A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought by conservative Houston-area ministers against outgoing Mayor Annise Parker in an attempt to win damages and recover legal fees from an earlier suit.
The Houston Area Pastor Council had alleged that Parker and her administration violated the group’s constitutional rights by rejecting its petition to put the LGBT-inclusive Houston Equal Rights Ordinance before voters (city officials said many petition signatures were invalid, so the valid signatures fell short of the number needed) and by issuing subpoenas (later withdrawn) to some ministers, seeking content of their sermons, as the city was building its defense in the previous suit.
But the pastors’ group failed to establish any constitutional violations, and in any case does not have standing to sue, as four of the five named plaintiffs do not even live in Houston, U.S. District Judge Vanessa Gilmore ruled December 1, Towleroad reports.
Ballot initiatives and referendums, Gilmore wrote in her dismissal order, “are mechanisms of direct democracy and are not compelled by the Constitution of the United States.” She added, “Restrictions on referendum petitions do not implicate the federally protected right to vote.” The plaintiffs have also “not alleged any facts that, if true, would constitute a violation of any other constitutional rights.”
Additionally, while Gilmore’s order did not go into this, the plaintiffs have achieved the goal of their petition, as HERO was rescinded by voters in the November 3 election. A lower court had upheld the city’s rejection of the petition, but the Texas Supreme Court reversed that decision last summer and ordered the city to either repeal HERO or put it before voters. Houstonians supported repeal by a wide margin after HERO opponents put together a transphobic ad campaign, claiming the law would enable predatory behavior by men posing as women in order to enter women’s restrooms and locker rooms. Even though this is a soundly debunked argument, it worked with voters.
The pastor council is now considering an appeal of Gilmore’s dismissal. In a press release, members described the subpoenas as “raw intimidation” and “Chicago-style corruption.” They also questioned Gilmore’s objectivity because she was appointed by President Bill Clinton, and accused her of wanting to get rid of their case before a new mayor, who might be willing to settle with the pastors, takes office. Parker is term-limited and leaves office at the end of the year. The pastors are discussing their options with their lawyer, Andy Taylor, according to the release.