Red Light Camera Controversy Continues

A judge is set to hear arguments this Friday in the lawsuit over Houston's red light cameras. The pending litigation may determine whether the controversial cameras stay or go — even though Houston citizens voted against them. Laurie Johnson has this report.

The question at the heart of the city's lawsuit over the cameras is whether the vote of the people violated the constitution.

Professor Charles Rhodes with South Texas College of Law says although the people are sovereign, they do not have the power to overturn a contract.

"The United States Constitution and the Texas Constitution both have a provision that protects against governmental impairment of the obligation of contracts. After the Revolutionary War, state legislatures would oftentimes totally change the terms of a contract — saying well I guess you really shouldn't have to pay $100 you were supposed to pay for that, we're going to make it $10. That clause has been a very important prohibition on legislative abuses."

The City of Houston is suing the red light camera vendor, ATS, to get out of the contract, which runs through 2014. Rhodes says one interesting aspect of this case is city officials don't actually want to win the lawsuit. That's because the city favors the red light camera program, but has to comply with the results of the election which calls for their removal. Rhodes says because of that, both the city and the vendor are essentially on the same side.

"The courts can only hear lawsuits between parties who both have standing — that is that they're the appropriate parties to be bringing the issues before the court. And so that is going to be one of the concerns in this lawsuit — is who are the appropriate parties and do they have the authority and capability to make these types of arguments on behalf of their various interests."

Red light camera opponents have filed papers seeking to be party to the lawsuit and represent the interests of the voters. The judge in the case has not yet ruled on their request.

Bio photo of Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...