By on June 20, 2011

American Traffic Solutions (ATS) on Friday advanced toward its goal of reactivating the red light cameras to Houston, Texas. A majority of voters demanded in a November ballot vote that the cameras be taken down, but US District Court for the Southern District of Texas Judge Lynn N. Hughes believes the people had no right to vote.

The ruling was a major victory for the legal strategy of ATS General Counsel George Hittner, who worked with the Houston city attorney to create a lawsuit in which city officials, who want the cameras back, sued ATS, which also wants the cameras back. The case was not filed in state court, which would be the proper venue. Instead, Hittner had the case filed in the federal courthouse where his father happens to serve.

Judge David Hittner and Judge Hughes were confirmed to the federal bench within six months of each other and have worked together for twenty-five years. In a separate case last month, Hughes had ruled the government cannot “gag citizens when it says it is in the interest of national security.” In the Houston case, he effectively ruled the government can gag citizens on behalf of corporate interests like ATS. Once an ordinance takes effect and its consequences are apparent, Hughes insists the public is powerless to overturn it.

In November, Houston voters approved an amendment to the city charter that stated the city “shall not use photographic traffic signal enforcement systems.” Hughes and ATS argue that this was not really a charter amendment, but a referendum. A referendum must be filed within thirty days of the passage of an ordinance because doing so temporarily suspends the ordinance from going into effect. No such deadlines are imposed on charter amendments.

“The proposition repealed an ordinance,” Hughes insisted. “Although the petitioners and city call it a charter amendment, it is a referendum. Its whole process was years outside the time that the rules of the city allow under these circumstances.”

In overturning the vote, Hughes insisted that there was a better way to remove red light cameras.

“The deadline is short, but the people have an alternative, recurring way to repeal an offending ordinance,” Hughes wrote. “Since the referendum deadline passed, the city has held three general elections for the mayor and council. The same energy and organization that went into the effort to repeal the ordinance may be applied in future elections as an alternative to a referendum.”

Sponsors of photo enforcement ballot initiatives point out that such electoral challenges are difficult because photo enforcement issues cut across party lines. In Florida,Republicans were responsible for pushing red light camera use statewide. In Maryland, Democrats were responsible for enabling legislation. Opposition has come from left-wing groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and NAACP working together with right-wing groups like the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes. Voting against a pro-red light camera candidate would often require Republicans to vote for Democrats, and vice versa. The group responsible for Houston’s initiative itself plans to fight back against the ruling.

“We have anticipated this, we are prepared for it, this is not the end of it,” Citizens Against Red Light Camera spokesman Philip Owens told TheNewspaper. “We are prepared to take it all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary, where we will ask the question who rules this nation? The people or the politicians?”

A copy of the decision is available in a 200k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File Houston v. ATS (US District Court, Southern District Texas, 6/17/2011)


Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!


23 Comments on “Federal Judge Overturns Public Vote in Houston, Texas...”

  • avatar

    Many thanks for posting this sad, but all too true example of corporate interests buying power and overruling public sentiment. Money corrupts.

  • avatar

    Look at that smug bastard. He’s all, “Heh, nice try, American public, but this isn’t your country any more. Unless you’ve got friends or relatives in high places, that is.”

  • avatar

    His title needs to incorporate the word “Thief”.

  • avatar

    looks like he’s channelling rumsfeld cheney

  • avatar

    This is how the City of Pittsburgh ended up with TWO taxpayer-funded sports stadiums (stadii?), in spite of a region-wide vote against such a funding method.

    After appeals by the Pirates and Steelers sports teams, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania decided the voters were wrong, and that having these venues was ‘for the common good’.

    It really makes one wonder about the surety of a vote.

    • 0 avatar

      Or, put differently: local voters were OK with new stadiums as long as the funds didn’t come from their local taxes, so the state funded them.

      • 0 avatar

        >Or, put differently: local voters were OK with new stadiums as long as the funds didn’t come from their local taxes, so the state funded them.

        Mind control is a beautiful thing, isn’t it?

        Democrats and Republicans – first-world prosperity for themselves, third-world prosperity for the taxpayer…

  • avatar

    In this and other such cases and issues, the underlying answer always seems to be: “Follow The Money” under the guise of public safety or security. Someone’s or some group’s hands are being well-greased.

    Sad commentary on modern society, isn’t it?

    Unfortunately, most cities appear or are basically bankrupt due to falling revenues, and since they would drive even more tax-paying people and businesses from the area if they raised taxes, this is how they try to gain revenue. Plain and simple. As has been revealed in past articles on TTAC however, it is not the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow communities thought it was going to be.

  • avatar

    Sorry, but as much as it sucks that the voters in Houston have been blocked from removing red light cameras, from everything you’ve written this looks like it was correctly decided legally. This was obviously substantively a referendum on a single issue and ordinance, and only called a charter amendment to try to get around the 30-day time limit. If the correct legal process wasn’t followed to get it enacted, then it should be overturned.

