The ongoing legal battle over Texas' anti-sanctuary city law returned to court this week. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans heard arguments Tuesday in the lawsuit challenging SB4. The law passed by this year's legislature and signed into law by Gov. Abbott allows the state to penalize law enforcement and local jurisdictions that fail to comply with federal immigration laws. But several cities and counties across the state sued to block SB4, claiming the law is unconstitutional. In August, a federal judge issued an injunction blocking the law just two days before it was to take effect, but the 5th Circuit later lifted parts of that injunction, allowing the state to begin enforcing some provisions of the law.
At the heart of the legal battle over SB4 is the question of who has the ultimate say over immigration law. "Do the states have any authority on the issue of sanctuary cities---can cities and states even do this, or is that whole area pre-empted by federal law," says Gerald Treece, professor at South Texas College of Law Houston. "Then you've got a battle inside of Texas about who speaks for the cities of Houston, San Antonio, Dallas...and the state of Texas says it's us, we don't need any cities telling us what to do."
Based on prior rulings, Treece believes this particular venue favors the state's position. "The 5th Circuit is not to be confused with the 9th Circuit or the D.C. Circuit---the more liberal circuits," he says. "It's pretty darn conservative."
Regardless of how the 5th Circuit rules, the case is likely to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. And that means the case will likely play out for awhile. "The judicial process is painfully long," says Treece. "From the time a case is filed until the time it's finally heard, it usually takes more than four years."