HealthcareIssuesLocal NewsAs Dallas County Judge Claims Temporary Victory in Mask Lawsuit, Paxton Warns Him to End Mandate

Local officials seeking to exert mask mandates on their constituents are clashing with Governor Greg Abbott in court.
August 10, 2021
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The same day Dallas County Commissioner J.J. Koch experienced a temporary setback in his quest to halt county Judge Clay Jenkins’ commissioners court mask mandate, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton weighed in and told Jenkins to pull down the mandate or face undefined consequences.

Jenkins has responded to Koch’s lawsuit, which he filed last week, by suing Governor Greg Abbott to halt the executive order that serves as part of the basis for Koch’s claim that the county judge’s mask requirement is unlawful.

Citing a purported lack of injury, 116th Civil District Court Judge Tonya Parker denied Koch a temporary restraining order on Friday that would have blocked the mask mandate. In other words, Jenkins is free to continue requiring masks at commissioners’ court meetings while the lawsuit proceeds.

Koch told The Texan last week that he disagrees with Parker’s “blanket” statement that there is no harm in wearing a mask.

“Judge Parker determines that having to be forced to wear a mask against your will is not [harmful]. You know, that I think is a bit of a slippery slope because I think that we’ve identified that there are some individuals that should not be forced to wear a mask,” Koch contended. 

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“Those with different types of trauma, or certain types of respiratory illnesses, there’s exemptions in there that we have recognized in a lot of the mask mandates that existed in the past.”

In a letter to Jenkins, Paxton told the county judge that his mask mandate contravenes Abbott’s executive order and creates constitutional problems.

“The Commissioners Court is only subject to the Governor’s executive orders. Moreover, by violating the Governor’s order you have compromised a county commissioner’s constitutional responsibility to represent his constituents,” the attorney general wrote.

The executive order Paxton referenced is GA-38, which prohibits most governmental entities and officials from instituting face covering requirements. The ban on mask mandates was part of a broader effort to make the response to COVID-19 more consistent throughout the state.

“I strongly encourage you to reconsider your decision to mandate masks at County Commissioners Court meetings as your actions conflict with Executive Order GA-38,” Paxton wrote. “Please revoke your recent mask mandate by August 9, 2021, or I will consider all available options to stop your unlawful mandate.”

Koch said “this lawsuit now has a whole lot more firepower” now that Paxton has involved the attorney general’s office.

The legal crisis is born of a fundamental conflict between those who view face coverings and the government’s ability to mandate them as the indisputable key to saving lives versus those who believe individuals should be free to exercise common sense and make their own decisions.

Judge Antonia Arteaga of Bexar County’s 57th Civil District Court reportedly handed the City of San Antonio and Bexar County tentative victories Tuesday when she issued a temporary restraining order against the State of Texas to allow mask mandates in public schools. 

Other school districts in metropolitan areas, such as Dallas ISD and Austin ISD, have also announced mask requirements in transparent violations of Abbott’s executive order as students return to the classroom.

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Hayden Sparks

Hayden Sparks is a reporter for The Texan. He has coached high school competitive speech and debate and has also been involved in community theater and politics. A native Texan, Hayden served as a delegate at the Republican Party of Texas Convention in 2016. He is on track to receive a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Liberty University. In his free time, Hayden is known to take walks around the neighborhood while listening to random music on Spotify.