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Lawsuits & Litigation

Texas Republicans Sue Gov. Abbott Over Masks Mandate

— July 5, 2020

The attorney who filed the lawsuit suggests that, if Gov. Abbott’s executive order isn’t challenged, the state could require residents to wear gloves and hazmat suits in public, too.

Conservative activists have filed a lawsuit against Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who recently mandated that residents of the Lone Star State wear masks in public.

According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the complaint was lodged in Travis County District Court on Friday. It was filed by Houston-area attorney Jared Woodfill, former chairman of the Harris County Republican Party, on behalf of an assortment of other conservative activists and organizers. Woodfill is representing Houston GOP activist Steven Hotze, former Republican state Rep. Rick Green, and Cathie Adams, who served as the Republican Party of Texas’s chairwoman between 2009 and 2010.

Also included are two Houston-area business owners.

Altogether, says the Star-Telegram, the plaintiffs claim that Gov. Abbott’s executive order is unnecessary and unconstitutional. The lawsuit makes use of rather petty exaggeration to make its case, suggesting that having to wear a cloth mask in public poses a fundamental hazard to Texans’ civil liberties.

“Today a mask, tomorrow a hazmat suit—where does it stop?” the lawsuit asks. “Everyday [sic] GA-29 is in effect, the government tramples on the liberties of Texans.”

The Star-Telegram notes that Gov. Abbott’s order went into effect Friday, in response to a rapid resurgence in coronavirus cases in Texas.

“Every time Governor Abbott issues what we believe are unconstitutional mandates or orders, as he describes them, we believe it’s appropriate to challenge them,” Woodfill told Texas ABC13. “If we can put a mask order, then why can’t we force people to also wear gloves? Why can’t we force them to wear hazmat suits? Where does it end? Where does the government’s role end?”

Woodfill further told ABC13 that he would prefer that Abbott reconvene the Texas Legislature, so that lawmakers can vote on whichever course of action they believe most appropriate for the state.

But Texas, among the first states to begin re-opening businesses and entertainment venues, is also among the first states to see infection rates rebound. Last week, Gov. Abbott ordered bars closed and reduced restaurants’ seating capacities.

“We are now at a point where the virus is spreading so fast, there is little margin for error,” Abbott said on Thursday. “If we want to avoid lockdowns, if we want to protect those we care about, we need all Texans to join this effort.”

While numerous recent studies have shown that mask usage significantly prevents the chances that a coronavirus-infected individual may pass the illness to others, many Republican activists claim the science is “uncertain.” The lawsuit, for instance, cites “changing guidance on wearing masks,” and also alleges that wearing a mask for extended periods of time can reduce oxygen intake.

Unfortunately, it is quite likely that the United States’ sluggish, patchwork response to novel coronavirus has also contributed to the virus’s resurgence. President Donald Trump never issued definitive instructions to governors, permitting them to combat the disease however they saw fit.

The result stands in contrast to many other parts of the world. The European Union—at the center of the pandemic through much of April and May—has seen infection rates plummet, to the point that many E.U. countries have begun opening their borders to one another. Similarly, several nations in Asia—such as South Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand—have all but eliminated community transmission of coronavirus.

ABC13 notes that Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, who herself was recently exposed to coronavirus, said that Gov. Abbott’s face mask mandate is probably the right choice for the public health. Hidalgo was especially appreciative of the order’s promise of fines for offenders.

“I welcome to the ability to make face coverings enforceable in Harris County,” Hidalgo wrote. “Every tool that our country is allowed to use to contain this crisis saves lives and gets us closer to a day in which we can sustainably coexist with the virus.”


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