DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) - It's a legal showdown between Gov. Greg Abbott and Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins that could have implications across Texas.
The 5th Court of Appeals in Dallas is considering whether the governor's executive order banning local governments from setting mask mandates supersedes the mask mandate by Jenkins for all businesses, public schools and day care centers in Dallas County.
SMU law professor Nathan Cortez said, "There's a lot of confusion. People understandably, have whiplash, it's like watching a tennis ball, go back and forth, if you're sitting at the net. So yes, we need clarity."
Cortez said judges will have to decide the extent of the governor's powers during a disaster that are spelled out in the Texas Disaster Act, a nearly 50-year-old statute. "Does it allow the governor to prohibit localities from responding in certain ways? Or does it only contemplate kind of affirmative steps you can take to recover, mitigate respond prepare for disasters?"
After Jenkins filed a legal challenge to the governor's ban on mask mandates, a district judge issued a temporary restraining order against Abbott's executive order.
Other school districts and counties across the state have followed with their own mask mandates.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton petitioned the 5th Court of Appeals in Dallas, saying the governor has sole authority during a disaster.
Cortez said, "People are going to be watching this closely to decide who's in charge, how much how much freedom do our local officials have to respond to local conditions."
Cortez said he believes a definitive answer will have to come from the courts and not an updated statute from the Texas legislature. "With something this contentious. It's hard to envision that there's going to be a ton of clarity provided by the legislature, because it's such a zero-sum contest."
He said he expects the case will ultimately be fast-tracked to the Texas Supreme Court.
Full Interview With SMU Law Professor Nathan Cortez
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