Dueling court rulings leave Texans in limbo over mask mandates

Two Texas court rulings have given varying guidance on local mask mandates and whether they are allowed to remain in place despite Gov. Greg Abbott’s statewide ban on such mandates, leaving the ultimate fate of the ban in doubt.

On Wednesday, Dallas County Judge Tonya Parker upheld a mask mandate put in place in the county by Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, giving Jenkins, who functions like a county executive, an injunction against Abbott’s ban on mask mandates in the wake of COVID-19, according to The Hill.

Parker ruled that Jenkins clearly showed county residents “will suffer probable imminent and irreparable injury through County Judge Jenkins being precluded from exercising his authority” to mandate masks in public, ABC 8 WFAA reported.

The ruling effectively prevents Abbott from enforcing the mask mandate ban in the county.

On the other hand…

On Thursday, however, the Texas State Supreme Court ruled that Bexar County could not continue with its mask mandate because of Abbott’s ban. According to The Hill, the decision denied Bexar County, which includes San Antonio, the ability to continue with a school mask mandate because “the status quo, for many months, has been gubernatorial oversight of such decisions at both the state and local levels.”

The ruling only covered emergency relief, however, and left the final decision on the ban to the court of appeals, or possibly a further ruling by the state Supreme Court. Because of the temporary nature of the ruling, it is unlikely to affect the Dallas County ruling, although that could go to an appeals court, too.

In the meantime, the decision has been heralded by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R). “The Texas Supreme Court has sided with the law, and the decision to enforce mask mandates lies with the governor’s legislatively-granted authority,” he said in a statement, according to The Hill.

“Mask mandates across our state are illegal, and judges must abide by the law,” Paxton added. “Further non-compliance will result in more lawsuits.”

Partisan bickering

Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales (D) said in a statement of his own that he was “disappointed” by the ruling. More privately, he has said that he will not prosecute school districts in the county that go forward with mask mandates in violation of the ruling and Abbott’s ban, according to the local KSAT 12.

Paxton can sue districts that continue with mask mandates using the Supreme Court ruling, but that will take time.

Bexar County is in a period of high community spread of the virus, with only 7% of its staffed hospital beds available across the county as of Wednesday, KSAT reported.

Many areas in Texas and other mostly southern states are worried that hospitals will exceed capacity if the delta variant of the coronavirus continues to spread, and that they will not be able to treat everyone who needs it.

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