Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo sued over face mask requirement


Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo speaks to media during a tour of the medical shelter at NRG Park in Houston on April 11, 2020. The facility was built in less than a week for possible overflow of COVID-19 in the greater Houston area. Annie Mulligan for The Texas Tribune

A Houston area doctor who is also a conservative political activist is suing to block Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo's recent order requiring residents over 10 years old to wear face masks in public places for 30 days, with some narrow exceptions.

"The rights we enjoy under the Texas Constitution are being trampled on by Judge Hidalgo, while millions of individuals have lost their jobs and thousands of businesses are on the brink of bankruptcy," said Dr. Steven Hotze's petition to the Harris County District Court reads. "If Judge Hidalgo's Order is not declared unconstitutional and void, once this virus passes, the rights we are afforded under the Texas Constitution will forever be damaged."

The suit claims Hidalgo has exceeded her authority by implementing orders more restrictive than those of Gov. Greg Abbott, which take precedence.

Neither Hidalgo nor Hotze could immediately be reached for comment.

Hidalgo's order, signed Wednesday and slated to take effect on Monday, comes after similar measures were taken by local officials in Austin, Dallas and Laredo to slow the spread of the new coronavirus. According to the order, violations are punishable by a $1,000 fine and up to 180 days in jail.

The decision quickly drew criticism from Republican elected officials like Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Houston. Attorney General Ken Paxton emphasized that police officers should "use discretion" and focus on dangerous criminals posing a threat to the community. Nearby Galveston and Montgomery counties made clear they would not be following Hidalgo's lead.

This story is developing. Check back for updates.