UPDATED: Lawsuit filed over Fayetteville special election | Arkansas Blog

Monday, August 31, 2015

UPDATED: Lawsuit filed over Fayetteville special election

Posted By on Mon, Aug 31, 2015 at 4:00 PM

click to enlarge TRAVIS STORY: Fighting civil rights ordinance.
  • TRAVIS STORY: Fighting civil rights ordinance.
UPDATE: A lawsuit was filed today seeking an injunction to halt the special election scheduled Sept. 8 in Fayetteville on a city civil rights ordinance referred by the City Council to voters.

The suit was filed by Travis Story, the lawyer trained at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University who's been fighting civil rights measures in the city for months on behalf of "Protect Fayetteville," the opposition group comprised heavily of conservative churches.

The suit seeks an injunction. Early voting begins in the election tomorrow, Sept. 1.

A hearing is scheduled at 9 a.m. Friday before Circuit Judge Doug Martin.

City Attorney Kit Williams said he had not seen the suit but said it raised these points among others:

* A contention that the mayor should not have been allowed to vote to provide the extraordinary majorities necessary to approve motions to speed consideration of the ordinance. Williams said state law gives the mayor a vote when necessary to decide questions including "resolutions," such as those to suspend rules to speed consideration.

* A contention that the law violates a new state law that prohibits local ordinances extending civil rights protection to areas not already protected in law. Williams and others have said previously that the ordinances are defensible because state and federal law and Constitution already DO provide protection for people on basis of sexual orientation and so the local ordinances — adopted in, among others, Little Rock, North Little Rock, Maumelle, Eureka Springs and Garland County — do not run afoul of the law. But he acknowledged a challenge on this if the ordinance was adopted and said it should be considered in a full trial, not on the spur of the moment two days after voting begins. Williams notes the ordinance wouldn't take effect for 60 days if passed, so there's no possible harm that could come to the challengers' interests if the election is allowed to proceed.

"To me this looks more like a political challenge than a legal challenge," Williams said.

UPDATE: I reached Story, who confirms the main thrust, but says he raises additional arguments about an amendment to the ordinance and also whether the ordinance had unconstitutionally infringed religious liberties by not providing sufficient protection.

Why wasn't the procedural claim filed earlier? Story says his claim is actually early because it rests on an illegal exaction of tax money to hold a special election, spending that won't technically begin until Tuesday.

An effort to delay a popular vote doesn't sound on its face like a vote of confidence in the way the opposition campaign is going. Story's side beat an earlier ordinance. He says otherwise. He says he believes his group has already won, both by defeating an earlier ordinance and in popular sentiment for the Sept. 8 vote. 
"We believe we will win this vote. But even if we win, we want to stop them from doing it again." 

But as I mentioned earlier today, the ordinance has drawn support from many local clergy, the local daily newspaper and the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce and has been substantially revised in ways that some gay rights group have felt went too far. The opponents' campaign has been tarred, too, by the sex scandal surrounding the family of Jim Bob Duggar, which contributed cash and paid advertising to the earlier repeal campaign in opposition. The Duggars' position as defenders of "traditional marriage" and morality has taken a bit of a lick in recent weeks.

The ordinance would make it illegal to discriminate against LGBT people in employment, housing or public accommodation. The ordinance makes such violations a low-level violation, first subject to mediation, and then subject to small fines only for those who refuse to work out problems.

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