There were no protests Thursday morning at the Federal Courthouse in downtown Austin. But the lawyers who walked in, along with politicians like Austin Mayor Steve Adler, Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhart and Sheriff Sally Hernandez, quickly found themselves justifying why they were in the courtroom of Judge Sam Sparks.
"He is a no nonsense judge, he knows the questions he wants to get answered, and he is pretty deliberate about how he proceeds, so he is a smart judge, I think a fair judge but very direct and that’s what we are seeing today," said Mayor Adler.
During the hearing Judge Sparks raised questions about his jurisdiction in the case because the controversial law, which passed in the legislature earlier this year, won’t take effect until September. The "cart before the horse" concern by the judge was deflected by plaintiff attorney Renea Hicks.
It’s not their fault, according to Hicks, but the state's fault.
"You can’t use “First to File” to play a forum shopping game especially when you have to show you are harmed, the state has not been harmed, the state enacted the law and pointed the gun at local authorities on this,” said Hicks. Attorneys for the state argued those who oppose the ban are guilty of jumping the gun.
The state of Texas made the first step to take SB4 to court back in May.
The request to declare the new law constitutional was done in Austin by suing the city and Travis County. Local officials responded by joining a federal lawsuit filed in San Antonio to get the case before a different judge.
SB4 protesters were bused into San Antonio for the Monday hearing before Judge John Garcia.
He has spent the past several days considering a motion to prevent the law from being enforced in September. State attorneys, Thursday, asked for that case to be consolidated into their Austin lawsuit. While Judge Sparks didn't seem to like that idea, he did question some of the claims argued before Judge Garcia.
SB4 prevents police from being punished for asking people they stop about immigration status.
If that happens, it been argued, the new law will damage relationships that local police have built with immigrant communities. Judge Sparks said to him "it’s a stretch” to say the law will prevent police from doing their jobs.
He also questioned why officials, like Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez, have object to honoring federal ICE Detainers. “Mish, mosh” is how he described the argument against detainers.
Judge Sparks even suggested under current law a sheriff could be charged with aiding and abetting if an inmate wanted by immigration is released and then commits a crime.
It’s not known when the judge will issue a ruling on the request for Declaratory Judgement.