The Texas Attorney General’s Office has fired a shot at the City of San Antonio and Bexar County. On May 12, the office issued a letter over what it claims is an unconstitutional overreach in issuing stay-at-home orders that are more strict than Governor Greg Abbott’s policies.
In a release, Attorney General Ken Paxton says social distancing orders from San Antonio and Bexar County — along with those from Austin, Travis County, and Dallas County — “have grossly exceeded state law to impose their own will on private citizens and businesses.”
The New York Times notes that when Abbott “ended his stay-at-home order and set the stage for the state’s partial reopening this month, he angered many local officials by contending that his reopening policies supersede any conflicting orders issued by cities or counties.”
The May 12 letter, penned by Deputy Attorney General Ryan Vassar, was addressed to San Antonio and Bexar County leaders, and also takes aim at how their orders clamp down on in-person religious services, nonessential and essential business, masks, and shelter-in place orders.
Of religious services, Vassar also writes that their orders’ attempts to restrict “essential” in-person religious services “unlawfully trample religious freedom.”
Pertaining to masks, Vassar maintained that the city and county can’t impose civil or criminal penalties for failing to wear a mask in public. The San Antonio and Bexar County orders mandate that anyone over age 10 wear some type of mask outside their homes. The state’s order encourages, but does not require, wearing masks in public.
“Although your orders ‘require’ individuals to wear masks when they leave their home, they are free to choose whether to wear one or not,” Vassar wrote.
Vassar urged all of the letter recipients to “fix” their stay-at-home orders, alleging they’re unlawful and insisting they could prompt legal challenges. The orders lack clarity about the difference between a mandate and a recommendation, Vassar said.
“Your orders and your public statements are confusing and misleading,” Vassar wrote. “A recommendation, by definition, is not a requirement. Yet your orders seem to confuse the two.”
At a May 12 news conference, San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff accused Paxton’s office of carrying out a political stunt.
“The fact is, our orders have been in compliance with the governor from day one,” Nirenberg said. “It doesn’t stop the AG from seeking a cheap political headline.”