“Unjust Tyranny”: Texas Judge Says People Will Wear Masks or Face $1,000 Fine

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Harris County, Texas Judge Lina Hidalgo is under fire from state Republicans who are calling her new order for residents an example of “unjust tyranny” in the face of a coronavirus crisis. Hidalgo on Wednesday ruled that residents of her county – one of the most populated in the United States – must wear face masks in public for the next 30 days under penalty of a $1,000 fine.

While Hidalgo explained that her order is meant to stop the spread of the disease, other Texas officials like Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick say it is the “ultimate government overreach.”

In a tweet following Hidalgo’s order, which covers Houston and the surrounding cities, Patrick said that it would only ignite further confusion and anger from residents growing weary of the economic shutdown.

“These kind of confused government policies fuel public anger — and rightfully so,” wrote Patrick.

“No. No. No,” tweeted Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX). “Should guidelines for masks in confined spaces be emphatically promoted? Absolutely. But we will NEVER support 180 days in jail or $1,000 fine for not wearing a mask. Do not let commonsense guidelines lead to unjust tyranny.”

Hidalgo isn’t a “judge” in the way you usually think of one, in that she is the top executive of the county, presiding over the county commission and not a local court. Her order comes not as a result of a judiciary ruling but because she is basically like a little governor of the county. While the position in Harris County usually goes to a Republican, Hidalgo snuck into office during the 2018 blue wave. And that puts her in stark opposition to the state’s GOP-heavy leadership.

In an interview with the Houston Chronicle, Hidalgo was unapologetic for the order, saying merely that her critics were “entitled to their opinions,” but that the mask rule is “something we have to do for the sake of our safety, our lives, and our economy.”

This, of course, is up for serious debate. Not long ago, federal public health officials were telling us that there was absolutely no reason for the average American to wear a mask in public. Then that changed, and they told us that workers in constant contact with the public might consider wearing a mask. Then that changed, and now we’re all supposed to wear masks all the time. In the meantime, very little has changed in terms of the science. There is still not much evidence to suggest that any mask short of a medical-grade one can provide any protection from the coronavirus. And medical-grade masks are in extremely short supply these days.

If mini-dictators like Lina Hidalgo want to mandate universal masking, then it should be up to them to make sure that every one of their constituents gets a free mask from the government. Better yet, they should leave it up to individual citizens to decide what level of protection they need from the virus and stop pretending that Houston is Wuhan.