By Isabel van Brugen
The Texas Supreme Court on Sunday granted an emergency stay to Gov. Greg Abbott over his ban on mask mandates.
It overrides lower court rulings that allowed Dallas and Bexar counties to temporarily enable the mask mandate locally, despite the Republican governor’s order that barred government entities and officials from doing so.
Abbott said at the time that Texans, not government, should decide their best health practices.
Local officials in Dallas and Bexar counties, including San Antonio, meanwhile cited strains on hospitals amid a surge in cases linked to the Delta COVID-19 variant, as justifications for keeping the mask requirements in place.
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said requiring face masks would help to curb the transmission of COVID-19, the disease caused by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus.
The emergency stay is temporary, and the case will continue to be heard in lower courts. A hearing for Bexar County has been scheduled on Monday, and for Dallas County, a hearing has been set for Aug. 24.
“Today, SCOTEX has ordered Dallas Co and Dallas ISD to follow Exec. Order GA-38. Local mask mandates are illegal under GA-38,” state Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a statement on Twitter following Sunday’s ruling. “Let this ruling serve as a reminder to all ISDs and local officials that the Governor’s order stands.”
Meanwhile, local officials from the Dallas Independent School District and City of San Antonio and Bexar County have said that they plan to continue with mask mandates, reported the Texas Tribune.
“The Tex Supreme Court did not strike down my face mask order,” Jenkins said in a Twitter post. “Rather they removed the stay on the GA 38. Unless I receive a ruling requiring otherwise, I will amend my order to remove the possibility of fines on non-compliant businesses but otherwise leave the order in effect.”
The City of San Antonio separately said in a statement that the ruling did not stop it from moving forward with presenting its case to the court on Monday, and that its mask mandate remains in effect.
“The City of San Antonio and Bexar County’s response to the Texas Supreme Court continues to emphasize that the governor cannot use his emergency powers to suspend laws that provide local entities the needed flexibility to act in an emergency,” City Attorney Andy Segovia said in a statement.
Last week, Paxton in a statement called government officials reinstating mask mandates and the judges who granted their temporary restraining orders against the Abbott’s mask ban “attention-grabbing judges” and “activist characters.”
“This isn’t the first time we have dealt with activist characters. It’s deja vu all over again,” Paxton said. “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.”
Abbott and Paxton said in a joint statement that “any school district, public university, or local government official that decides to defy the order will be taken to court.”
The pair argued that the governor has the authority to decide how Texas responds to state emergencies under the Texas Disaster Act.