Judge Allows Austin Mask Mandate to Remain in Place Amid Texas AG Suit
A mask mandate in the city of Austin and Travis County will remain in place for at least two weeks after a judge on Friday delayed action on Texas attorney general Ken Paxton’s request to immediately end it.
The ruling by Judge Lora Livingston allows the mandate to remain in place as restrictions are lifted in the rest of the state, according to KXAN.
“People have been wearing masks for a year. I don’t know that two more weeks is going to matter one way or the other,” Livingston said during a Friday hearing, according to the Austin-American Statesman.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler celebrated the ruling in a tweet: “Good news! We learned this morning that Austin’s mask rules will remain in effect for the next two weeks. We return to court March 26.”
“No matter what happens then, we will continue to be guided by doctors and data. Masking works,” the tweet adds.
Travis County Judge Andy Brown thanked county attorney Delia Garcia and her team for “fighting to keep our community safe.”
The ruling comes in response to a suit filed against Adler, Brown and the city’s interim Medical Director and Health Authority Mark Escott on Thursday as Travis County continues to require masks be worn inside businesses even after statewide restrictions were lifted on Wednesday.
The attorney general on Wednesday said he would sue Adler if the city did not remove its mandate after Texas governor Greg Abbott announced earlier this month that he was ending the statewide mask mandate beginning March 10. The governor’s order allows only county judges to reissue restrictions if cases in their jurisdictions rise for one week.
“I told Travis County and the City of Austin to comply with state mask law. They blew me off,” Paxton tweeted Thursday. “So, once again, I’m dragging them to court. [Austin Mayor Steve] Adler will never do the right thing on his own. His obstruction won’t stop me from keeping Texas free and open.”
Paxton’s attorneys write in the lawsuit that the case “raises a pressing question: who is ultimately responsible for responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and other emergencies?”
“The Texas Disaster Act charges the Governor—not an assortment of thousands of county judges, city mayors, and local health officials—with leading the State’s response to a statewide emergency,” the attorneys argue.
However, Brown and Adler have said that local public-health officials have the authority to create local orders to protect their community from pandemics, which they argue is different from using emergency powers.
Brown said if the judge ultimately sides with Paxton, it will have “huge ramifications” on local government.