EducationJudicialTexas Supreme Court Leaves Harris County Mask Mandates Untouched as TEA Issues New Guidance

Abbott called the regular appeal process too slow to address Harris County's mask mandates. The Supreme Court of Texas was unconvinced.
August 20, 2021
The Supreme Court of Texas decided not to take up a case between Governor Greg Abbott and Harris County yesterday, handing a preliminary win to local officials that are requiring masks despite Abbott’s ban on local mask mandates.

The court rejected the governor’s petition for technical reasons, leaving the merits of the case untouched.

Specifically, the court referred Abbott back to the Texas Rules of Appellate Procedure, which require appellants to justify skipping over a court of appeals to go straight to the Supreme Court of Texas.

“The petition must state, without argument, the basis of the court’s jurisdiction. If the Supreme Court and the court of appeals have concurrent jurisdiction, the petition must be presented first to the court of appeals unless there is a compelling reason not to do so,” the rules read.

“If the petition is filed in the Supreme Court without first being presented to the court of appeals, the petition must state the compelling reason why the petition was not first presented to the court of appeals.”

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In other words, the Supreme Court found Abbott’s reasoning for going straight to the top from local trial courts unconvincing.

Abbott argued in court briefs that the regular appellate process would be too slow for proper relief.

“The Governor lacks an adequate remedy for the trial court’s unlawful actions by ordinary appeal. In this instance, the trial court declared that GA-38 cannot operate anywhere in Harris County or in any school district statewide to manage a disaster,” Abbott’s petition for writ of mandamus reads.

The governor further argues that the regular appeal process would empower other counties, cities, and school districts to find their own trial court orders enabling mask mandates, “splintering the State’s ability to achieve an orderly, cohesive, and uniform response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

So far, the Supreme Court of Texas has already stayed two such temporary restraining orders.

The Supreme Court’s decision emboldened Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, who praised the mandamus denial and said new guidance from the Texas Education Agency (TEA) supports mask mandates.

“Big win! The TX Supreme Court just declined the state’s request to stop our Harris County school mask order, at least for now,” Hidalgo wrote.

“[The Texas Education Agency] also issued new guidance that mask prohibitions aren’t enforced during litigation. Our order remains in place.”

The TEA sent out new public health guidance for schools yesterday that says court proceedings have stopped Governor Greg Abbott’s ban on mask mandates.

“Please note, mask provisions of GA-38 are not being enforced as the result of ongoing litigation,” the document reads.

“Further guidance will be made available after the court issues are resolved.”

Nonetheless, the document says at the outset that Abbott’s order GA-38 has the effect of state law under the Texas Government Code, specifically the Texas Disaster Act.

Further complicating the tangled matrix of local authority that the state court system is now trying to parse, not all school districts in Harris County are abiding by local mask mandates. Humble ISD has decided to keep masks optional.


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Isaiah Mitchell

Isaiah Mitchell is a reporter for The Texan, a Texas native, and a huge Allman Brothers fan. He graduated cum laude from Trinity University in 2020 with a degree in English. Isaiah loves playing music and football with his family.