HOUSTON (CN) – A federal judge axed a popular voter initiative that would have banned the use of red-light cameras in Houston, finding that the proposition was actually an untimely referendum.
Texas’ largest city has enforced traffic laws with red-light cameras since late 2004 through an ordinance passed by the city council.
Following the adoption of the ordinance, Houston hired American Traffic Solutions to provide 70 cameras, send notices to red-light runners and collect fines.
In August 2010, Houston citizens put together a petition to ditch the cameras and won a spot for their proposition on the November ballot.
After the proposition took 53 percent of the vote, Houston said it had to enforce the ban with an amendment to the charter and terminate its deal with American Traffic Solutions.
It filed suit for declaratory judgment on Nov. 10 when the ticket enforcer would not accept the “circumstances” as reason to end the contract.
U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes blasted the amendment in a six-page opinion on summary judgment, agreeing with American Traffic Solutions that the proposition was actually a referendum to repeal the ordinance.
“Abraham Lincoln once asked: If Congress said that a goat’s tail was a leg, how many legs would a goat have? Four. Calling a tail a leg does not make it so,” Hughes wrote. “Given its effect, the proposition is a referendum.”
By 2010, the petitioners had far exceeded the deadline to pursue a referendum, according to the ruling.
“On December 21, 2004, the city adopted the ordinance to use red-light cameras,” Hughes wrote. “The citizens had 30 days – until January 20 – to gather the signatures for a referendum to repeal it. No one did.”
Instead, the petitioners evaded the deadline and mislabeled their referendum, and “the council supinely ignored – over the voices of some of its members – their responsibility and put the proposition to the voters as an amendment to the charter,” according to the ruling.
“Those who favor repeal will react that this distinction is a legal technicality,” Hughes concluded. “In some sense, all law is a technicality. It draws lines and defines categories. It is the antithesis of passion and partiality. The Founders’ definition of tyranny was arbitrary government. Timid or over-enthusiastic city officials can destroy regular government as easily as a king.”
The judge directed Houston to either withdraw its attempt to terminate the contract with American Traffic Solutions “or to supply the court with clauses in the contract that otherwise allow it to be canceled.”