Here's Why the Lawsuit Over San Antonio's Refusal to Let Chick-fil-A Into the Airport Probably Won't Go Anywhere

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Customers line up outside a San Antonio Chick-fil-A restaurant. - SANFORD NOWLIN
  • Sanford Nowlin
  • Customers line up outside a San Antonio Chick-fil-A restaurant.
Five conservative activists made news this week by suing San Antonio over its decision not to give Chick-fil-A a contract to sell sammiches at the airport.

But being able to grab headlines and win a court case are two very different things — and at least one legal scholar maintains that the odds are heavily stacked against the latter.

The suit, filed in Bexar County district court, argues that a recent Texas law dubbed the "save Chick-fil-A bill" makes it illegal for the city to bar the fast-food purveyor from the airport. The problem with that, points out St. Mary's University Law Professor Michael Ariens, is that the law passed after the city's decision, and courts are almost never willing to retroactively apply statutes.

"I didn’t see any statement in the petition explaining why it is permissible for a court to apply retroactively the statute which serves as the basis for the plaintiffs’ claim," Ariens said, "And I know the City of San Antonio will raise this as a defense, so I’m not sure what is going on."



(If you've been on a months-long news blackout and need a refresher on the city's airport concessions vote and Atlanta-based Chick-fil-A's history of donating to anti-LGBTQ+ groups, here you go. If you need more on the Lege's "Save Chick-fil-A" response, check this out.)

Also likely dooming the suit is the concept of standing, which requires plaintiffs to show they suffered damages, Ariens said. To that end, the petition only explains that the plaintiffs "use the San Antonio airport for travel and would patronize Chick-fil-A at the airport if it were allowed to operate there."

Yes. Really.

It's difficult to imagine any court considering an unmet craving for fried chicken — no matter how tasty — as a legitimate damage.

Chick-fil-A itself might have a better chance demonstrating damages, Ariens said. Even so, the company would still face long odds showing council based its decision solely on the owners' religious views. Mayor Ron Nirenberg has repeatedly maintained that the decision was based on the company's closed-Sunday policy, not its views on gay marriage.

"The issue is government motivation is difficult to prove," Ariens said.

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