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Texas Supreme Court Sides With Abbott, Blocks County Mask Mandates

August 17, 2021 by Reece Nations
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks at a news conference in Austin, Texas. (Eric Gay, Associated Press)

AUSTIN, Texas — The Supreme Court of Texas issued a ruling on Sunday voiding temporary restraining orders issued by separate District Court judges that impeded Gov. Greg Abbott’s edict prohibiting local officials from requiring masks to be worn indoors.

Local governments and school districts began defying Abbott’s executive order from July 29 that prohibited masking ordinances. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has maintained publicly that it is illegal for local jurisdictions to challenge Abbott’s order under the governor’s emergency powers during a disaster declaration.

“Under Executive Order GA-38, no governmental entity can require or mandate the wearing of masks,” Abbott said in a written statement. “The path forward relies on personal responsibility — not government mandates. The State of Texas will continue to vigorously fight the temporary restraining order to protect the rights and freedoms of all Texans.”

Despite the court’s ruling, the Dallas Independent School District announced in a tweet it will keep its safety protocols requiring masks in place. DISD superintendent Michael Hinojosa determined after consulting with lawyers that the Supreme Court ruling applied to Dallas County, not his school district, and he would continue to enforce the mask mandate until he was legally compelled not to, local Fox affiliate KDFW reported.

Lower courts in San Antonio and Dallas had previously ruled local leaders had the authority to mandate masks in schools and government buildings. Texas Democrats contend Abbott’s order defies scientific consensus and disregards small government authority.

“Abbott has left our youth exposed to one of the deadliest viruses our world has ever seen,” Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa said in a written statement. “I applaud the local leaders, local governments, schools, parents, teachers, and students who are speaking out against Gov. Abbott’s reckless ban on health precautions intended to keep our kids safe this school year.”

Last week, state health officials reported the lowest amount of hospital beds available of the pandemic’s duration, according to the Austin American-Statesman. On Friday, just 7,187 hospital beds were available to the state’s population of roughly 29 million.

The Dallas-Fort Worth Hospital Council reported last week that there were no intensive care unit beds for children due to a “record-high” of pediatric COVID-19 patients and a significant number of children suffering from respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, according to The Dallas Morning News.

“This isn’t the first time we have dealt with activist characters,” Paxton said in a written statement. “It’s deja vu all over again. Attention-grabbing judges and mayors have defied executive orders before, when the pandemic first started, and the courts ruled on our side — the law. I’m confident the outcomes to any suits will side with liberty and individual choice, not mandates and government overreach.”

All of San Antonio’s 39 EMS units were unavailable for 26 minutes last Thursday due to emergency COVID-19 calls, City Manager Erik Walsh said during a joint city and county press briefing. In the first week of August, Texas children were hospitalized with COVID-19 at the highest rate in at least a year as the delta variant continued its rampant spread.

“While Gov. Abbott touts arguments of personal responsibility, more Texans are getting sick every day because of his refusal to govern responsibly,” Hinojosa said in a written statement. “And what makes this all the worse is that Gov. Abbott’s sole motivation for his actions is garnering support from the far right-wing base of his party. Greg Abbott’s war on public health and local control must be stopped.”

Hinojosa continued, “We commend the local leaders who are stepping up, across the state and speaking with one voice to say they will not sit back idly while their communities are devastated by COVID-19. To our Republican state leaders and elected officials: you will be remembered for the choices you make in the next few weeks. Put politics aside. Denounce the governor’s absurd executive order. Help or get out of the way. Let local leaders and public health authorities do their damn jobs to stop the spread of this virus.” 

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