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Gov. Greg Abbott and local officials are fighting several legal battles over mask mandates. Here’s what you need to know.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is locked in several pitched legal battles with cities, counties and school districts over their bids to require masks in public schools.
In a May executive order, Abbott banned local governments from requiring people to wear masks.
But as the highly contagious delta variant of COVID-19 spread across Texas and the state's vaccination rate stagnated, several public school and local government officials grew uneasy with Abbott's order — particularly as schoolchildren too young to get vaccinated returned to classrooms.
Some local officials defied Abbott and issued mask mandates for schools anyway. Others sued the state over Abbott's order. As dozens of ensuing legal battles continue playing out, Texas parents have found themselves caught in confusion about whether their children have to mask up at school.
Which local governments are suing the state?
Sept. 20, 2021 at 9:36 a.m.
When it became clear Abbott wasn't going to reverse his ban on mask mandates, a slew of school districts, cities and counties sued Abbott to enact their own mandates. Others simply ignored Abbott's order and put mask-wearing rules in place anyway.
Here is a non-comprehensive list of the many entities that have sued Abbott:
- Aldine Independent School District
- Austin Community College
- Austin Independent School District
- Ben Bolt-Palito Blanco Independent School District
- Bexar County
- Brownsville Independent School District
- City of El Paso
- City of San Antonio
- Crowley Independent School District
- Dallas College
- Dallas County
- Dallas Independent School District
- DeSoto Independent School District
- Edcouch-Elsa Independent School District
- Edinburg Consolidated Independent School District
- El Paso Independent School District
- Fort Bend County
- Fort Bend Independent School District
- Fort Worth Independent School District
- Harris County
- Hidalgo Independent School District
- Houston Independent School District
- La Joya Independent School District
- Lancaster Independent School District
- Lasara Independent School District
- Northside Independent School District
- Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District
- Spring Independent School District
- Travis County
Which school districts are being sued by the state?
Sept. 20, 2021 at 9:35 a.m.
After Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton threatened for weeks to sue those defying Abbott's order, they made good on their promise in September. Paxton has sued a number of school districts for allegedly flouting Abbott's ban:
- Diboll Independent School District
- Elgin Independent School District
- Galveston Independent School District
- Honey Grove Independent School District
- La Vega Independent School District
- Longview Independent School District
- Lufkin Independent School District
- McGregor Independent School District
- Midway Independent School District
- Paris Independent School District
- Richardson Independent School District
- Round Rock Independent School District
- Sherman Independent School District
- Spring Independent School District
- Waco Independent School District
Which side is winning in court?
Sept. 20, 2021 at 9:33 a.m.
That depends on the lawsuit and the court.
Often, local officials find favor with lower court judges who block Abbott's order and allow locals to enact mask mandates — though some of those judges have sided against mask mandates. The state Supreme Court has temporarily overturned some of those mandates — only for a lower court judge to reinstate them and start the legal churn all over again.
That legal back-and-forth has led to a confusing patchwork of mask mandates across the state.
How do I know what the rules are in my school district?
Sept. 20, 2021 at 9:35 a.m.
Because each Texas school district makes its own rules — and decides whether to abide by Abbott's ban or flout it — there is no one statewide policy in place. Plus, the ongoing legal battles have spurred orders from courts at all levels that quickly change what rules are in place. The best way to know your local rules are to check with your school district.
Not all districts being sued have mask mandates
Sept. 20, 2021 at 9:34 a.m.
Midway Independent School District near Waco doesn't require students, teachers, school staff or visitors to wear masks while on school premises. Nonetheless, the district wound up on a list compiled by the attorney general's office of school districts and counties that have made mask-wearing compulsory — and in court with Paxton.
Another Waco-area district, McGregor Independent School District, opted not to enforce a mask-wearing requirement that kicks in when virus transmission became too severe — a decision made at Paxton's request, Superintendent James Lenamon said. Nonetheless, Paxton sued.
What are the main arguments both sides are making?
Sept. 20, 2021 at 9:34 a.m.
In court documents, Abbott and Paxton have argued state law makes the governor the "commander-in-chief" of the state's disaster response — which they say gives Abbott the authority to overrule cities, counties and public schools that try to enact mask mandates.
Yet Abbott and Paxton also have argued that neither one of them has the authority to enforce Abbott's ban — a power that lies with district attorneys.
Local officials counter that state law does not give Abbott absolute authority during disasters. Cities, counties and schools have argued that Abbott's disaster powers don't give him the authority to prevent localities from enacting measures intended to ameliorate the crisis — like mask mandates.
A separate lawsuit argues Abbott's ban violates federal protections for students with disabilities
Sept. 20, 2021 at 9:33 a.m.
Separately, a group of 14 children with disabilities has sued Abbott in federal court arguing that his order is discriminatory because it prevents them from returning to a safe school environment — in violation of federal protections for students with disabilities. That case hasn't yet gone to trial.
Why is Abbott opposed to local mask mandates?
Sept. 20, 2021 at 9:28 a.m.
In July, Abbott argued "that the path forward relies on personal responsibility rather than government mandates." But he and Paxton are also under considerable political pressure from their right flank to bring the hammer down on local officials who enact measures like mask mandates — which are highly unpopular among hard-right conservatives. Both men have drawn primary challengers from their right in their 2022 reelection bids.
Abbott even called on Texas lawmakers to send him a bill to stop school officials from requiring mask-wearing. But they didn't.
On top of that, the Texas Education Agency isn't enforcing Abbott's ban — which so far has been enough to convince the Biden administration not to go after Texas for blocking school district mask mandates as it has in other states.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hung onto power on Monday as his main rival conceded defeat, but his Liberals fell short of his goal for a majority win.
