Galveston public school officials have been correct in ignoring Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order attempting to forbid public entities from requiring face coverings and vaccinations against COVID-19.
They have been correct in not rescinding rules requiring face coverings for students, faculty and staff despite a coercive, ideologically motivated lawsuit Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed earlier this month.
That lawsuit faces an initial test next week when a district court judge will decide whether to grant the state’s request for a temporary restraining order against the district.
No matter what happens at that hearing, Galveston public school leaders have been on the right side of the argument. They have been right in sticking to their guns. They should continue to do so, and they deserve the support of people in Galveston for having done so.
The real issue to be decided during that hearing has nothing to do with COVID-19 or masks or the locus of authority to mandate or forbid anything.
It boils down to whether Republican judges have the judicial integrity and intestinal fortitude to follow the law or will follow their party in its scramble to the right.
Most of what has happened in Texas politics and to Texas law in the past several months was in service of that migration and nothing else.
The governor’s executive order, the abortion laws, all of it was an attempt by Republican incumbents to encamp so far to the right that no primary challenger could dig in further right without actually falling off the flat Earth upon which some of them profess to live.
The truth, as school district attorneys have noted, is the governor has no authority to issue an executive order forbidding methods that might promote public health and safety.
Abbott issued his order under Section 418 of the Texas Government Code. That law gives the governor broad power to act in emergencies, but that power all flows in one direction.
He can do all sorts of things meant to “reduce vulnerability of people and communities of this state to damage, injury and loss of life and property resulting from natural or man-made catastrophes ... .”
The law gives him no power to do anything that might increase the vulnerability, however.
It’s possible to debate how much good things such as mask mandates and vaccine “passports” might do to reduce vulnerability of people and communities.
It’s impossible to argue with any credibility that such mandates do great harm by increasing the vulnerability of people and communities, however.
Even Abbott in previous executive orders, and in the same July order attempting to forbid mask mandates and vaccine passports, acknowledged face coverings and inoculation are effective ways to reduce vulnerability of people and communities.
The law gives the governor executive power to act in ways that might make things better but none to act in ways that might make things worse.
Even if there were a clearly enumerated personal right to go anywhere, dressed any way, at any time — which there isn’t — it’s not the governor’s role to enforce that right through executive order under the emergency powers law.
And that law certainly doesn’t give him executive power to usurp the authority of locally elected school boards for the main purpose of tickling the most reactionary part in his party’s base.
• Michael A. Smith