This is a last minute story and will be updated.
A Dallas county judge will decide today whether Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has the authority to prevent local officials from imposing public health measures such as mask warrants. It is the latest in a dramatic and swift legal battle over the issue in the state.
At today’s hearing, the judge will likely hear evidence and testimony about the impact of the pandemic and the effectiveness of using masks to stop the spread of the COVID-19 delta variant, as well as legal arguments about Texas. Disaster Act.
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins and his legal team who are calling for an interim measure against Abbott’s order, claiming that wearing masks is the best way to save lives and curb the pandemic while they wait for people to get vaccinated. They will also argue that Jenkins, the county chief administrator who has emergency management powers, has the legal authority to issue executive orders to enforce those rules.
“We need protection for the citizens of Dallas County, we need protection for the economy of Dallas County,” Charla Aldous, one of Jenkins ’attorneys, said at Tuesday morning’s hearing. “The end result: we’re here because Judge Jenkins wants to do his job.”
Abbott and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton say governor’s executive order, GA-38, which bans mask warrants, is legal because the Texas Disaster Act gives it the power to ban Jenkins and other local officials such as school districts that require masks.
Benjamin Dower, an attorney for the Texas Attorney General’s Office, said the state would not produce any testimony and that the testimony of Jenkins’ witnesses was not relevant to the interim hearing.
“None of that is really relevant to the matter for the court to decide,” Dower said. “This is really a matter of law, not fact.”
Judge Tonya Parker of the 116th District Civil Court will decide today whether to grant an interim measure banning the governor’s order. He previously granted a temporary restraining order doing just that.
The hearing of the restraining order was to prove whether there would be harm if Abbott’s ban were applied. The view of the temporary ban scheduled for this morning is to decide whether the decision should be more permanent. The judge will hear evidence on the matter, but Jenkins’ legal team has yet to prove immediate harm to Abbott’s order.
After the restraining order was granted, Jenkins issued an executive order requiring masks on district buildings, businesses and schools. Abbott and Paxton appealed to the Dallas Fifth Court of Appeals, which also sided with Jenkins.
Abbott and Paxton then appealed the restraining order to the state Supreme Court, asking it to overturn Jenkins’ new rules. The Supreme Court agreed to block Parker’s restraining order, but did not issue a final ruling on banning the mask’s warrant.
In other words, Abbott and Jenkins’ orders were allowed to remain in place until the court could hear evidence from the interim hearing.
The Supreme Court decision also made Jenkins unable to enforce his order, so he withdrew the sanctions for not wearing masks last Monday.
A similar case in Bexar County ended in a victory for San Antonio and county officials there last week, when a judge passed an interim order, allowing the mask’s warrant to remain there.
On Monday evening, Paxton asked the Supreme Court to suspend the Bexar County court’s instruction against Abbott’s order while the appeal continues.