Law & the Courts

Georgia Governor Sues Atlanta Mayor over Mask Mandate

President Donald Trump is greeted by Georgia Governor Brian Kemp as he arrives at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta, Ga., July 15, 2020. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp has filed a lawsuit against Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and the Atlanta City Council challenging the city’s decision to mandate masks and revert to phase one reopening guidelines.

The lawsuit calls the city’s new mask requirements “void and unenforceable” and asks a judge to block Bottoms from issuing any orders or press releases imposing a mask mandate or enacting other restrictions that are stricter than the state’s.

“This lawsuit is on behalf of the Atlanta business owners and their hardworking employees who are struggling to survive during these difficult times,” Kemp said in a statement. Phase one guidelines push restaurants to close dining rooms and urge residents to leave home only for essential trips. 

“These men and women are doing their very best to put food on the table for their families while local elected officials shutter businesses and undermine economic growth,” the Republican governor said. 

In a press conference Thursday, one day after Kemp signed an executive order explicitly prohibiting local governments in the state from issuing mask mandates, Bottoms said she was prepared for a legal battle to defend the city’s COVID-19 policies.

“I am not afraid of the city being sued,” said Bottoms, who tested posted for the virus earlier this month.

“A better use of taxpayer money would be to expand testing and contact tracing,” said Bottoms. “If being sued by the state is what it takes to save lives in Atlanta, then we will see them in court.”

The Democratic mayor said she believes Atlanta has the standing to mandate masks, especially in buildings and places owned and operated by the city. 

Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr, also a plaintiff in the lawsuit, said the litigation is “about the rule of law” and that the state encourages Georgians to wear masks. 

“The Constitution gives Governor Kemp chief executive power for the State of Georgia, including during a public health state of emergency,” Carr said. “The City of Atlanta cannot continue to knowingly enter orders that are unenforceable and void.”

Atlanta and a dozen other localities in the state had mandated mask wearing in public spaces, defying Kemp’s order that encourages, but doesn’t mandate face coverings as more than 100,000 Georgians have tested positive for the virus. 

The legal battle is the latest in a series of tensions between the governor and mayor. Kemp sent the Georgia National Guard to Atlanta earlier this month after a weekend of violence that included the ransacking of the headquarters of the Georgia State Patrol and the fatal shooting of an 8-year-old girl near a Wendy’s that the mayor had allowed armed protestors to occupy in the weeks after police shot and killed Rayshard Brooks at the site.

“Just like sending in the Georgia National Guard to protect those living in our capital city from crime and violence, I refuse to sit back and watch as disastrous policies threaten the lives and livelihoods of our citizens,” Kemp said in a statement. “We will fight to stop these reckless actions and put people over pandemic politics.”

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