SAN ANTONIO – Two different courts on Wednesday issued separate rulings against Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, striking down a recent emergency order he issued that banned cities and school districts from requiring masks amid the coronavirus pandemic.
On Wednesday morning, the Texas Fourth Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the City of San Antonio and Bexar County, affirming an injunction striking down GA-38. Later that day, a federal judge in Austin issued a permanent injunction, concluding that the executive order violates federal laws.
With COVID-19 infection levels down, the rulings may not make much of an impact, but it helps school districts and cities resort to mask mandates if another surge occurs.
Though both lawsuits challenge the executive order, they make different arguments.
In the San Antonio and Bexar County lawsuit, attorneys argued that the governor went beyond the scope of the Texas Disaster Act of 1975, which grants him emergency powers during a crisis. The court appeared to agree in its ruling, noting that Abbott “exceeded the scope of statutory authority granted to him by the Legislature.”
The Fourth Court of Appeals had previously ruled in the county’s favor, but the Texas Supreme Court stayed that decision, sending the case back to the appeals court. The Attorney General’s Office, led by Ken Paxton, will likely appeal the ruling again in the state supreme court, which has typically ruled in favor of Abbott.
The federal case was brought on by parents of special needs children and Disability Rights Texas. There, they argued that the executive order violates federal legislation, including the Disabilities Act of 1990 and the American Rescue Plan.
The parents argued that their children have a greater risk of experiencing severe symptoms of COVID-19 due to their underlying conditions. Banning mask requirements essentially amounts to a form of discrimination, they said.
District Judge Lee Yeakel sided with the parents, issuing a permanent injunction based on the merits of the case.
“I think the most notable thing about this ruling is there have been similar lawsuits around the country, but we are the first final ruling,” said Dustin Rynders, a supervising attorney for Disability Rights Texas. “We had a full trial, so there have been temporary injunctions granted in other states. But this is the first permanent injunction of one of these bans on mask requirements in the country.”
Though the Attorney General’s Office can and likely will appeal that ruling, Rynders said he is confident the parents will prevail.
“Every day that this order is in effect is the day that students can be better protected and schools and families have peace of mind,” he said. “Appeals can take time. And so we will fight that appeal tomorrow. But today we will celebrate victory for our students with disabilities around our state.”