Judge strikes down Arizona law banning face mask mandates in schools
PHOENIX – An Arizona Superior Court judge ruled that a law banning face mask mandates in schools violates the state constitution and can’t go into effect this week as scheduled.
The mask mandate ban and other limits on COVID-19 mitigation efforts were passed as part of the state budget in June and had been scheduled to go into effect on Wednesday.
“That law has been declared unconstitutional; it won’t go into effect,” Roopali Desai, attorney for the plaintiffs in the case, told KTAR News 92.3 FM.
A lawsuit filed last month by a coalition of educators and allies challenged new laws prohibiting public school districts from imposing mask requirements, colleges from requiring vaccinations for students, and communities from establishing vaccine passports for entry into large events, businesses and other places.
Judge Katherine Cooper ruled that the restrictions were rolled into budget bills illegally.
The Arizona Constitution says a bill can only cover one subject and the contents must be adequately reflected in the title of the bill.
“Most of the provisions that we’re talking about here were struck down because they violated that notice requirement, and then one of the bills that we challenged … was struck down because of the single-subject requirement,” Desai said.
CJ Karamargin, a spokesman for Gov. Doug Ducey, called the ruling “an example of judicial overreach” that will be challenged.
“Unfortunately, today’s decision is the result of a rogue judge interfering with the authority and processes of another branch of government,” Karamargin said in an email.
“Further action will be taken to challenge this ruling and ensure separation of powers is maintained.”
Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich said his office would appeal the ruling.
“It’s unfortunate that left-wing groups want to undermine the legislative process and indoctrinate our children with critical race theory and force vaccines on those who don’t want them,” Brnovich said on Twitter.
Cooper has been a Maricopa County Superior Court judge since she was appointed by Republican Gov. Jan Brewer in 2011.
The ruling has far-reaching ramifications for the Legislature, which has long ignored the constitutional requirement that budget bills only deal with spending items. Instead, they have packed with them policy items, and this year Republicans who control the Legislature were especially aggressive.
The lawsuit also asked Cooper to undo other laws unrelated to COVID-19 prevention efforts, which she did. One prohibits the use of state money for teaching critical race theory, a way of thinking about America’s history that centers on the idea that racism is systemic in the nation’s institutions and that they function to maintain the dominance of white people in society.
The judge pointed to the single-subject rule to overturn Senate Bill 1898, the bill filled with GOP policy wishes. It included what she called “multiple, unrelated subjects” like dog racing, the governor’s emergency powers, local COVID-19 measures and much more.
“None of these subjects have any logical connection to each other nor ‘fall under some one general idea,’” Cooper wrote.
Other parts of that law that the judge blocked would have stripped the Democratic secretary of state of the duty to defend state election laws, would have let the state Game and Fish Department register voters and would have set up a special legislative committee to review the results of the state Senate’s partisan audit of the 2020 election.
Dozens of Arizona districts started their school years with face mask mandates in place, disregarding the wishes of Ducey and the Republican lawmakers who passed the laws with no Democratic support.
Last week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published research showing that Arizona public schools without mask requirements were over three times more likely to experience COVID-19 outbreaks than schools with mandates.
“The odds of a school-associated COVID-19 outbreak were 3.5 times higher in schools with no mask requirement than in those with a mask requirement implemented at the time school started,” the researchers concluded.
Cooper didn’t base her ruling on the potential impact of the laws, however, but on how they were passed.
“The Legislature has been pushing the envelope too far, for too long,” Desai said. “They know what the law is, they know the limitations on their work, and yet they decided to flout the requirements of the constitution and I’m glad that the courts are holding them to account.”
KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Griselda Zetino and The Associated Press contributed to this report.