    The problem here isn’t with this ordinance in particular, but with the system in Houston that requires that referendums must be filed within 30 days of the ordinance being enacted, which seems ridiculous. The proper way to resolve this would be an amendment to the city charter to get rid of that restriction (which I’d think would lead to lots of bad situations like this where people can’t get a bad law repealed), and _then_ an actual referendum vote.

    And for what it’s worth, federal judges (especially district judges who’ve sat on the bench for 25 years), much more than state judges, are mostly straight shooters, and the fact that a colleague had a relative who was interested in one side or another usually wouldn’t make much of a difference.

    • 0 avatar

      Astigmatism, thanks for reminding us why we should first kill all the lawyers. The 30 day limit was no doubt inserted by incestuous scum-bag Houston lawyers for this exact situation.

      A system of the lawyers, by the lawyers, and for the lawyers. And whomever is paying them.

      • 0 avatar

        You’re absolutely right on the 30 day limit: it reeks of a system designed precisely to prevent the people of Houston from having a chance to repeal a law or ordinance once they’ve seen how much damage it does in practice. Which is exactly what happened here.

      • 0 avatar
        Chicago Dude

        Yes of course, blame the lawyers. The 30-day limit certainly wasn’t put in place by elected officials. No, that couldn’t be it. It couldn’t possibly be the elected officials selected by the people of Houston. It cannot be, for if it were so then the voters of Houston must share some responsibility for the way Houston is governed and they absolutely must not be held responsible.

      • 0 avatar

        >A system of the lawyers, by the lawyers, and for the lawyers. And whomever is paying them.

        “All the King’s horses and all the King’s men…”

    • 0 avatar

      Thanks, Astigmatism, you posted this before I did. As easy as it is to go into torch-and-pitchfork mode, this proposed change to the law didn’t seem to meet the requirements set up by the city’s charter, which is why the vote got nullified.

      It sounds like this needs to be repealed by a city ordinance. That might be a tall order, but then again, those folks on the city council can read the results of the last election and decide if they want to be on the wrong side of the voters’ will here. Plus, they program is now ongoing despite the will of the voters, which is going to stick in the voters’ collective craw. I suspect opposition to these cameras will actually increase now.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree with Astigmatism on the legal analysis. “” has a bad record of misinterpreting court decisions.

      I’d add that it appears that the group opposing the red light cameras failed to attempt to participate (the legal term would be “intervene”) in the lawsuit between the city of Houston and American Traffic Solutions. Therefore, it makes no sense for Citizens Against Red Light Cameras to say that they can now appeal the decision (let alone “all the way to the Supreme Court”, which is, of course, NOT going to happen on an issue of Texas law).

      Even though I am ordinarily suspicious of the paranoid style of reporting in TheNewspaper, in this case I think they have a point. The lawsuit strongly smells of collusion between the city and ATS. If the anti-camera group had intervened, they may have been able to get the case thrown out on jurisdictional grounds. By now, though, it is probably too late for them to intervene.

      I’d also add that the judge’s opinion is suspiciously weak in describing the procedural history of the case. Ordinarily, such an opinion is in response to a motion for summary judgment by a party to the case; typically the opinion would start off by stating which party filed the motion and end off by stating whether that motion was granted or denied. It is pretty weird for a federal court opinion to omit these elements.

  • avatar

    There’s a really good reason to have the short 30 day limit to overturning contracts: If there was a longer limit, nobody would want to do business with the municipality.

    I know it’s annoying, but the judge’s ruling does have some logic behind it.

  • avatar

    Maybe the judge could be removed from the bench, but ATS would just buy the next one. Shooting the cameras appears to be the only effective vote the common man has.

  • avatar

    The best judges money can buy…

  • avatar

    Obey the ruling-elite masters and the bureaucracies and bureaucrats erected to control you, serve the beloved masters and to isolate the masters from the hordes of vermin below them.

    It is your patriotic duty.

    Love it or leave it.

    Think of the children.

    You DO support the troops, don’t you?

    • 0 avatar

      >Obey the ruling-elite masters and the bureaucracies and bureaucrats >erected to control you, serve the beloved masters and to isolate >the masters from the hordes of vermin below them.

      Kinda reminds me of something I saw written on the wall during my high school days:

      You will obey me while I lead you
      And eat the garbage that I feed you
      Until the day that we don’t need you
      Don’t call for help – no one will heed you

      Your mind is totally controlled
      It has been stuffed into my mold
      And you will do what you are told
      Until the rights to you are sold

Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • RHD: Phase out.
  • RHD: The proportions are painfully wrong. The rear edge of the windshield is at the midpoint of the car, and the...
  • MRF 95 T-Bird: You could see the number of domestic convertible models decline through the 70’s. When the...
  • threeer: abundance of unnecessary shifts just for the sake of shifting…words of music right there…words...
  • WheelMcCoy: “Save the manuals” will be on my tombstone. Flowers will be arranged in a shift pattern.

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote


  • Contributors

  • Matthew Guy, Canada
  • Ronnie Schreiber, United States
  • Bozi Tatarevic, United States
  • Chris Tonn, United States
  • Corey Lewis, United States
  • Mark Baruth, United States
  • Moderators

  • Adam Tonge, United States
  • Corey Lewis, United States