Hearing on SB4 held in Austin Thursday

The state's new law banning so-called sanctuary cities was back in court for the second time this week.

AUSTIN - Thursday was Round 2 in the fight over Texas' new law to ban so-called sanctuary cities, Senate Bill 4 (SB4)

U.S. Western District of Texas Judge Sam Sparks called a hearing to discuss issues surrounding a declaratory judgment lawsuit filed by the State of Texas against the City of Austin, Travis County and other entities. 

Monday, the Chief Justice of the U.S. Western District of Texas, Judge Orlando Garcia, heard arguments in San Antonio in the case of multiple cities and counties against the State. Those cities, including Austin, and counties claim SB4 is unconstitutional for numerous reasons.

SB4 requires law enforcement honor all ICE detainers. Those detainers are voluntary requests from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hold someone in jail while their immigration status is investigated. Being in the United States without the proper documentation is a civil offense. 

SB4 also allows officers to ask anyone who is detained about their immigration status and departments can't have policies about asking. It also prohibits elected officials, police chiefs and sheriffs from endorsing policies that contradict SB4. If they do, they can be fined, removed from office or even sent to jail.

During Monday's hearing, attorneys for the cities and counties said the new law violates a public official's first amendment rights because of the penalties that come from endorsing a policy that contradicts SB4. They also have concerns about violating the fourth amendment by holding someone in jail solely on an ICE detainer.

Arguments on the constitutionality of SB4 weren't heard Thursday, rather Judge Sparks had two main questions for the attorneys. He wanted to hear their reasoning for why the state's case should be heard in his court when the Chief Justice is hearing a SB4 lawsuit in San Antonio. He also wanted to hear arguments on whether it's appropriate for the State to even file a case on a law that hasn't gone into effect yet and therefore hasn't been violated.

During the hearing, attorneys for the state brought up the "first to file" rule, saying since they filed the first lawsuit, in Austin which is the State Capitol and where laws are made, Judge Sparks has jurisdiction.

They also argued that several officials publicly said they would not follow SB4 and that they intended to sue the State and that's why the State took the first action. 

Attorneys for the cities and counties in the case filed a motion to dismiss the case and consolidate this suit with the San Antonio case, saying the State had no ground to file a preemptive lawsuit. 

"People that enact a law don't get to come in and say, 'courts will you bless my law please and tell me it's okay,'" said Attorney Renae Hicks, who represents the City of El Cenizo, several officials and LULAC in the case. "The people on the other end, the target of the law are the ones who get to say 'we can't tell what it means, we're the ones that are going to be harmed.' So we get to go in and ask please interpret it in advance.

Judge Sparks did not indicate when he plans to make a ruling in the case. Neither did Judge Garcia. 

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