Texas Supreme Court halts San Antonio’s mask mandate

The justices sided with Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton, both Republicans.

Updated: August 26, 2021 - 11:30pm

The Texas Supreme Court on Thursday sided with Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton in striking down a mask mandate issued by the San Antonio school district that violates state law.

The governor and attorney general requested the court reverse an appeals court ruling that upheld a lower court’s decision to allow a mask mandate issued by San Antonio ISD, the city, and Bexar County to stay in effect.

Paxton’s office filed for a stay of the lower and appeals courts rulings, arguing that irreparable harm was being caused by the growing list of local mandates in defiance of the governor's order banning mask mandates, “as it is enabling numerous municipalities to issue different responses to the disaster.”

Paxton also said, “the Governor lacks an adequate remedy by appeal. Every moment the temporary injunction remains in effect, localities will continue to flout GA-38.”

In response to the Texas Supreme Court’s ruling, Paxton said it “has sided with the law, and the decision to enforce mask mandates lies with the governor’s legislatively-granted authority. Mask mandates across our state are illegal, and judges must abide by the law. Further non-compliance will result in more lawsuits.”

In a slightly more than one-page statement, the Texas Supreme Court granted the state’s emergency motion for temporary relief, and stayed the ruling of the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Judicial District, dated August 19, 2021, “pending further order of this Court.”

It ruled, “As we previously held in staying the trial court’s temporary restraining order in the underlying case, the court of appeals’ order alters the status quo preceding this controversy, and its effect is therefore stayed pending that court’s decision on the merits of the appeal.”

Referring to a 2004 case, the court said, “This case, and others like it, are not about whether people should wear masks or whether the government should make them do it. Rather, these cases ask courts to determine which government officials have the legal authority to decide what the government’s position on such questions will be. The status quo, for many months, has been gubernatorial oversight of such decisions at both the state and local levels. That status quo should remain in place while the court of appeals, and potentially this Court, examine the parties’ merits arguments to determine whether plaintiffs have demonstrated a probable right to the relief sought.”

In response, Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales said, “While I am personally disappointed in the order handed down today by the Texas Supreme Court, I will continue to do all that I can to fight for the health, safety and welfare of the citizens of Bexar County. We are continuing to work with the City of San Antonio to determine the next steps in light of the order issued today.”

While several San Antonio area school districts have enacted mask requirements or have not yet reversed their policy of doing so, North East Independent School District said roughly 10 days ago that “face coverings for NEISD students and staff is optional.”

However, the district “strongly encourages everyone to wear a mask inside all district facilities in order to help prevent the spread of COVID-19,” it says.

To date, roughly 70 Texas school districts have implemented mask mandates in violation of Abbott's order, the Texas Attorney General's Office reports. Following the court’s ruling Thursday, the state can impose financial penalties on local government officials who defy the governor’s order.

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