Texas Supreme Court knocks down challenge to San Antonio charter amendment in May

In Friday opinion, justices said concerns could be taken up by courts after May 6 election

AUSTIN, Texas – The Texas Supreme Court on Friday knocked down a legal challenge to the proposed San Antonio charter amendment, paving the way for residents to vote on the wide-sweeping measure May 6.

In a 6-3 opinion issued Friday morning, justices said the filing asked the court to interfere in an election before it takes place.

In the February legal filing, the Texas Alliance for Life asked the court to move the proposition from the May to November election, to force the city of San Antonio to separate the proposed amendment into single-subject parts and to alter the ballot language.

“There is no corresponding redress from pre-election judicial meddling that prevents voters from voting in the first instance,” Justice Jane Bland wrote.

The opinion noted that legal concerns with the calling of the election could be taken up by the courts after the May election.

Decriminalizing abortion and marijuana possession are the centerpieces of the 13-page charter amendment, which would also make existing policies permanent, like the cite-and-release program, and bans on chokeholds and no-knock warrants -- and even expand some of them.

If passed in May, the amendment would also create a new “Justice Director” position, which could not be filled by anyone with law enforcement experience.

A coalition of public advocacy groups, including ACT 4 SA, gathered more than the 20,000 required signatures to get the proposed amendment on the May ballot.

The San Antonio City Council on Feb. 16 voted 7-0 to order the election as part of a host of normal city business items. Because the proposed charter amendment was the result of a successful petition, the city’s legal team said the city council had no choice but to put it on the ballot.

Even so, three North Side councilmen made sure to leave council chambers rather than help pass it: they were Councilman Manny Pelaez (D8), Councilman John Courage (D9), and Councilman Clayton Perry (D10).

In a dissenting opinion released Friday, three Texas Supreme Court justices stated the amendment should have been moved to the November election, since it did not receive eight or more votes from council and therefore did not fit within the proper timeline for calling special elections.

ACT 4 SA Executive Director Amanda Tomas released the following statement regarding the ruling:

From the beginning, we knew we were justified with every piece of our proposition. The Supreme Court decision today further proved that. From day one this initiative had win after win because it is direct democracy in action and it is what the people of San Antonio want. We expect to see continued wins and success throughout the campaign.

City Attorney Andy Segovia released this statement:

We are not surprised by the Court’s ruling to allow the May election on the proposed Justice Policy to go forward. The Court highlighted the importance of letting voters speak but also pointed out that legal challenges are still available post-election.

“We are tremendously disappointed in the Texas Supreme Court’s decision to allow the San Antonio Proposition A charter amendment to remain on the May 6 ballot, despite obvious violations of state law,” Texas Alliance for Life Communications Director Amy O’Donnell said via email. “We raised significant reasons in our briefs on how Prop A violates voter’s rights.”

“This precedent invites municipalities to disregard well-established election laws regarding charter amendments, protections for unborn babies, and numerous other issues, an unintended but foreseeable consequence,” O’Donnell added.

“We now focus our efforts on defeating this terrible proposition at the polls by mobilizing voters, especially the pro-life, pro-family citizens in San Antonio, who we believe will be shocked to learn what Prop A means – unrestricted illegal abortions throughout pregnancy up to birth, including secret abortions performed on teens by pimps, sex traffickers, and to cover acts of rape or incest.”

O’Donnell, in a virtual interview with KSAT Friday afternoon, said the measure contains lengthy language that can be confusing, but stopped short of saying her group would again challenge its legality if it passes in early May.

“This charter amendment grouped several propositions together under one umbrella, which is a violation of voters’ rights because it does not allow them to vote up or down on each individual item,” said O’Donnell.

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About the Authors:

Emmy-award winning reporter Dillon Collier joined KSAT Investigates in September 2016. Dillon's investigative stories air weeknights on the Nightbeat and on the Six O'Clock News. Dillon is a two-time Houston Press Club Journalist of the Year and a Texas Associated Press Broadcasters Reporter of the Year.

Jonathan Cotto is a reporter for KSAT’s Good Morning San Antonio. He’s a bilingual award-winning news reporter and he joined KSAT in 2021. Before coming to San Antonio, Cotto was reporting along the U.S.-Mexico border in South Texas. He’s a veteran of the United States Navy.