Sen. Rodney Ellis in the unofficial "Civil Rights Room"

Despite Push from Democrats, Harris County is Staying out of the SB 4 Lawsuit


Sen. Rodney Ellis in the unofficial "Civil Rights Room"
Senator Rodney Ellis in the unofficial “Civil Rights Room.”  Kelsey Jukam

Local governments representing around 27 percent of Texans are suing the state over the “sanctuary cities” ban. That includes the city of Houston, but not Harris County.

If Harris County were to join, it would bring about two million more people into the lawsuit — a whopping 8 percent of the state’s population. But that’s not happening anytime soon. On Tuesday, the Republican-dominated Harris County Commissioners Court pointedly declined to join the suit against Senate Bill 4.

At the hearing, a group of Democratic lawmakers and activists backed Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis in asking the other four members, all Republicans, to vote to join the legal challenge.

“Over the last several weeks, I’ve heard widespread, almost unanimous opposition to SB 4,” said Ellis, a former state senator and the only person of color on the commissioners court, in a statement to the Observer. “Members of the Harris County delegation in the Legislature… and residents across Harris County asked us to join the lawsuit to overturn the new law.”

Representative Armando Walle and Senator Sylvia Garcia also urged action.

“Local police chiefs and sheriffs, including our own, opposed this bill,” Garcia testified. “As I’ve said before, under this law, a broken tail light can lead to a broken family.”

But County Judge Ed Emmett, a Republican, said he was not persuaded.

“Don’t interpret, if we decide not to sue, that decision as an endorsement of SB 4,” he said after hearing the testimony, which lasted about 15 minutes.

“It is!” shouted someone in the audience. She called the commissioners  “cowards,” and promised that she and others would campaign against those who chose not to sue. Police officers escorted her out of the room.

Emmett said SB 4 goes too far in “interfering” with local government, but said that doesn’t mean the county should sue.

Ellis made a formal motion for Harris County to join the SB 4 suit, but none of the other commissioners seconded the motion, effectively killing the proposal without a vote. “Unfortunately, my colleagues decided not to join the court challenge to this unconstitutional law,” said Ellis.

U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia is still considering whether to block the law from taking effect on September 1. On Monday, state Representative Ramón Romero filed a bill that would repeal the law during the upcoming special session.