"Surgical Face Mask" by NurseTogether is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

On Sunday night, hours away from the beginning of the school year, the Texas Supreme Court jumped in to make it harder for schools to protect their staffs, students, and communities.

GOP Governor Greg Abbott is at war with local officials in his state. In May, Abbott issued one of the dumbest executive orders in American history, banning local governments from mandating masks. Officials in some of Texas's biggest cities gave Abbott the finger and enacted new mask mandates. Lower court judges sided with the counties, issuing, essentially, "Fuck Greg Abbott" orders.

But one should never doubt the malevolence of elected Republican officials, which is what all nine justices on the Texas Supreme Court are. And so, late on Sunday, the court issued a stay of a lower court's order allowing Dallas and Bexar counties' mask mandates. That puts them on hold temporarily, while we wait for the court to come back with its ruling, and is a bad sign for the future of mask mandates in the Lone Star State.

But school districts in Dallas, Austin, and San Antonio have made it clear they are keeping their school mask mandates in place, Greg Abbott be damned.

The government itself practicing civil disobedience to protect its citizens. Does it get any better than that?

(Well, yes. Yes, it does. Not being in the midst of a deadly pandemic with politicians who are doing everything to kill their constituents would be better. But this is still pretty cool.)


Here's what happened

Last spring, just to make it totally clear he's on the side of the virus, Texas Governor Greg Abbott decided, in his infinite wisdom, to ban local governments from issuing mask mandates. It was dumb at the time and it's even dumber now, when school is starting and the Delta variant is running rampant.

Around the state, though, various local governments have told Abbott to take his EO and shove it. Several counties, cities, and school districts in some of Texas's biggest metro areas started requiring masks in public places and public schools.

Abbott and indicted Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton have been gleefully fighting the local governments' attempts to protect their citizens. A whole bunch of mask-related lawsuits have been filed all around the state, pitting state and local officials against each other. One side wants to protect people, while the other would ... hell, we don't know what they'd prefer.

The elected Republican stooges justices on the Texas Supreme Court have been clear for a while now that they are effectively #TeamCOVID, for instance actively making it harder for people to get absentee ballots during the 2020 election. On Sunday, the court continued the trend, granting stays of lower court rulings that had allowed Bexar and Dallas counties' mask mandates to go into effect.

The ruling is temporary, until the state Supreme Court makes its final ruling, but it doesn't say good things for the future of public health in the state. Appellate courts don't tend to stop orders they agree with from going into effect. And of course, being elected Republicans, we can't expect the justices of the Texas Supreme Court to like things that help people.

"I'm obviously very disappointed in it. It's not surprising because they're all Republicans and they've got to run in the Republican primary," said Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff. "But that doesn't mean we're not going to keep up the battle to protect the school children of Texas."

In the wake of the state Supreme Court's order, some school districts insisted their mask mandates remained in place, while others voluntarily folded. As for Dallas Independent School District Superintendent Michael Hinojosa, he believes his school district's order doesn't violate the Supreme Court order, which was directed towards the counties, not the school districts. According to Hinojosa, "The order that was issued by the Supreme Court was issued to Dallas County and it's listed as Clay Jenkins and the county. It did not say one word about DISD in that order."

And unless the school district itself is taken to court, Hinojosa has no plans to fold.

"Until there's an official order of the court that applies to the Dallas Independent School District, we will continue to have the mask mandate," Mr. Hinojosa said.

He added, "we will comply when the court order applies to us."

San Antonio City Attorney Andy Segovia also made it clear the mask mandate for kindergarten through 12th-grade students in Bexar County "remains in effect" and that he thinks it's Abbott who is acting illegally, saying,

"The City of San Antonio and Bexar County's response to the Texas Supreme Court continues to emphasize that the Governor cannot use his emergency powers to suspend laws that provide local entities the needed flexibility to act in an emergency," said City Attorney Andy Segovia. "His suspension authority is meant to facilitate action, not prohibit it."

Other school districts, like Northeast ISD in San Antonio and Fort Bend ISD, and Eanes ISD in Travis County, nixed their plans to require masks in school after the Texas Supreme Court's ruling. Masks in Fort Worth are optional after another judge sided with parents suing over the mask mandate.

Needless to say, basically everything related to masks in Texas remains a complete and utter shitshow. Less than 24 hours after the Texas Supreme Court's orders, District Judge Antonia Arteaga reinstated Bexar County's school mask mandate. At the hearing, Judge Arteaga noted the absurdity of the proceedings, saying,

"I just wanted to apologize to all those parents, school administrators, the superheroes that we call teachers, for what someone called the equivalent to a legal tug of war, unfortunately where our children are right in the middle."

Where this clusterfuck goes from here is anybody's guess and various lawsuits remain pending at all levels of the state's judiciary. But with a juvenile Republican high court and absolute loons in the governor's and attorney general's offices, things aren't looking great for Texas.

Meanwhile, the Delta variant continues to ravage the state. COVID-19 hospitalizations have increased more than 300 percent in the last month. The state has requested mortuary trailers from the federal government.

But gods forbid we try to stop schools from becoming COVID breeding grounds.

At least the latest uptick in COVID-related hospitalizations and deaths has finally motivated some people to get vaccinated?

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Jamie Lynn Crofts
Jamie Lynn Crofts is sick of your bullshit. When she’s not wrangling cats, she’s probably writing about nerdy legal stuff, rocking out at karaoke, or tweeting about god knows what. Jamie would kindly like to remind everyone that it’s perfectly legal to tell Bob Murray to eat shit.
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