Missouri's Mask Mandate Battle Continues as AG Schmitt Files Suit

Court battle over mask mandates (Credit: Susie Moore)

We’ve been following the story of the recently reimposed mask mandates in St. Louis City and St. Louis County.  Mayor Tishaura Jones and County Executive Sam Page issued a joint announcement on Friday afternoon that they would be reinstating mask mandates in all indoor public places, effective yesterday.

In response, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt vowed to file a lawsuit seeking to enjoin those mandates. That lawsuit was filed Monday afternoon. Schmitt’s office then issued the following news release:

 “Today, my office filed suit against St. Louis City and County for reimposing their mask mandate on the citizens of St. Louis. This continued government overreach is unacceptable and unconstitutional, especially in the face of a widely available vaccine. There is absolutely no scientific reason to continue to force children to wear a mask in school,” said Attorney General Schmitt. “Back in May, I filed suit against St. Louis County for continuing to impose such unlawful restrictions, and just three days later, those restrictions were lifted. I will continue to fight this seemingly unending control and intrusion on peoples’ lives – we will not back down.”

Apparently, the filing didn’t happen quickly enough for the liking of some local media:

(Snark directed at a Republican official from the Post Dispatch? Quelle surprise!!)

Schmitt’s news release continued:

The lawsuit argues that reimposing the mask mandate is unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious, unconstitutional, and unlawful.

The lawsuit begins with, “St. Louis County and St. Louis City seek expanded government power that has failed to protect Missouri citizens living within their boundaries in the past and is not based on sound facts and data.”

The lawsuit argues that mandating children to wear masks in school is arbitrary and capricious given that children are at low risk to contract or spread COVID-19, have low mortality rates and less severe symptoms when they do contract COVID, and that wearing a mask in school may harm children. According to research noted in the lawsuit, masks may inhibit verbal and non-verbal communication, hampering linguistic and emotional development.

Additionally, the lawsuit notes that St. Louis City and County had some of the most restrictive orders in Missouri and yet still suffered some of the highest COVID-19 case and death rates, and that a renewed mask mandate undermines the important push for vaccinations.

Moreover, the lawsuit states that neither St. Louis City nor County cited the statutory authority that would allow them to issue wide-ranging health orders, that both orders are unconstitutionally vague, and that both orders restrict the religious freedom of St. Louisans.

The lawsuit also argues that both the City and County’s mask mandates are subject to the law recently passed by the Missouri legislature (House Bill 271), that places restrictions on local health orders. The suit states, “both Mask Mandates are subject to § 67.265.1(1), RSMo, and expire after thirty days absent authorization by a majority vote of St. Louis County’s or St. Louis City’s governing body.” Additionally, the lawsuit notes that, according to § 67.265.4, RSMo, “the health officer, local public health agency, public health authority, or executive shall provide a report to the governing body containing information supporting the need for such order.” The defendants never provided that report.

The Missouri Attorney General’s Office previously filed suit against the St. Louis County Executive over COVID-19 restrictions on May 11, 2021. St. Louis County lifted nearly all of their restrictions roughly three days after that lawsuit was filed.

Today’s lawsuit asks the court for injunctive relief to invalidate the mask mandate and for a declaration that the mask mandates are subject to the law passed by the legislature in May (see § 67.265, RSMo).

Yesterday, I joined fellow RedStater Chris Arps, along with Tony Colombo and Missouri State Representative Nick Schroer (R-O’Fallon) on “the TCT” on NewsTalkStl.com to discuss the mandates and lawsuit and was asked about the timeframe on the litigation. Given the nature of the relief sought (injunctive relief), I expect the proceedings will be fairly expedited. (And we will, of course, monitor the progress of same.)

In the meantime, the St. Louis County Council is set to meet tonight and address the mandate.

ST. LOUIS – Some St. Louis County council members are expected to challenge the mask mandate that was reinstated Monday at Tuesday night’s meeting.

County Council Member Tim Fitch is leading the opposition saying the move by St. Louis County Executive Dr. Sam Page violates a new state law.

State Representative Jim Murphy (R- St. Louis), who authored the law in question, had some predictions as to what will transpire this evening:

Which may result in its own litigation. How will this all shake out? That remains to be seen.

In the meantime, the mandates are in place in St. Louis City and St. Louis County. They’ve also been reinstated in the Circuit Court of Cole County (Jefferson City), though apparently, the fact that the Attorney General’s office is respecting said court guidelines while appearing in court (unless/until they are overturned/rescinded), is befuddling for some.

(It’s really not that befuddling — on my very first day of law school, I learned the Number One rule of litigation: Don’t piss off the judge!)

The 37-page Petition filed by Attorney General Schmitt can be found here or read in full below:

Schmitt v Page Petition by Susie Moore