Judge Casts Skeptical Eye on Texas’ Sanctuary City Arguments

AUSTIN, Texas (CN) — Texas defended a new law banning sanctuary cities for a second time this week, in a second federal court, asking a judge in Austin to consolidate lawsuits testing the constitutionality of Senate Bill 4.

Senate Bill 4 prohibits “sanctuary cities” and threatens local officials with jail time and stiff fines if they refuse to cooperate with federal immigration officers. It was the subject of a hearing on Monday in San Antonio, where Texas cities and social justice groups asked U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia to block the law from taking effect Sept. 1.

After nearly seven hours of arguments, Garcia said he would review the evidence, but did not say when a ruling could be expected.

In the Thursday hearing in Austin, Texas asked U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks to consolidate the San Antonio case with its preemptive suit against several jurisdictions and local officials — including the City of Austin and El Paso County — which have endorsed policies that conflict with S.B. 4.

Sparks challenged the state to persuade him that he has jurisdiction over its preemptive suit, and criticized both sides for the political motivations behind the dueling claims.

The Texas Attorney General’s Office argued that the cases should be tried in Austin because the state was the first to file. Attorneys for the defendants asked Sparks to dismiss the state’s lawsuit.

Renea Hicks, representing the City of El Cenizo, asked Sparks to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction. Hicks said the state was asking the judge to “bless” the law before it is enforced, but that the U.S. Supreme Court has made it clear that federal courts are not supposed to be courts of “general review” over statutes.

State attorney David Hacker said it was “completely appropriate” to bring a pre-enforcement action, because the defendants have stated publicly that they will not comply with S.B. 4.

Sparks doubted that he has jurisdiction to declare a law constitutional when it hasn’t yet taken effect.

“I don’t have the authority to forecast the future,” Sparks said. “Aren’t you looking at alleged conduct that’s going to happen after Sept. 1?”

Sparks told the state’s attorneys they did not have any facts or evidence to support their case, but that the plaintiff jurisdictions in the San Antonio case do, and presented their evidence during the Monday hearing there.

“What’s wrong with Judge Garcia?” Sparks asked. “I have twice the docket he has.”

While he strongly hinted that he would not take on the San Antonio case, Sparks also criticized the defendants’ arguments in support of their motions to dismiss.

The defendants said the law is unconstitutional on several grounds and prohibits local officials from making policy decisions that are best for their communities.

They argued that the “broadness” of a detainer request, which can include a verbal request without any paperwork, creates a Fourth Amendment seizure issue.

Sparks was skeptical that the law violates the Fourth Amendment because it requires local law enforcement officers to comply with detainer requests, also known as “immigration holds,” from Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Sparks said he does not think that the law’s requirement to accept detainers is unconstitutional.

“No one has ever questioned the immigration detainer, before the new politics,” Sparks said.

Sparks did not indicate when he would rule on the motion to move the case to Austin or on the defendants’ motions to dismiss.

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