Judge Orders Atlanta Mayor, Georgia Governor to Mediate Mask Fight

The governor said he encourages people to wear face masks but will not require them.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp speaks at the Georgia Cancer Center in Augusta, Ga., on July 2, 2020. (Michael Holahan/Augusta Chronicle via AP)

ATLANTA (CN) — A Georgia judge ordered Governor Brian Kemp and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms to enter mediation over the governor’s lawsuit seeking to block the city from requiring face masks in public during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jane Barwick’s two-page order issued Thursday requires the mediation to take place with a senior judge prior to an emergency hearing scheduled in the case for Tuesday.

Earlier this month, Kemp, a Republican, issued an executive order prohibiting local leaders from requiring Georgians to wear face masks in public.

Officials in several Democratic-led cities, including Atlanta and Savannah, had instituted local mandates requiring the use of masks to stymie the spread of the virus.

The governor’s office sued Bottoms and the Atlanta City Council last week, arguing the mayor had overstepped her authority by issuing the citywide mask mandate because it was more restrictive than the executive orders issued by Kemp.

The governor has said that his office would “strongly encourage” citizens to use face masks but would not require them.

“By the powers given to him in the Constitution, Governor 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 16-page complaint states.

The lawsuit says that Kemp alone has exclusive power “to suspend municipal orders that are contradictory to any state law or to his executive orders.”

Thursday’s mediation order came hours after Bottoms admitted that she and Kemp discussed a possible settlement in the case to avoid a drawn-out legal battle.

In an online press briefing Thursday, the mayor said she had a “very good conversation” with the governor about the litigation.

“We will continue to work together to try to iron out those things that we disagree on and hopefully we can move past it,” she said. “It is not my desire as mayor of this city to have a very public fight with the governor of this state.”

Bottoms added that she believes “there is a finite amount of energy that we all have” and said she would rather spend her energy “focusing on leading our city through Covid-19 and many other challenges that we are now facing and I trust that the governor would like to do the same on behalf of the state.”

The Covid-19 infection rate in the Peach State continues to surge and 431 people were hospitalized statewide with the virus on Thursday, according to state health officials. In total, 3,360 people in Georgia have died as a result of the illness.

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