Texas cities, counties, and public schools have challenged Governor Greg Abbott in court for his ban on local mask mandates. However, local officials Abbott needs to implement his prohibition aren’t playing ball in metropolitan areas where those fights are taking place.
Abbott is Criticized For his Ban on Mask Mandates as Cases Soar in Texas.
Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton have stated in court briefs that they do not have the authority to implement the prohibition, but they have also promised to punish local government and school district employees who disobey the governor’s unilateral order.
According to a court filing made by Paxton on Monday in Dallas, “neither Governor Abbott nor Attorney General Paxton will be executing” the order.
Since the start of the pandemic, Abbott has issued a flurry of executive orders, the most notable of which prevent local governments from taking action to reduce the spread of COVID-19, such as requiring people to wear masks or limiting the number of people who can work in certain establishments, such as restaurants or stores.
Due to the increase of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, cities, counties, and school districts in the state’s main urban regions have filed numerous lawsuits against Abbott’s executive order banning them from enforcing mask mandates.
Recent court papers by Abbott and Paxton argue that local prosecutors should be responsible for carrying out Abbott’s instructions, and therefore the challenges against them should be dismissed.
State and local law enforcement are authorised to enforce executive orders issued by the governor, according to a statement released by the governor’s spokeswoman, Renae Eze.
To counteract Abbott’s decision against mask mandates, most district attorneys in the state’s urban counties are Democrats who are unlikely to challenge fellow local officials.
According to Adjunct Law Professor at the University of Texas at Austin Randall Erben, “
[Abbott] is claiming, ‘Well, it’s not enforceable, only the DA can do it. Well, the district attorneys in Travis, Harris, and Dallas won’t be charging anyone with breaking the edict.
A representative for Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg indicated that she does not plan to enforce Abbott’s executive order because it is not a criminal matter.
Some lawyers representing local governments and public schools have criticised Abbott and Paxton for allegedly saying one thing in public and another thing in court documents regarding the legality of the governor’s directive.
According to Paxton, Ten Counties and Sixty-Nine School Districts have Implemented Mask Policies.
For several school districts, he has threatened legal action until they drop the cases.
David Campbell, who represents multiple school districts with mask mandates, stated in an email, “In public, the Attorney General has said he can execute [Abbott’s executive order]. “But the Attorney General has said the exact opposite in certain court documents. Which is it, then?
Attorney for Harris County, Texas, Christian Menefee, claims that Abbott and Paxton are “causing confusion for the school districts, superintendents, and local officials” who are working to ensure the safety of students and citizens as the Delta variant spreads.
People making critical decisions about our schools and communities have a right to know whether the Governor and the Attorney General are unable to enforce the Governor’s mask mandate prohibition, Menefee said in a statement this week. They shouldn’t be afraid of retaliation for doing the right thing, especially because our state leaders have admitted in private that their threats are empty.
The Office of Paxton Declined to Comment.
There is a lot of pressure on Abbott and Paxton from the political right to punish municipal authorities who disobey Abbott’s mask ban orders.
Prof. Brandon Rottinghaus of the University of Houston’s department of political science argues that both have much to gain from publicly adopting a strong stance on mask mandates, even if they tell the courts they can do little to enforce them beyond suing counties and school districts.
In public, “they want their fingerprints all over it, they want to claim credit,” Rottinghaus added. In another context, though, they prefer to be able to “quietly manoeuvre around it” or “use every sort of legal trick they can to not have to face the consequences.”
As a result of municipal authorities’ lawsuits contesting Abbott’s directive, the legal landscape has become a tangled mess. It is not uncommon for a local mask order to receive support from lower court judges before being temporarily overturned by the state Supreme Court.
If that happens, the mandate will be restored by a lower court, and the process will begin again.
DA Joe Gonzales has stated that he will not prosecute school districts that adopt mask mandates despite the Supreme Court’s temporary restraining order against Bexar County’s order requiring them, citing the fact that the Texas Education Agency is not enforcing Abbott’s ban.