Arizona Supreme Court upholds ruling blocking school mask bans

The Arizona Supreme Court on Nov. 2 unanimously upheld a lower court judgment that found the Republican-controlled Legislature violated the state constitution by including new laws banning school mask mandates and a series of other measures in unrelated budget bills.

The swift ruling from the state’s high court came less than two hours after the seven justices heard arguments in the state’s appeal of a trial court judge’s ruling. The justices had hammered Solicitor General Beau Roysden with questions about the Legislature’s inclusion of policy as different as dog racing and secure ballot paper in one of the budget bills.

The court upheld a September ruling from Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Katherine Cooper that blocked the school mask ban and a host of other provisions in the state budget package from going into force on Sept. 29. She sided with education groups that had argued the bills were packed with policy items unrelated to the budget and violated the state constitution’s requirement that subjects be related and expressed in the title of bills. The law banning mask mandates in schools was passed in a package called "Budget Reconciliation Bills."

Cooper’s ruling cleared the way for K-12 public schools to continue requiring students to wear face masks to help slow the spread of the coronavirus. At least 29 of the state’s public school districts issued mask mandates before the laws were set to take effect, and some immediately extended them after Cooper’s ruling.

Arizona cities and counties were also able to enact mask requirements and other COVID-19 rules that would have been blocked by the budget bills.

The Supreme Court’s brief order said it did not adopt Cooper’s reasoning in its entirety. A written opinion explaining the court’s full reasons for upholding her ruling will be issued later.

Reaction to the ruling

"The state’s argument was really like, ‘if you’re a political insider, you’ll be okay, but for the rest of the public, you’re out of luck,'" said Davis Lujan with the Children's Action Alliance. "So in the future, what the Supreme Court says in the future, they have to consider these issues one issue at a time, and really give the public notice and the opportunity to weigh in on these issues, so for public transparency, this is a real victory."

"I’m glad to see this ruling. I think it does a lot to protect the safety of our kids in schools. It does a lot to remind the legislature that they have to follow the constitution," said State Sen. Martin Quezada (D).

"I think this last legislative cycle where the legislature kind of really went rogue was unprecedented. So I think this will set everything straight as it was before and make sure the legislature does its business in the open," said Roopali Desai, a lawyer representing the Arizona School Boards Association.

Some school districts are applauding the state Supreme Court's ruling. Officials with the Phoenix Union High School District released a statement that reads:

While Gov. Ducey and his wife are currently in Europe to celebrate their wedding anniversary, officials with his office have issued a statement, which reads:

Officials with Attorney General Mark Brnovich's office also issued a statement, saying the office is "disappointed in today's decision.

"This will create more confusion and uncertainty for Arizona families," read a portion of the statement.

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