Appellate court hits pause on Abbott, Point Isabel mask mandate challenge

Point Isabel ISD's Ruben M. Torres Administration Complex building is seen in this undated photo. (Courtesy: Point Isabel ISD/Facebook)

The 13th Court of Texas Appeals has placed on hold a challenge by Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton of a lower court ruling that overrode Abbott’s authority during the pandemic to nullify a mask mandate by the Point Isabel Independent School District.

On Wednesday, the appeals court said the issues in the case had already been fully briefed, that the 13th Court had on its own reviewed the issues in similar cases involving Dallas, San Antonio and Houston now before the Texas Supreme Court, and ordered Abbott’s and Paxton’s case against Point Isabel to be abated until the Supreme Court rules on the similar cases involving the three big cities.

“In so ruling, we note that PIISD has offered each of these cases in support of its position in this appeal. Judicial economy dictates that we should abate the instant appeal pending the guidance that the supreme court’s disposition of these cases may provide,” the 13th Court stated in its order.

“Accordingly, we ABATE this appeal and remove it from the Court’s active docket until such time as the Texas Supreme Court issues its opinion in the direct appeal on one of the aforementioned cases. After that opinion issues, we direct appellants to promptly file a motion to reinstate this appeal,” the justices wrote.

Abbott had issued a statewide executive order in July 2020 requiring facial coverings in public spaces but lifted it in March 2021. School districts including Dallas, San Antonio, Houston, Point Isabel and others then sought temporary injunctions allowing their mask mandates to continue for public health reasons.

The 444th state District Court in Cameron County granted Point Isabel’s request. The appeal that the 13th Court of Appeals abated on Wednesday was in response to the temporary injunction issued by the 444th.

“The primary issue in this appeal is whether Governor Abbott, under the authority granted by the Legislature in the Texas Disaster Act, may issue an executive order that prohibits PIISD from requiring face coverings for its students and staff,” the appeal states.

Once the Supreme Court rules in the Dallas, San Antonio or Houston cases, Wednesday’s order directs the appellants and appellees to promptly notify the court.

“After that opinion issues, we direct appellants to promptly file a motion to reinstate this appeal, which shall reference and include a copy of the opinion issued by the supreme court. The parties shall thereafter provide this Court with supplemental briefing as to the impact, if any, that the supreme court’s opinion has on this appeal. Appellants’ supplemental brief shall be filed within 21 days from the date that this appeal is reinstated, and appellee’s supplemental brief shall be filed within 14 days thereafter,” the order states.

The Point Isabel Independent School District did not immediately respond to a request for comment.