EL PASO, Texas -- Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton tweeted Thursday night that his office was "quickly exploring" all legal options after El Paso County issued an order shutting down all non-essential businesses due to a severe spike in Covid-19 illness that has overwhelmed local hospitals.
"El Paso County Judge (Ricardo) Samaniego has no authority to shut down business in El Paso County. This is a direct violation of Gov. (Greg) Abbot's executive order," Paxton wrote.
El Paso County Judge Samaniego has no authority to shut down businesses in El Paso County. This is a direct violation of @GovAbbott’s executive order.— Texas Attorney General (@TXAG) October 30, 2020
My office is quickly exploring all legal actions.
Paxton's comments came after El Paso Mayor Dee Margo sent a letter to the attorney general seeking clarification as to whether Samaniego had the authority to order business closures.
"The Judge did not consult me and refuses to return my call, so I am seeking clarification from the Attorney General on the new County order," Margo said in a statement to the media.
Margo seemed opposed to the county order, saying he felt "we must strike a balance of keeping our neighbors safe while not destroying people's abilities to feed their families."
In a response to ABC-7 late Thursday night, Samaniego said Margo "became difficult to work with" in recent days and added that the mayor was "opposing the direction of other community leaders," including El Paso Congresswoman Veronica Escobar.
The judge also maintains that attorneys for the county tell him he is on solid legal ground issuing his order.
Meantime, Paxton responded to Margo's letter with one of his own that reiterated the opinion he offered in his tweet. (Both letters are displayed at the bottom of this article in their entirety.)
While the attorney general's opinion is the official position of the state of Texas, it is not legally binding.
Ultimately, a court may end up deciding the matter if a legal challenge to Samaniego's order is brought by either Paxton or another entity.