Norman Adams is a staunch supporter of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.
He’s also suing Abbott and is willing to take his case all the way to the Texas Supreme Court.
Adams, the owner of Heights-based Adams Insurance Service, is among several plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed in mid-April in a Travis County district court. The suit, which lists Abbott and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton as defendants in their official capacities, alleges that Abbott has no legal authority to issue executive orders that suspend the state’s existing laws.
The plaintiffs, many of whom are church leaders, claim their civil and religious rights have been violated by state and local elected officials who have mandated social distancing restrictions amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Per executive orders issued by Abbott and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, among others, non-essential businesses were forced to close in March and limits were placed on in-person church services. There also is a statewide stay-at-home order in effect through Thursday.
“I love Governor Abbott, but he’s dead wrong,” Adams said. “This is unconstitutional.”
Adams, a 75-year-old resident of Timbergrove Manor, said he is glad the governor has begun to ease restrictions across the state as the number of COVID-19 cases appears to level off in communities such as Houston. The stay-at-home order lapses this week, and businesses such as restaurants, retail stores, malls and movie theaters were allowed to reopen Friday with limited occupancies.
Still, Adams said he wants to make sure the governor and more local elected officials cannot issue similar orders in the future. He said the Disaster Act of 1975, a Texas law invoked by Abbott when he made his executive orders, goes against a Texas Constitution provision that says only the Texas Legislature has the power to suspend state laws.
The lawsuit seeks a temporary injunction against Abbott as well as compensatory damages.
“Our expectation is that it’ll probably be denied at the first court level,” Adams said. “Our goal is to get the (Texas) Supreme Court to rule that’s all unconstitutional so we don’t have a repeat of this every couple years.”
Adams said he thinks the economic damage caused by coronavirus-related restrictions is worse than the upper-respiratory disease, which has infected more than 26,000 Texans and caused at least 690 deaths across the state, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. In Houston and Harris County, officials had reported nearly 6,000 COVID-19 cases and 103 deaths as of Wednesday morning.
Abbott said Monday that more than 1.6 million unemployment claims had been processed by the Texas Workforce Commission, which had paid out more than $2 billion in benefits during the pandemic. Adams said some of his insurance clients, namely a business that promotes concerts and other large events, have suffered significant financial losses and been forced to lay off employees.
“I hear all the prayers going on. I pray for them, too, the people that have been infected,” Adams said. “The people I don’t hear enough prayers for are all the people that have been laid off. It’s a big, big deal.”
Adams said he realizes the impact of COVID-19, in terms of the number of cases and deaths, could be greater if not for the social distancing restrictions that served as the impetus for his lawsuit. He also said he has allowed his employees to work from home if they wish.
Still, Adams said the measures implemented by elected leaders such as Abbott and Hidalgo have been “absolute overkill.” He said officials should not have the authority to make mandates of their citizens, even during a pandemic.
“The governor can activate the guard. He can appeal to people to make sure, if you’re sick, you don’t go out,” Adams said. “But he can’t order you to shut down and choose which businesses can stay in operation and which ones go out of business.
“We’ve been through wars,” Adams added. “People will respond to an appeal. We don’t need an order from a king. That’s what we’ve got right now.”