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Do Covid Virus Executive Orders Trump the Constitution?

The Texas Supreme Court recently heard a petition for mandamus requesting relief from some of Governor Abbott‘s executive orders that suspended the right of “nonessential” business owners to make a living. The petition was denied for lack of jurisdiction. However, the concurring opinion by Justice John Phillip Devine (that you can read here) sets out a remarkable and eloquent defense of constitutional principals in the context of crises. In his opinion, Justice Devine writes that, while he concurs with the dismissal for lack of jurisdiction, he felt compelled to address the constitutional issues presented by executive orders. To quote Justice Devine:

“…Texans have experienced a suspension of their rights. Suspension of law is serious business. It involves a decision that, at the very least, itself needs a constitutional blessing. In fact, the Texas Constitution speaks to this very issue. In the first article, it states: “No power of suspending laws in this State shall be exercised except by the Legislature.” This provision means what it says. The judiciary may not suspend laws. Nor may the executive. Only the Legislature. … As Relators point out, in Brown Cracker & Candy Co. v. City of Dallas, this Court long ago held that article I, section 28 (of the Texas Constitution) does not permit the Legislature to “delegate to a municipal corporation or to anyone else, authority to suspend a statute law of the State.

Despite this clear constitutional exhortation, we review orders from the Governor that purport to be made under the Texas Disaster Act of 1975, which says that the “governor may suspend provisions of any regulatory statute prescribing the procedures for conduct of state business . . . .” I find it difficult to square this statute, and the orders made under it, with the Texas Constitution.

The Texas Constitution doesn’t have a “pause” button for trying times. It’s true that we shouldn’t “sally forth each day looking for wrongs to right.” But as bulwarks of liberty, courts have a duty to opine on those issues that involve the most rudimentary conception of liberty—to move about freely and sustain one’s way of life. While I believe we are want of jurisdiction here, our dismissal of this mandamus petition should not be misperceived as a judicial kowtow.”

These wise words deserve the consideration of every Texas citizen.

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