Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said Tuesday that he is suing to enforce Gov. Greg Abbott's ban on mask mandates after a Dallas County judge removed an elected Republican commissioner from a commissioner's court meeting because he was not wearing a mask.
On Monday, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins asked a district court to declare Abbott's ban on mask mandates unconstitutional, insisting that the governor overstepped by signing an executive order in May that prohibits government entities, including schools, from implementing mask mandates.
Jenkins, who is the presiding officer of the commissioners court and has responsibilities of a county administrator and not a courtroom judge, wants to require face masks in commissioners' court. Last week, he had Dallas County Commissioner J.J. Koch escorted out of a commissioners' meeting because he refused to wear a mask. Koch, who is vaccinated against COVID-19, is now suing him.
During an interview on BlazeTV host Glenn Beck's radio program, Paxton said the state of Texas is also suing to have Abbott's ban on mask mandates enforced and Jenkins' actions declared illegal.
Paxton said what Jenkins did was "in complete violation of state law." He told Beck that litigation is already under way and that "we're going to try to stop what we consider illegal by this county judge."
"Here's the deal, Glenn. These guys are supposed to act under law. And if he doesn't like the current law, he needs to like lobby the legislature to change it. Not decide for himself," Paxton said.
The attorney general predicted victory, defending Abbott's order as lawful.
"If the law matters, he has no chance. We've won these battles before. This is déjà vu all over again for us. So we're very confident we're going to win. I think he's doing it for media coverage," he said.
Jenkins' court filing argues that a temporary injunction against Abbott's mask mandate ban is needed "because there is immediate and irreparable harm that will befall Dallas County — and others outside Dallas County — if they cannot require the public health-advancing mitigation measure of mandatory face coverings in public."
He claims that Abbott is threatening people's lives by preventing him from requiring masks in county commissioners meetings. Jenkins also insists that the state's Disaster Act, which gives county judges the authority to declare local disasters and to seek to mitigate the disaster, precludes the governor from limiting the actions a county judge like Jenkins determines is necessary to do so.
During the pandemic, with COVID-19 cases rising in Texas, Jenkins argues government entities and schools must be allowed to implement mask mandates or else "many people will unnecessarily get seriously ill or die."
But Paxton said Jenkins does not have the legal authority to violate the governor's order.
"I think [Barack] Obama set this up, when he was president. He ignored federal law. Didn't work through Congress. Made up his own executive order, had agencies make up the law, and just thumbed his nose at laws," Paxton said.
"I think he set sort of the mindset for a lot of Democrats. Particularly, Democratic elected officials. 'I don't have to follow the law either. If President Obama doesn't do it, I might adopt the same approach.' So that's kind of the same approach you're seeing by mayors, by county judges, by elected officials all over the country. Who just say, look, why should I follow that? Sue me. They have no political risk."