Supreme Court refuses to allow enforcement of mask mandate ban

Sandra Cobos, an acceleration specialist at Justine Spitalny School in Phoenix, guides children through a series of vocalization exercises. Cobos helps students who struggled with online learning to catch up with their studies. /Photo by Mingson Lau/Cronkite News

By Howard Fischer, Capitol Media Services

The Arizona Supreme Court refused Wednesday to let the state start enforcing its new ban on school mask mandates, at least for the time being. 

In a brief order, the justices rebuffed a bid by Attorney General Mark Brnovich to immediately suspend the Monday ruling by Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Katherine Cooper that provisions of four separate pieces of legislation were illegally enacted. She said lawmakers failed to comply with constitutional requirements that bills be limited to a single subject and that the title of each measure inform people of what it contains. 

The justices, however, indicated a willingness to review her ruling on an expedited basis, setting a deadline of Friday for both sides of the dispute to file any paperwork. But none of that is a guarantee that they will buy arguments by Brnovich that Cooper exceeded her authority in invalidating the challenged provisions. 

What’s at stake is far more than the law, which was supposed to take effect Wednesday, prohibiting local school boards from requiring students and staff to wear masks while they are on campus. 

Cooper, in an extensive ruling, also voided a host of other measures, including limits on how schools can teach about race, ethnicity and gender, prohibiting universities and community colleges from requiring proof of vaccination or use of masks, limiting the powers of Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, and even establishing a special Senate committee to review the results of the just-completed audit. 

Brnovich argued all that requires immediate attention of the justices. 

“The trial court’s ruling carries significant implications for the operation of state government,” he said in his filings. “And the state will continue to suffer harm if the trial court’s ruling is not swiftly overturned, allowing the challenged provisions to immediately go into effect.” 

Gov. Doug Ducey separately said he is looking at challenging Cooper’s ruling. 

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