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Judge Dismisses Parts Of State’s SB4 Lawsuit Against San Antonio

SB4-Protest3.jpg
Joey Palacios | Texas Public Radio
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Protestors gather at San Antonio's federal courthouse in June 2017 during the first day of court for a multi-city federal lawsuit against SB4

A state judge has dismissed components of the Texas Attorney General’s lawsuit against the City of San Antonio and San Antonio Police Department for allegedly violating the state’s anti-sanctuary cities law, also known as SB4.

The suit stemmed from a December 2017 incident where several migrants were found in a trailer on San Antonio’s East Side.  The migrants were not taken into police custody but instead released to non-profit aid groups. At the time, San Antonio Police Chief William McManus said it was his decision. The attorney general alleged that decision violated SB4 and sued. State Judge Tim Sulak agreed with a city motion that the incident happened during a time when SB4 was not in full enforcement.

The attorney general announced an investigation in January 2018 and followed with a lawsuit. The case became high profile as it was the first time the state flexed its muscle over the law.

The City of San Antonio filed a motion soon after saying the incident took place after parts of SB4 were blocked.

In August of 2017, Federal district Judge Orlando Garcia enjoined pieces of SB4 one day before the law was set to take effect. However, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that decision in March of 2018 allowing most of SB4 expect for one provision to continue.

San Antonio City Attorney Andy Segovia said that window – when the December trailer incident occurred – makes the state’s claim invalid.  

“Even after a court of appeals may lift that injunction or restraining order it can’t be retroactive and apply to behavior while that provision was enjoined,” Segovia said.

The city made that argument in a motion for summary judgment this January.  On July 2, Judge Sulak agreed and sided with the city in an order dismissing some of the state’s lawsuit.

“It’s a very positive development for the city and it gives us momentum as we proceed down to litigation but unfortunately… it’s not a decisive one in which the litigation ends so we’re moving forward,” Segovia said.

Texas Attorney General’s office disagreed with Sulak’s judgment claiming that the 5th Circuit dissolved all aspects of Judge Garia’s injunction.

“Because the federal trial court’s injunction was overturned, it cannot prohibit the state of Texas from enforcing SB 4 during the period it was wrongly enjoined,” said attorney general spokesman Marc Rylander.  “Otherwise, litigants could sue over a law they disagree with and get a free pass even if the law is ultimately upheld by the courts. Here, it is critical that the state be allowed to enforce SB 4, which protects the cooperative relationship between law enforcement and immigration officials.”

The suit is not over. Pieces of the lawsuit that allege the city does not cooperate with federal immigration officials will remain and go forward.

“The court’s ruling addressed only a portion of the State’s case, and we intend to continue to pursue all legal avenues to enforce SB 4 to its fullest extent,” Rylander said.

Late Thursday, Segovia said the city had received notice from the attorney general’s office that the decision would likely be appealed.

Of the parts of the lawsuit that do remain, Segovia adds the city does cooperate with federal immigration requisitions of all kinds.  

Joey Palacios can be reached at Joey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules.