Monday began with Dallas ISD announcing that it would tailor its response to the COVID surge and require masks temporarily and ended with Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins announcing that he was asking the courts to block Gov. Greg Abbott’s mask mandate ban.
Jenkins’ request comes in his counterclaim to a lawsuit between the county judge (a Democrat) and Dallas County Commissioner J.J. Koch (a Republican). Koch filed a suit after Jenkins had him removed from a recent commissioner’s court meeting for refusing to wear a mask.
In the counterclaim, Jenkins names Abbott as a counter-defendant and asks that the judge stop enforcement of the governor’s executive orders, specifically the parts that prohibit local governments from responding with mask mandates.
“Counter-plaintiff Judge Jenkins applies to this Court for injunctive relief-both through a temporary restraining order and through a temporary injunction-to maintain the status quo in which his authority within the County allowed him, without question, to protect its citizens,” the counterclaim reads. “Judge Jenkins requests that the Court restrain Governor Abbott and his agents from acting to enforce sections of GA-38 that seek to ban on face-covering mandates.”
Jenkins also asserts that the Texas Disaster Act, passed in 1975, gives county judges “the authority to declare local disasters and seek to mitigate the disaster.
“When a local disaster has been declared, the statute does not provide the governor with any authority to control the management of a declared local disaster, however the Legislature clearly contemplated that the governor has some role,” the counterclaim explained. “The Legislature specifically provided that during a declared local disaster, if a declaration by a county judge during a drought includes a restriction on the sale or use of fireworks, such a restriction is limited in time unless the governor extends the time. The Legislature provided no further delegation of authority to the governor with regards to responding to a local disaster.”
And while the act does give the Governor authority to act at a state level, the claim said, it does not give him or her the authority to limit a county judge’s actions.
Jenkins said in a statement about the filing that he would “do all I can to protect the public health and the people of Dallas County.“
The enemy is not each other,” he said. “The enemy is the virus and we must all do all that we can to protect public health. School districts and government closest to the people should make decisions on how best to keep students and others safe.
“This is about ensuring there’s adequate medical resources and, hospital bed capacity to take care of people with COVID and any other condition that requires medical care or hospitalization,” Jenkins added. “Ultimately, it is about saving lives and saving and protecting children.”
This is so far the second suit seeking to stop Abbott’s ban on mask mandates. Over the weekend, the nonprofit Southern Center for Child Advocacy filed a lawsuit in Travis County against Abbott and the executive order.
A spokesperson with the group told the Texas Tribune that it sought to give the power to enforce mask wearing back to school districts.