AG Paxton’s preemptive SB4 lawsuit thrown out by federal judge in Austin

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AUSTIN — A federal judge has thrown out Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton's lawsuit defending Texas' 'sanctuary cities' law.

Senate Bill 4 was signed into law by Governor Greg Abbott in May. The controversial legislation bans Texas cities from refusing to comply with federal immigration officials, lets members of law enforcement ask the immigration status of those they detain or arrest, and allows local law enforcement officials to be charged with a misdemeanor if they choose not to comply with requests from federal agencies to hold suspected undocumented immigrants.

Paxton originally filed suit against the city of Austin, Travis County, Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez, and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund shortly after Senate Bill 4 was signed into law. The lawsuit was as an end-around effort by Paxton to try and get a court to rule SB4 constitutional before other rulings on the law could be put into place. It also aimed to consolidate all of the lawsuits against SB4 into the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas in Austin.

However, U.S. District Court Judge Sam Sparks was having none of that. In his ruling he wrote “The State’s own argument underscores its deficiencies. Because SB 4 does not take effect until September 1, 2017, it is impossible for Defendants to take any action that would violate the not-yet-effective law. The mere fact that a municipal policy was instituted before a law was signed, or that it remains in place prior to the law taking effect, does not equate to a violation of the law.”

Paxton was obviously not happy with the result of the lawsuit, but says he'll continue to defend SB4. “We were first to file a lawsuit concerning SB4, filed this case in the only proper court, and moved quickly to consolidate other lawsuits against SB4 in Austin,” Paxton said. “The health, safety, and welfare of Texans is not negotiable. We’re disappointed with the court’s ruling and look forward to pressing our winning arguments in the San Antonio cases and beyond (if necessary) on this undoubtedly constitutional law.”

The ACLU of Texas applauded the judge's decision.

“The Court’s ruling confirms what we’ve known all along: the State’s preemptive SB4 lawsuit was a farce intended to distract from the real issue—the devastating effect SB4 will have on communities and law enforcement agencies across Texas,” said Edgar Saldivar, senior staff attorney of the ACLU of Texas. “This is a significant blow to the State, and its legal posturing has only resulted in wasted taxpayer money. The real fight is now in San Antonio’s federal court, where the fate of SB4 will soon be decided.”

All of the lawsuits against SB4, including one filed by the cities of Houston, Austin, San Antonio, El Cenizo, and Maverick and El Paso Counties, are now consolidated before U.S. District Court Judge Orlando Garcia in San Antonio. Hearings were held in June and a ruling is forthcoming. However, if he doesn't make a decision before September 1, Texas will be allowed to start enforcing SB4.