supreme Court has suspended Houston's controversial equal rights ordinance and ordered City Council to either repeal it by August 24 or put it on the November ballot. 

Issued Friday, the opinion states that City Council ignored its duty under the city's charter by not putting the ordinance to a referendum once City Secretary Anna Russell determined there were enough valid signatures on a petition to take such action. Despite then-City Attorney David Feldman's finding that there were not enough valid signatures — a finding echoed by a Harris County District Court jury and judge — the Texas Supreme Court ruled that "The City Attorney may, no doubt, give legal advice to the City Secretary, but he may not assume her duties....Once the City Council received the City Secretary's certification [of the signatures], it had a ministerial duty to act."

The Court noted that the City Attorney's Office had argued that many of the seemingly valid signatures were "on pages that were invalid...disqualifying all of the individual signatures that were on them." Based on Feldman's findings, City Council did not reconsider the ordinance, triggering a lawsuit from former Harris County Republican Chairman Jared Woodfill and "bioidentical hormone"-hawking physician Steve "Men Who Lose Their Testicles Can't Read Maps" Hotze. (Hotze later dropped out of the suit).

The ordinance's opponents lost that case in February, but appealed. 

City attorneys argued in a May filing that the Supreme Court had no jurisdiction because of the pending district court appeal, and that the City Secretary did not officially validate the petition signatures. The City's filing also cited the jury's February findings that the petition contained forgeries and "non-accidental defects."
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Contributor Craig Malisow covers crooks, quacks, animal abusers, elected officials, and other assorted people for the Houston Press.
Contact: Craig Malisow