Why is the Governor of Texas being sued by Harris County? A debrief with county attorney Christian Menefee
HARRIS COUNTY, Texas - Harris County has filed a lawsuit challenging Texas Governor Greg Abbott's authority to ban cities and counties from issuing mandates related to face masks, COVID-19 vaccines, or other pandemic-related safety measures.
Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee says the goal of the suit goes beyond getting permission to require citizens wear masks; he argues the Governor has overstepping his authority this past year as he stripped local municipalities of nearly all authority to implement pandemic lockdowns or public health restrictions.
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"This is going to be an incredibly important case," says Menefee. "It's going to decide the authority of the Governor of the State of Texas."
Under current executive orders from Governor Abbott, aspects of the Disaster Act laws have been suspended.
"If the governor is able to suspend laws, and prohibit local officials from keeping people safe under a law that's designed to help keep people safe, then the system is not working the way that it should. We've operated in this system long enough, where the governor has been able to unilaterally do these things, all across the state, and I think it's time for the courts to weigh in."
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Several other major Texas counties have filed similar lawsuits in recent days. Menefee says they are largely asking the same legal question, and says the time was too vital in light of the rate of COVID-19 spread. "There's not as much time for coordination across this huge state to go and file one massive lawsuit," says Menefee.
As for the Governor's argument that he's protecting the individual rights of Texans, Menefee says "he's only allowed to do what the Constitution and the Disaster Act allow him to do in emergencies. If he's exceeding his authority under the law then those acts are illegal and he's not allowed to do it. We're going to let the courts decide who's properly exercising their authority."
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According to Menefee, this lawsuit goes beyond seeking permission for a local mask mandate.
"It is the primary job of the legislature to make laws. If the legislature intended to give the governor the ability to unilaterally suspend large swaths of laws, then we have a real problem on our hands," he explains.
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When asked whether he'd be surprised if the courts favor the Governor, Menefee says no. "Our worst case scenario is the status quo. I think it's incumbent upon us to put this in the hands of the court and let the results lie where they may."