Georgia is among 21 states with outbreaks serious enough be placed in the “red zone,” according to a new federal report obtained by The New York Times. Distributed to state officials by the White House Coronavirus Task Force, the report recommends that officials in Georgia “mandate use of masks in all current and evolving hotspots — optimally a statewide mandate.”
The governor, who has encouraged but not required masks, argues cities and counties are barred from enforcing rules that are more or less restrictive than his own. Kemp’s lawsuit also targets the city’s guidelines concerning the pandemic, including those that encouraged new limits on restaurants and other businesses for containing the disease.
As part of his request for an emergency injunction, Kemp asked the court to suspend the mayor’s executive orders and prevent her from “issuing press releases, or making statements to the press, that she has the authority to impose more or less restrictive measures” than him.
The city filed its court response Monday, saying Kemp’s legal challenge is prohibited by sovereign immunity, the legal doctrine that bars lawsuits against government officials. Atlanta’s attorneys added that blocking the mayor from talking to reporters or issuing press releases would violate the Constitution, saying “speech on public policy issues is a core free speech right that is entitled to the ‘broadest protection’ under the First Amendment.”
More than a dozen cities and counties have defied Kemp by adopting mask requirements, including Athens, Augusta and Savannah. Others have sought to avoid legal battles with the governor. On Monday, for example, Macon-Bibb County Mayor Robert Reichert vetoed an ordinance requiring face masks in public, saying he respects the “governor’s authority.”
“I truly believe we should do everything within our power to convince individuals to follow all preventative measures to slow the spread of COVID-19,” he wrote in a letter to the Macon-Bibb Commission. “But I believe we have gone as far as we can, legally, to get people to wear their masks, practice socially distancing, avoiding large groups, and more.”