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Texas Supreme Court sides with anti-mask effort, despite crisis

Gov. Greg Abbott and state Attorney General Ken Paxton are fighting against policies designed to address the pandemic. At least for now, they're winning.

Backed by a lower court ruling, Dallas County's Clay Jenkins (D) announced last week that all local public schools, child-care centers, and businesses must require masks to help stem the tide of COVID-19 infections, which are rising rapidly statewide. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) and state Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) took immediate action -- not against the pandemic, but against the policy designed to address the pandemic.

At least for now, they're winning the legal fight. NBC News reported overnight:

The Texas Supreme Court on Sunday blocked mask mandates imposed by two of the state's most populous counties, which defied Gov. Greg Abbott's order banning the requirements.... The state attorney general's office said in a statement Sunday that the orders, which are temporary pending a court hearing, should "serve as a reminder" to all school districts and local officials that the governor's order "stands."

The statement added, "Local mask mandates are illegal."

Broadly speaking, I think there are four questions to keep in mind as the process continues. The first, of course, is why in the world Abbott and Paxton are fighting so aggressively against mask requirements in a state that's seen COVID hospitalizations climb 400% in the last month.

The second question is how much resistance the Abbott administration will continue to face from local communities. In Dallas, for example, officials said the preliminary ruling from the Texas Supreme Court didn't explicitly reference the school district, so they're moving forward with mask requirements for students. Officials in other communities -- including Bexar County, home to San Antonio -- apparently plan to do the same thing.

The third question is what the state Supreme Court will ultimately do about the issue, though the answer seems relatively clear. Jon Taylor, a political science professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio, told the Texas Tribune, "The [state] Supreme Court in general, particularly with a Supreme Court that is 9-0 Republican at the moment, I think it was going to be difficult to see them going against the governor for something that is viewed as his legal right to do at this point."

All of which leads to the fourth question: if Texas justices side with Abbott and Paxton, how much worse will the state's COVID crisis get?