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Texas Supreme Court Blocks Austin And Travis County's Curfew On Dine-in Services At Restaurants

Lazarus Brewing Co. in East Austin shortly after the state reopened bars and restaurants following initial shutdowns due to the coronavirus.
Gabriel C. Pérez
Lazarus Brewing Co. in East Austin shortly after the state reopened bars and restaurants following initial shutdowns due to the coronavirus.

Updated 01/01/21

The Texas Supreme Court has blocked Austin and Travis County orders requiring restaurants and bars to limit indoor and outdoor dining over the New Year's weekend.

It was the third court in two days to take action on the local effort to limit the spread of COVID-19. The court did not rule on the merits of the case, but did direct the court of appeals to grant the temporary injunction asked for by the Texas Attorney General's Office.

The local order went into effect Thursday and was supposed to extend to Friday and Saturday nights, banning dine-in services from 10:30 p.m. to 6 a.m.

In a release Friday night, Travis County Judge Andy Brown said he was disappointed by the ruling, but encouraged people to order takeout and eat at home instead of dining in at restaurants.

That response from Brown was in stark contrast to Gov. Greg Abbott's response to the state losing its initial challenge and appeal to the local order. In a statement Thursday night, Abbott appeared to encourage bars and restaurants to stay open even though the city order had not been blocked in court.

“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," Abbott wrote. "They should remain open. Happy New Year!”

Original Story

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton challenged the local curfew, arguing it violated Gov. Greg Abbott's statewide rules on COVID-19. In her ruling today, state district Judge Amy Clark Meachum said the state "didn't demonstrate probable right to relief nor imminent and irreparable harm" in its challenge.

The local orders ban indoor and outdoor dining between the hours of 10:30 p.m. and 6 a.m. today through Sunday. Businesses can still offer drive-thru, takeout and delivery orders within that timeframe.

Attorneys representing Austin and Travis County argued that, because the ban doesn't shutdown businesses outright, it is within the governor's orders.

Attorneys for the state argued Gov. Greg Abbott's emergency orders related to COVID-19 superseded local orders.

Austin and Travis County announced the dine-in hour restrictions on Tuesday, and, after they received criticism from Abbott, Paxton's office filed a lawsuit on Wednesday.

Travis County Judge Andy Brown said in a statement that the ruling "will help our community slow the spread of COVID-19, while allowing businesses to safely continue their operations through takeout, drive-thru, and delivery service options."

"I encourage everyone in Travis County to order food for takeout from a local restaurant and to celebrate the New Year safely at home tonight," he said.

A few hours after the ruling, Abbott tweeted out a "formal statement" directing bars and restaurants to remain open despite the local orders.

Paxton's office appealed the decision to a state appellate court seeking emergency relief. That court turned down the request late Thursday.

The attorney general's office asked the Texas Supreme Court to review the case on Friday morning.

This story has been updated.

Ben Philpott is the Managing Editor for KUT. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @BenPhilpottKUT.
Andrew Weber is a general assignment reporter for KUT, focusing on criminal justice, policing, courts and homelessness in Austin and Travis County. Got a tip? You can email him at Follow him on Twitter @England_Weber.
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