Texas governor's unmasking order doesn't apply to judiciary, state high court says

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Texas Governor Greg Abbott speaks in Dallas, Texas, U.S., May 4, 2018. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson/File Photo

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(Reuters) - Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's executive order this week forbidding local and state officials from setting mask mandates does not apply to the judiciary, a spokesman for the Supreme Court of Texas said Thursday.

There is no conflict between Abbott's order, which sets a $1,000 fine for state government officials or entities that impose face-covering mandates to combat COVID-19, and the Texas high court's March 5 order giving local judges discretion over how to run their courtrooms, said staff attorney and spokesman Osler McCarthy.

Representatives for the governor's office did not respond to requests for comment on McCarthy's statement. The governor's May 18 executive order did not explicitly carve out the state's courts, but it said it does not apply to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, the Texas Juvenile Justice Department or county and municipal jails.

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"Texans, not government, should decide their best health practices, which is why masks will not be mandated by public school districts or government entities," Abbott said in a statement. "We can continue to mitigate COVID-19 while defending Texans' liberty to choose whether or not they mask up."

Some in the Texas judiciary were originally unsure how the order might affect their operations. Wichita County Judge Woody Gossom told KAUZ Newschannel 6 Wednesday that he had asked a local court official whether signs requiring masks should be torn down, saying the county would comply if needed to avoid a fine. "I think in the courtroom where you’ve got more confined space that’s a little concerning," Gossom told the station.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) last week said fully vaccinated people do not need to wear masks outdoors and can avoid wearing them indoors in most places.

However, Abbott's order, which applies to school districts, puts Texas at odds with the CDC's reocmmendation that school students wear masks for the 2020-2021 academic year because not all will be inoculated against the coronavirus.

Read More:

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David Thomas reports on the business of law, including law firm strategy, hiring, mergers and litigation. He is based out of Chicago. He can be reached at d.thomas@thomsonreuters.com and on Twitter @DaveThomas5150.