ATLANTA - A federal judge on Friday set a June 20 hearing for arguments on an attempt by civil liberties groups to block Georgia's law cracking down on illegal immigration from taking effect.
The groups earlier this week asked Judge Thomas Thrash to block the law from taking effect until a lawsuit they filed last week has been resolved. That lawsuit asked the judge to find the law unconstitutional and to keep authorities from enforcing it.
Thrash agreed to the plaintiffs' request to expedite the hearing because most parts of the law take effect July 1.
"The law is unconstitutional," said Omar Jadwat, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union. "We are hopeful and confident that he will enjoin the law, that is to block it from going into effect."
Gov. Nathan Deal, Attorney General Sam Olens and other state officials are named as defendants in the lawsuit. Senior Assistant Attorney General Devon Orland told the judge she plans to file a motion to dismiss the lawsuit next week. Thrash said he would also hear arguments on that request June 20.
The civil liberties groups argue the law is unconstitutional and could encourage racial profiling. Provisions that penalize people for harboring and transporting illegal immigrants in certain situations also have the potential to punish people for innocent interactions with illegal immigrants, Jadwat said.
Orland said she was still going through the lawsuit and the request for an injunction. But she argued briefly that the law would not prompt a "sweeping roundup" of illegal immigrants because law enforcement officers need to have probable cause to believe someone has committed a crime before they can try to determine immigration status. She also argued that the harboring and transporting provisions are nearly identical to those in federal law.
When lawyers for both sides asked if they would have an opportunity to make additional filings after the June 20 hearing, Thrash cautioned that he might decide on the matter that day.
"I've been known to rule from the bench," he said.