Gov sues At­lanta mayor to block city man­date on wear­ing face cov­er­ings in public


AT­LANTA — Ge­or­gia Gov. Brian Kemp is su­ing At­lanta’s mayor and city coun­cil to block the city from en­forc­ing its man­date to wear a mask in public and other rules re­lated to the COVID-19 pan­demic.

Kemp and Ge­or­gia At­tor­ney Gen­eral Chris Carr, in a suit filed in state court late Thurs­day in At­lanta, ar­gue that At­lanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bot­toms has over­stepped her au­thor­ity and must obey Kemp’s ex­ec­u­tive or­ders un­der state law.

“Gov. Kemp must be al­lowed, as the chief ex­ec­u­tive of this state, to man­age the public health emer­gency with­out Mayor Bot­toms is­su­ing void and un­en­force­able or­ders which only serve to con­fuse the public,” the law­suit states.

Kemp on Wed­nes­day clar­i­fied his ex­ec­u­tive or­ders to ex­pressly block At­lanta and at least 14 other lo­cal gov­ern­ments across the state from re­quir­ing peo­ple to wear face cov­er­ings.

Kemp’s or­der was met with de­fi­ance Thurs­day by Bot­toms and some other may­ors, who said they would con­tinue en­forc­ing the or­der. The law­suit forces that show­down, re­solv­ing an am­bigu­ous sit­u­a­tion with Kemp deny­ing lo­cal gov­ern­ments could or­der masks, but lo­cal gov­ern­ments ar­gu­ing it was within their power.

Bot­toms said Thurs­day dur­ing a video news con­fer­ence that the city’s or­der is still in ef­fect.

“As of to­day, 3,104 Ge­or­gians have died, and I and my fam­ily are amongst the 106,000 who have tested pos­i­tive for COVID-19,” Bot­toms said in a state­ment af­ter the law­suit was filed. “A bet­ter use of tax­payer money would be to ex­pand test­ing and con­tact trac­ing. If be­ing sued by the state is what it takes to save lives in At­lanta, then we will see them in court.”

The state asks a judge to over­turn Bot­toms’ or­ders that are more re­stric­tive than Kemp’s, block her from is­su­ing any more such or­ders, in­struct the City Coun­cil not to rat­ify Bot­toms’ ac­tions or adopt any or­di­nances in­con­sis­tent with Kemp, to force Bot­toms not to make any public state­ments claim­ing she has au­thor­ity that ex­ceeds Kemp’s, and to re­quire city of­fi­cials to en­force “all pro­vi­sions” of Kemp’s ex­ist­ing or­ders.

In fil­ing the law­suit, Kemp com­bined a pre­vi­ous dis­pute with Bot­toms over polic­ing in the city with coro­n­avirus con­trol. He said he was su­ing to pro­tect busi­ness own­ers and em­ploy­ees in the same way he called out the Na­tional Guard last week to pro­tect state of­fice build­ings and the gov­er­nor’s man­sion af­ter an 8-year-old girl was fa­tally shot July 4 by armed men at a site where a white At­lanta po­lice of­fi­cer shot and killed Rayshard Brooks, a Black man who had grabbed a stun gun and ran.

Kemp also al­leged in his law­suit that Bot­toms has for­bid­den po­lice from en­forc­ing Kemp’s ear­lier or­ders against gath­er­ings of more than 50 peo­ple.

Of­fi­cials in at least 15 Ge­or­gia cities and coun­ties had or­dered masks dur­ing the coro­n­avirus pan­demic, and many were an­gry at Kemp for swat­ting down their ef­forts.

“How can we take care of our lo­cal needs when our state ties our hands be­hind our back and then says ‘Ig­nore the ad­vice of ex­perts?’ ” Sa­van­nah Mayor Van John­son asked in a news con­fer­ence.

Kemp says he strongly sup­ports mask-wear­ing to com­bat the spread of COVID-19 in­fec­tions. He trav­eled the state this month to en­cour­age face cov­er­ings. But he has main­tained for weeks that cities and coun­ties can’t re­quire masks in public places, say­ing lo­cal ac­tions can’t be more or less re­stric­tive than his statewide or­ders.

Al­though na­tional health of­fi­cials have called on peo­ple to use masks, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion has not is­sued any na­tion­wide guid­ance. Twenty-six states and the District of Columbia now re­quire masks.

Kemp’s stance — not only shy­ing away from a statewide or­der but try­ing to bar lo­cal gov­ern­ments from in­sti­tut­ing their own — leaves him stand­ing vir­tu­ally alone. In the South, Repub­li­can gov­er­nors in Ten­nessee, South Carolina and Florida have re­sisted statewide man­dates but al­low lo­cal ju­ris­dic­tions to im­ple­ment them. Repub­li­can gov­er­nors in Alabama, Arkansas and Texas and Democrats in Ken­tucky, Louisiana and North Carolina have is­sued statewide mask re­quire­ments.

Ge­or­gia over­all had more than 131,000 con­firmed in­fec­tions and more than 3,100 deaths over­all as of Thurs­day.

At­lanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bot­toms

Ge­or­gia Gov. Brian Kemp

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