Jacksonville’s anti-discrimination ordinance, which banned discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, was deemed unenforceable in a unanimous appellate court decision Friday.
Lower courts had dismissed lawsuits arguing the ordinance was unconstitutional, but a three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeals noted that the way the ordinance was passed violated state and city laws.
Essentially, the City Council passed an ordinance that said it would amend the anti-discrimination laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity, but the council never actually did that.
“Instead of setting out the full text of the amendments in context, the proposed ordinance stated that the City’s office of general counsel would write the amended ordinance later,” the court ruled. “That had not happened yet when Appellants filed their original or amended complaints. There was no full-text version of each amended provision showing the insertion of new language.
″... Without all of that, an amendment is just an idea. Ideas alone are not enforceable
The court sent the case back to a trial judge to enforce, but the opinion is clear that the City Council’s version of the ordinance doesn’t pass muster.
Jacksonville General Counsel Jason Gabriel said the legislative option would be to pass a new ordinance that includes every part of the ordinance code that is changed, as well as the change made under the new ordinance.
“We have the order,” Gabriel said. “It’s under review, and we’re looking at all appellate and legislative options and discussing them with council leadership.”
Roger Gannam, a layer who both lobbied against the ordinance and who brought the lawsuit against the city, said he believed the City Council tried to file a shorter version of the bill so that it would seem like it wasn’t a significant change.
“This is ordinance writing 101, and they failed it big time,” said Gannam, the assistant vice president of legal affairs at Liberty Counsel.
He said if the council takes the bill back up, “I can’t predict what will happen. What we know for sure is that Jacksonville citizens and even other City Council members were deprived of the ability to see what this law really said at the time it was enacted, and that’s what this lawsuit was filed to remedy.”
The lawsuit noted that Jimmy Midyette, who was then the legislative director of the Jacksonville Coalition for Equality and is now running for Duval County clerk of court, had bragged that he helped write the bill so that it would be shorter.
“I did write a new version of the bill that was only five pages long,” he is quoted in the lawsuit as saying to the Jacksonville Daily Record, “and worked with some of the top lawyers and law firms in the city to get it into a form that was the product of what we’d learned since 2012 about how to message.”
Incoming City Council President Tommy Hazouri said if the city’s lawyers decide not to appeal, then the council should quickly pass a technical fix, rather than re-debating the issue or passing a stronger form of the law.
“We meant what we said, and we said what we meant,” he said. “I’m not looking at a second bite. I’m looking to correct what the courts have asked us to do.”
He also said the court was “blind to justice” and he faulted the court for being “pretty conservative.”