Trudeau, in power since 2015 and governing with a minority of House of Commons seats since 2019, decided to gamble on an early vote and capitalize on his government's handling of the pandemic, which included massive spending to support individuals and businesses and a push for high vaccination rates.
Instead, he will end up where he started after an unexpectedly tight election race characterized by a lackluster campaign and voter anger at an election during a pandemic.
"You (Canadians) are sending us back to work with a clear mandate to get through this pandemic into brighter days ahead," Trudeau said, flanked by his wife Sophie Gregoire and their children on stage at a victory gala in the early hours of Tuesday. "That's exactly what we are ready to do," he said.
Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole, whose party placed second, conceded defeat as results trickled in late into the night.
CBC and CTV projected that Trudeau's Liberal government would hold a minority of seats in the House of Commons, meaning he will need another party's support to govern.
Elections Canada showed the Liberals leading in 156 electoral districts nationally, one more than they held before the election, including 111 in vote-rich Ontario and Quebec.
"It's a Groundhog Day election," said Gerald Baier, a professor of political science at University of British Columbia. "It seems that ambivalence has stayed (from the 2019 election)."
The House of Commons holds 338 seats and a party needs to win 170 to hold a majority. The Conservatives led in 121 districts.
The Conservatives looked on track to win the popular vote, attracting 34 percent support to the Liberals' 32 percent, but Liberal support is centred around urban areas where there are more seats.
"Our support has grown, it's grown across the country, but clearly there is more work for us to do to earn the trust of Canadians," O'Toole told supporters, while suggesting that he planned to stay on as leader. "My family and I are resolutely committed to continuing this journey for Canada."
Polls reported results much more slowly than usual, with some stations forced to limit occupancy due to Covid-19 restrictions. Long lines forced some electors to wait hours to vote in southern Ontario, a critical battleground.
The Canadian dollar strengthened against its US counterpart in Asian trading on Tuesday, in part as a projected election win for Trudeau's Liberal party reassured investors that economic support would continue.
Trudeau, 49, a charismatic progressive and son of former Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, swept to power in 2015. But the Liberals dropped to a minority in 2019 after Trudeau was damaged in part by disclosures that he had worn blackface years ago.
Amid a fourth wave of Covid-19, Trudeau backed vaccine mandates while O'Toole, 48, opposed them, preferring a combination of voluntary vaccinations and rapid testing to stop the spread of the virus.
Trudeau had said he needed a new mandate to ensure Canadians approve of his plan for getting the country past the coronavirus pandemic. The Liberals, whose fiscal policy support for the pandemic exceed 23 percent of GDP, plan billions in new spending to support economic recovery if re-elected. Cambridge Global Payments Chief Strategist Karl Schamotta said the election result "essentially preserves the status quo and ensures that the fiscal spending plans that have supported the economy for the last year and half are likely to continue."
A delay in counting mail-in votes could further hold up results in tight races.
Elections Canada will not start counting roughly 800,000 mail-in ballots until Tuesday, after it is able to verify them against in-person votes. Those could help to determine the outcome in at least two Atlantic districts and many more across Canada.
A second minority government will mean Trudeau's Liberals will have to rely again on opposition parties, such as the left-leaning New Democratic Party, to pass legislation.
"A win's a win, and time in office and power is when you get to make change," said John Duffy, a former Liberal adviser.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AFP)
Abortion rights advocates geared up for a major fight as the U.S. Supreme Court announced Monday it will soon hear arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, a case in Mississippi which poses a direct challenge to Roe vs. Wade.
The high court confirmed it will consider the case December 1 after months of speculation regarding when it would take up the dispute over Mississippi's ban on most abortion care after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
The question before the court, as the Center for Reproductive Rights explains, is "whether all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortion are unconstitutional." In the landmark 1973 Roe decision, the Supreme Court affirmed the right to abortion care before fetal viability, usually around 24 weeks.
"The fate of Roe v. Wade and legal abortion is on the line," tweeted Rewire News Group, which reports on reproductive rights.
Mississippi's restriction makes no exception for pregnancies that result from rape or incest, only allowing abortion care "in medical emergencies or for severe fetal abnormality." Providers who administer abortions in violation of the law could have their medical licenses revoked and face fines.
The court will hear the case three months after it refused to intervene in Texas, allowing that state's six-week abortion ban to take effect at the beginning of September. The Texas law allows private citizens to take legal action against anyone who helps a person to obtain abortion care after that point, with plaintiffs who prevail in court entitled to $10,000 and recovery of their legal fees. Republican governors in several other states have said since the Texas law was permitted to go into effect that they plan to seek similar legislation.
The Texas case has led reproductive rights advocates to warn that the Supreme Court cannot be counted on to protect Roe.
NARAL Pro-Choice America noted that the Mississippi case will be the first abortion case the court hears since Justice Amy Coney Barrett—one of three anti-choice judges appointed by former President Donald Trump—joined the court, resulting in a 6-3 right-wing majority.
The court's announcement on Monday followed the filing of an amicus brief in the Mississippi case by nearly 900 state legislators who support reproductive rights and justice.
"Since so many state legislators have been leading the assault on reproductive rights, it only makes sense that state legislators be the first to defend them," Arizona Democratic Rep. Athena Salman said in a statement. "By adding my name to this amicus brief, I join hundreds of powerful, strong reproductive freedom champions standing up for the rights of all."
The National Women's Law Center (NWLC). was among 72 organizations that filed a separate amicus brief following the Supreme Court's announcement.
"In our brief, we explain that the devastating impact of allowing a pre-viability abortion ban to stand—or overturning the right to abortion explicitly—denies the liberty and equality of women and all people who can become pregnant," NWLC said.
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