Texas attorney general threatens to sue Austin, Travis County leaders over continued masking order

Attorney General Ken Paxton said the city and county are in violation of an executive order by the governor. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Attorney General Ken Paxton said the city and county are in violation of an executive order by the governor. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)

Attorney General Ken Paxton said the city and county are in violation of an executive order by the governor. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)

Update: March 11, 10:00 a.m.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler said he and Travis County Judge Andy Brown will continue to enforce local mask requirements after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton threatened to sue Austin-Travis County for violating a March executive order lifting mask mandates statewide.

"Judge Brown and I will continue to do everything within our power, continuing existing health authority orders and using every tool available to us to reduce the spread of the virus, to keep as many people as alive as possible, to safely open up schools to more in-person learning and safely more businesses. We will fight Governor Abbott and Attorney General Paxton’s assault against doctors and data for as long as we possibly can," Adler said in a March 10 statement. "Masks work! The governor and attorney general are simply wrong."

Originial post: March 10, 3:24 p.m.

A day after Austin and Travis County leaders announced their intention to continue enforcement of a local mask mandate, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton warned he would pursue legal action if the local orders were not lifted.

"You and local health authorities have until 6:00 today to rescind any mask mandates or business-operating restrictions and come into full compliance with [Executive Order] GA-34. Otherwise, on behalf of the State of Texas, I will sue you," Paxton said in a tweet March 10, tagging Travis County Judge Andy Brown and Mayor Steve Adler in the post.

Gov. Greg Abbott announced March 2 that the statewide mask mandate and all coronavirus-related business restrictions would be lifted March 10. Abbott said his order supersedes any local orders to the contrary.

Adler and Brown, however, said March 9 that they would continue to enforce masking requirements through the jurisdiction of Dr. Mark Escott, Austin-Travis County interim health authority. The city of Austin will require masking outside the home, and the city and county both will require businesses to enforce masking on their premises. Individuals who refuse to wear face coverings at businesses that require masks may be charged with trespassing, Escott said.

“Wearing a face covering is one of the easiest ways to slow the transmission of disease in our community,” Escott said in a March 9 news release. “While vaccine administration is underway, we are still not in a place of herd immunity and need people to wear face coverings in public and around non-household members so we can avoid another surge of cases.”

In January, orders from the mayor's and judge's desks regarding a curfew for bars and restaurants were struck down by the Texas Supreme Court in response to similar complaints by Paxton. However, Adler said Escott's rules should still have "the force of law."

"We have already taken you to court under similar circumstances. You lost. If you continue to flout the law in this manner, we'll take you to court again and you will lose again," Paxton said in letter to Adler and Brown. Escott was copied on the note.

Earlier in the day, Paxton foreshadowed his threat of legal action, saying his office was "looking at every avenue available" to stop Adler and Brown's attempt to "buck state law."

This is a developing story. The post will be updated as events unfold.
By Olivia Aldridge

Multi-Platform Journalist

Olivia hosts and produces Community Impact Newspaper's podcasts, The Austin Breakdown, The Houston Breakdown and The DFW Breakdown. She launched the podcasts after nearly three years as a reporter for the newspaper, covering public health, business, development and Travis County government for the Central Austin edition. Olivia worked as a reporter and producer for South Carolina Public Radio before moving to Texas.