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Chris Watts: SB 4 a matter of law, not of politics

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Chris Watts, Guest Columnist

On Tuesday, Oct. 17, the Denton City Council approved a resolution supporting the plaintiffs in a lawsuit to determine the constitutionality of Senate Bill 4 (SB 4), ostensibly called the "sanctuary city bill."

Chris Watts
Chris Watts

First we must ask: What is a sanctuary city? There is no official definition for a sanctuary city. The most commonly accepted definition of a sanctuary city is a city that adopts or enforces policies that prohibit the enforcement of immigration law.

Based on comments and emails I have received, it appears some misunderstandings exist about the resolution adopted by the City Council.

A month or so ago, citizens and several council members requested a work session to determine whether the city of Denton should join other plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of SB 4.

I was apprehensive about the discussion because, unfortunately, the narrative has become: If you support SB 4, you're a racist. If you oppose SB 4, you support illegal and criminal activity and oppose federal immigration law.

Great choices, right? However, neither is accurate or based in law or fact.

In order to move past rhetoric and political posturing to examine the facts and law presented in the lawsuit, I took an afternoon to read SB 4 and the 95-page opinion rendered by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, San Antonio Division in the matter of City of El Cenizo et al. v. State of Texas et al.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit had asked the Court to issue an injunction prohibiting SB 4 from becoming effective on Sept. 1, 2017. The court issued an injunction related to some provisions of SB 4 while allowing other provisions to become law.

The primary provision becoming law states, "A local entity or campus police department may not: (1) adopt, enforce ... a policy under which the entity or departments prohibit the enforcement of immigration laws." This provision is the source of the moniker for the bill. It prohibits "sanctuary cities."

Prior to SB 4, there was no such prohibition. I am not aware of any Texas cities that have adopted or enforced provisions prohibiting enforcement of immigration laws. SB 4 forecloses that option.

Having read the court opinion and SB 4, it did not take long for me to realize the issue is a matter of law, not politics.

The primary question is: Does SB 4, or any part therein, violate the U.S. Constitution? The question for me became clear. Do I support the right of individuals, organizations or political subdivisions to seek judicial review of legislation to ensure it does not violate the U.S. Constitution? Of course I do.

The Founding Fathers created three branches of government to provide a system of checks and balances. A key function of the judicial branch is to review laws created by the legislative branch to ensure they do not run afoul of our Constitution. Without the opportunity for judicial review, the Constitution would not be worth the paper on which it is written and the rights afforded therein would be mere aspirations.

So let's take a look at the resolution to see what was approved.

SECTION 2. Be it further resolved that the Mayor and City Council do not agree with some of the terms listed in Senate Bill 4 and support the Plaintiffs' legal efforts to object to SB4 on grounds that such a law should be reviewed by the courts for constitutionality and preemption.

Section 2 simply supports judicial review of SB 4 on constitutional grounds.

SECTION 3. Be it further resolved that the City of Denton has and always will comply with state and federal laws to preserve the safety and welfare of all Denton residents and visitors and will always protect the constitutional rights of all Denton residents and visitors.

Through the years, Denton somehow acquired the label "sanctuary city." There is no basis for such a designation. As I stated at the public City Council meeting on Tuesday evening, Oct. 17, the city of Denton has not adopted or enforced policies that prohibit the enforcement of immigration law.

Whatever the final outcome of the litigation over SB 4, Denton will comply with the law.

Our constitutional rights are the bedrock of our democracy, and I will continue to support the right of anyone to challenge any law, including SB 4, on constitutional grounds, regardless of political label or affiliation.

The opinions and analysis contained herein are mine, and mine alone. They are not intended to represent the opinions of my council colleagues.

CHRIS WATTS, an attorney and businessman, is serving his second term as mayor of Denton.