Friday, March 24, 2023

Clamor in courts over masking mandates


Gov JB Pritzker, Democrat of Illinois, is being sued by a downstate attorney who has a history of suing the governor over the mask mandate Mr Pritzker imposed on schools, WGN-TV reports.

Gov Asa Hutchinson, Republican of Arkansas, who signed a law prohibiting schools from imposing mask mandates, now wishes he hadn’t, but a circuit court in one county in the state has barred the state from enforcing the law anyway.

And finally, Gov Greg Abbott, Republican of Texas, also banned mask mandates by schools, but he’s standing firm behind his order. The courts might see things a little differently, as several school districts in the state are already defying the ban, and an advocacy group is suing the governor over the ban.

First to Illinois. Attorney Thomas DeVore is suing Mr Pritzker and the Illinois State Board of Education director on behalf of an Illinois parent, claiming that the governor doesn’t have the authority, under the Illinois Emergency Management Agency Act, as he claims he does, to order schools to impose mask mandates.

Mr Pritzker has said he hopes that if a student shows up at school without a mask, the school would enforce the mandate as it would enforce a dress code violation. He does not believe Mr DeVore’s suit has merit.

“Every lawsuit he’s filed has failed,” WGN-TV quoted the governor as saying. “Mandatory masks in schools, that’s something that we’ve had before. Certainly we are still in an emergency. We can all see that the Delta variant is beginning to overtake parts of the country. ICU beds are now full in a number of states. As you know just because it’s happening in a number of other states does not mean that it’s not coming to Illinois. We see our cases numbers going up.”

In Arkansas, a lawsuit filed by a school district with more than 800 staff and students in quarantine due to a Covid-19 outbreak caused a Pulaski County Circuit Court judge to temporarily block a law that prohibits schools from imposing a mask mandate, Courthouse News reports.

The law itself may be unconstitutional, the court found, but more hearings are needed in order to make that determination.

Because there is no method by which the court can cure the unconstitutionality of Act 1002 of 2021 without substantially rewriting such legislative enactment, it is the obligation of the court to preliminarily declare that Act 1002 of 2021, in its entirety, is unconstitutional under both the separation of powers clause and the equal protection clause of the Arkansas Constitution.

Pending further order of this court, or of a court of superintending jurisdiction, Act 1002 of 2021 is declared unconstitutional and its application, in any manner, is hereby preliminarily enjoined.

Finally, in Texas, where Mr Abbott’s order banned schools from mandating masks, several large districts, including Dallas and Austin, have already defied the order. Houston Independent School District Superintendent Millard House II has said he wants to issue a mandate, too, The Texas Tribune reports. A school board meeting for the state’s biggest district to discuss the idea is scheduled for this week.

Officials in Bexar County filed a lawsuit against Mr Abbott on Tuesday, because they also want to impose a mask mandate for schools as the Delta variant surges in Texas. On Thursday, 11,975 new cases were reported in the state, the highest levels since the second surge spiked earlier this year.

As in Texas, a new Arizona law bars schools from mandating masks. At least eight districts are defying it, and oral arguments in a lawsuit against one district are expected Friday, NPR reports.

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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