Texas Supreme Court Temporarily Suspends Local Mask Mandates

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The Texas Supreme Court temporarily suspended local mask mandates passed by a broadening array of counties, cities and school districts trying to tamp down the resurgence of Covid-19 in one of the nation’s hottest infection zones.

In a pair of brief orders issued Sunday, the state’s highest court granted Governor Greg Abbott’s emergency request to block local officials from defying his executive order that masks remain voluntary. The court’s website noted that Abbott’s request hasn’t been fully acted on and remains pending before the court.

Texas’s all-Republican high court acted after Abbott and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton -- both also Republicans -- appealed a pair of intermediate appeals court decisions late Friday night. The lower courts had sided with elected officials in Dallas and Bexar counties who sought to proceed with masking ordinances on the advice of their local health officials.

When the counties that include Dallas and San Antonio first won court permission early last week to impose mask requirements on all government facilities and most schools, a raft of other Texas counties, cities and school districts rushed to implement their own mask rules.

Local officials said the rapid spread of the highly contagious Delta variant of Covid-19 required the drastic step of ignoring the governor’s edict to put stricter public protections in place.

Hospitals in most Texas cities are overflowing with Covid-19 patients, to the point where Abbott has asked them to delay non-emergency procedures to free up more beds.

Local officials and political opponents fought Abbott all the way to the Texas Supreme Court several times last year on different Covid-related restrictions. Abbott won those rounds, but often in sharply divided opinions that questioned how far a governor’s authority goes during an emergency.

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