The Supreme Court of Texas has denied a motion for temporary relief made by a coalition of El Paso businesses with the aid of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton as part of a lawsuit against El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego’s lockdown orders.
The business owners had sought a pause on Samaniego’s lockdown as temporary relief. Samaniego ordered the lockdown in his recent county order EO-13.
Denying the motion split the court 5 to 4, with Chief Justice Nathan Hecht joining Justices Jeffrey Boyd, John Devine, and Jimmy Blacklock in dissent.
“This Court expresses no opinion on the likelihood of success of either party on the merits,” the statement reads.
Paxton joined the coalition of business owners as an intervenor-plaintiff in both the lawsuit and their motion for temporary relief. The motion sprinted up to the Supreme Court of Texas after the businesses, all restaurants or bars, lost at the 34th District Court of El Paso. After losing their request for relief at district court, the defendants appealed to the Eighth Circuit, which agreed to expedite the appeal but stated that it would not make a decision on temporary relief until November 12.
Dissatisfied with this date, Paxton petitioned the Supreme Court of Texas for a writ of mandamus that would stay Samaniego’s order until the battle in court meets its end.
“A 14-day order [Samaniego’s EO-13] usurping the Governor… cannot escape this Court’s scrutiny because of its short duration,” Paxton wrote in his petition for writ of mandamus.
“The Eighth Court of Appeals clearly abused its discretion when it permitted Judge Samaniego’s illegal, irremediable order to remain in force pending appeal.”
By denying the petition for writ of mandamus, the Supreme Court of Texas allowed Samaniego’s order to continue to its end on November 11, when Samaniego effectively renewed it by issuing a similar order that will expire on December 1.
The defendants primarily argue that Samaniego violated the Texas Disaster Act and overstepped the governor’s own coronavirus orders, especially Executive Order GA-32, better known as the order that allowed county judges to partially reopen bars and other businesses that had been closed.
The Texas Disaster Act, Paxton argues, places county judges under the governor as agents of his authority, even in times of local disaster. EO-13 also prohibits a number of activities that GA-32 allows, despite the text of Abbott’s GA-32 stating that it “shall supersede any conflicting order issued by local officials.”
The defendants also claim that EO-13 transgresses against the Texas Constitution by violating the separation of powers, with a county judge wielding emergency lawmaking power only loaned to the governor in times of disaster.
Correction: This article has been updated to more accurately reflect the date on which EO-13 ended and EO-14 began.
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