Advocacy groups, Ground Game Texas and Act 4 SA, petitioned the city for the charter amendment, which would establish a “Justice Policy” in the city covering six different areas: creating a justice director to advise the city council, eliminating both enforcement of certain marijuana offenses and abortion-related crimes, banning both chokeholds and no-knock warrants, and establishing a cite and release policy for several offenses.
The city acknowledges that state law governs some of the areas addressed in the amendment, including marijuana offenses and abortion-related crimes. According to an information page on the city website, abortions will not be legal in the city if the charter amendment passes, noting that “[c]ities cannot unilaterally diminish or limit prosecution of State criminal offenses.”
Texas Alliance for Life and San Antonio resident Maria Teresa Ramirez Morris petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus ordering the city council not to certify the amendment for the May 5 election.
The city must call the charter amendment election by February 17 for it to appear on the ballot.
While Texas Alliance for Life is opposed to the charter amendment’s proposed policy of eliminating enforcement of abortion-related crimes, its primary legal argument is that the proposal violates state law.
The Texas Local Government Code provides, “An amendment may not contain more than one subject.”
In its petition, Texas Alliance for Life acknowledges that courts have allowed cities to hold elections on proposals that make multiple amendments to a city charter, but note that all were dealing with a single subject.
However, in this case, the subject matters vary from marijuana possession to abortion crimes so that residents who may agree with one issue could disagree on another, but would be forced to cast only one vote for or against the entire proposal.
In its reply brief, the city made a procedural argument that the petition should have first been presented to an appellate court before coming to the Texas Supreme Court.
Regarding multiple subjects in the charter amendment, the city argued that it “plausibly read the proposed ‘Justice Policy’ charter amendment language as relating to one subject.”
It also asserted that petitioners Texas Alliance for Life and Morris are premature in their challenge, and instead should challenge the amendment after the election should it be approved by voters.
The advocacy groups who presented the petition to San Antonio intervened in the matter. In their brief, the groups assert that the proposed charter amendment doesn’t violate the law because it “contains multiple elements focused on a single subject: policing.”
In its prayer for relief, Texas Alliance for Life asked the court to order the city to separate the amendments so that they are limited to single subjects, and “propose such amendments to voters in a manner that so that a voter may approve or disapprove any one or more amendments without having to approve or disapprove all of the amendments.”
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to include the names of the advocacy groups who petitioned the city for the “Justice Policy” charter amendment.
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Kim Roberts is a regional reporter for the Texan in the DFW metroplex area where she has lived for over twenty years. She has a Juris Doctor from Baylor University Law School and a Bachelor's in government from Angelo State University. In her free time, Kim home schools her daughter and coaches high school extemporaneous speaking and apologetics. She has been happily married to her husband for 23 years, has three wonderful children, and two dogs.