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Texas’ highest court issued a ruling Thursday that blocks school districts in Bexar County from enforcing mask mandates.
The Texas Supreme Court on Thursday temporarily blocked a school mask mandate in San Antonio—citing the governor’s authority on the matter.
The court order is the latest in a back-and-forth battle between local governments and the state’s Republican leadership over public health regulations during the coronavirus pandemic.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed an executive order this summer that bans cities, counties, public school districts or public health officials from requiring people to wear face masks. But as schools reopen, some districts announced mask mandates in defiance of the order.
The ruling from the Texas Supreme Court is not the final say on the issue, rather it temporarily blocks enforcement of a mask mandate adopted by Bexar County, which includes San Antonio, while the case is heard. In the ruling, the court notes that the question at hand is not if people should wear face masks or even whether the government can compel them to do so. Rather, the case centers on which government officials have the legal authority to make the decision.
“The status quo, for many months, has been gubernatorial oversight of such decisions at both the state and local levels,” reads the court order. “That status quo should remain in place while the court of appeals, and potentially this Court, examine the parties’ merits arguments to determine whether plaintiffs have demonstrated a probable right to the relief sought.”
All of the justices on the state’s supreme court were appointed by Republican governors.
Similar legal challenges are also underway in Florida, where at least 10 counties have passed mask mandates that require a doctor’s note for students to opt out. Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis previously issued an executive order banning school mask mandates.
In response to the Texas Supreme Court ruling, San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said he will continue to support requiring masks for city employees and in city facilities and hopes that school districts “will stay the course and continue with their mask requirements.” (San Antonio’s mayoral elections are nonpartisan.)
Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales, a Democrat, said he was disappointed in the ruling and will continue to work with San Antonio officials to determine next steps.
Texas Attorney General, Ken Paxton, said noncompliance with the governor’s executive order would result in further legal action by the state.
“Mask mandates across our state are illegal, and judges must abide by the law,” said Paxton, a Republican.
Andrea Noble is a staff correspondent with Route Fifty.
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