EL PASO, Texas -- A state appeals court late Friday found that a lower court erred when it declined to grant a temporary injunction halting El Paso County's shutdown order for non-essential businesses.
The Eighth Court of Appeals sent the case back to the lower court, directing District Court Judge William Moody to impose the injunction.
That means County Judge Ricardo Samaniego's recent orders imposing a shutdown of non-essential businesses and imposing a curfew to slow the spread of Covid-19 cannot be enforced.
A group of restaurant owners and the state of Texas had sued Samaniego and the county, claiming that he overstepped his authority by issuing mandates that conflicted with Gov. Greg Abbott's less-restrictive directives.
In their 2-1 decision, the appeals judges wrote of the conflict, "we conclude the Governor’s order would prevail."
"Pick whatever type of disaster you might, from toxic chemical releases, earthquakes, oil pipelines leaks, to pandemics--and there could be good faith differences of opinion on the proper response," the ruling said. "Because there must be a final decision-maker, the Legislature inserted a tie breaker and gave it to the governor in that his or her declarations have the force of law."
State Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a statement applauding what he called "an outstanding decision" by the appeals court decision and referring to Samaniego as "a tyrant."
Samaniego replied a short time later, saying it was unfortunate that Paxton "finds the opportunity to gloat instead of coming to El Paso to walk along side me by the mobile morgues with 144 El Pasoans; or send his condolences to the families of his 741 constituents who died of Covid-19."
Samaniego said he didn't "believe it would be fruitful" to appeal the case to the Texas Supreme Court, but he vowed "to use my legal authority to do everything possible to protect our community."
While the appeals court struck down the closure of non-essential businesses and the nightly curfew, it left intact the following restrictions which can still be enforced:
- Business occupancy limits are set at 50%
- All restaurants must cease all dine-in services by 9 p.m.
- Gatherings remain limited to no more than 10 people
- Bars must remain closed
- Masks remain mandatory in public
You can read the court's full ruling and the statements from Samaniego and Paxton below.
I guess El Paso is too far for Paxton to comprehend that we too are his constituents. I intend to use my legal authority to do everything possible to protect our community. I pray that his rhetoric won’t discourage our courageous healthcare workers..we will always be grateful!— County Judge Ricardo Samaniego (@EPCountyJudge) November 14, 2020