The Texas Supreme Court on Jan. 1 ruled to halt enforcement of two orders—one in Austin and the other in Travis County—that sought to impose a weekend curfew on dine-in services.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton petitioned the high court for an order blocking the City of Austin and Travis County from enforcing local orders that would prohibit bars, restaurants, and other venues from offering dine-in food and beverage services between 10:30 p.m. and 6 a.m. on Jan. 1 through Jan. 3.
Paxton asked the Texas Supreme Court for relief after similar challenges to the dine-in curfews were rejected by a district court and, later, a court of appeals.
In its ruling, the high court blocked enforcement of Travis County’s County Judge Order 2020-24 (pdf) and the Mayor of the City of Austin’s Order No. 20201229-24 (pdf), pending final resolution of the appeal.
“WE WON! Texas Supreme Court stops Mayor Adler’s illegal order shutting down restaurants and bars,” Paxton wrote in a tweet.
Hours before the curfews were to go into effect, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott told restaurants to ignore the curfews.
“To Texas restaurants. A formal statement. ‘The Governor’s statewide executive order allows food establishments to be open for in-person dining on New Years Eve as authorized by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission. They should remain open. Happy New Year!’ Cheers!” Abbott wrote on Twitter.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler and Travis County Judge Andy Brown had said the restrictions were a way to handle the current surge in COVID-19 cases impacting the area.
“Impacting restaurants is a horrific choice, we didn’t want to,” Adler said Wednesday, according to Fox29. “The surge just happened to us, the number of people in the ICU went up almost 70 percent in the last eight days, 140 people in this surge tonight. We’ve gone from 84 to 140 in the last week. This is coming fast. We could have waited until after the holidays, even more people would die because of failure to take action, we are concerned about New Year’s Eve given the rise in the number,” Adler added.
Travis County Judge Andy Brown expressed disappointment in the Texas Supreme Court’s order.
“I am disappointed by the Texas Supreme Court decision as it limits our ability to slow the spread of COVID-19 in our community,” he said in a statement, according to Fox29. “I continue to encourage everyone in Travis County to celebrate and eat safely at home until our overall COVID-19 numbers have decreased. I also would ask everyone to consider supporting local restaurants by ordering food for takeout as I did with my family last night,” he added.
The issue highlights the tension between efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19 and those who see lockdowns as an unacceptable constraint on personal liberties and worry about their impact on health, businesses, and livelihoods.