US: New York Supreme Court Halts State's Mask Mandate for Schools, Public Spaces

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A New York Supreme Court judge on Monday struck down the state's masking requirements for schools and other public settings, finding that the order overstepped the governor's constitutional authority. But state officials have already said they're pushing back on the ruling.

A sign on the door of a coffee shop in Manhattan ask for proof of vaccination and the wearing of a mask on the day that a mask mandate went into effect in New York on December 13, 2021 in New York City. As parts of New York are seeing a surge in Covid cases, New York Governor Kathy Hochul has enacted a new mask mandate with fines up to $1,000 per violation. On Monday, a Supreme Court judge struck down the mandate, but the governor has vowed to appeal. © Spencer Platt/Getty Images A sign on the door of a coffee shop in Manhattan ask for proof of vaccination and the wearing of a mask on the day that a mask mandate went into effect in New York on December 13, 2021 in New York City. As parts of New York are seeing a surge in Covid cases, New York Governor Kathy Hochul has enacted a new mask mandate with fines up to $1,000 per violation. On Monday, a Supreme Court judge struck down the mandate, but the governor has vowed to appeal.

Nassau County Supreme Court Judge Thomas Rademaker wrote in the ruling that "there can be no doubt of the good intentions" behind the order that seeks to help end the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

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"However, enacting any laws to this end is entrusted solely to the State Legislature," Rademaker wrote in his opinion, obtained by News 12 New York.

The judge's ruling targets an order enacted last fall giving the state public health commissioner authority to require everyone over the age of 2 who is able to "medically tolerate a face-covering" to wear a mask in schools, public transit and other settings. As COVID-19 cases fueled by the highly contagious Omicron variant, Acting Health Commissioner Mary Bassett in December announced new masking restrictions. The mandate carried fines as high as $1,000.

But Rademaker wrote in his ruling that while the intentions of Bassett and Gov. Kathy Hochul "appear to be well aimed squarely at doing what they believe is right to protect the citizens of New York State, they must take their case to the State Legislature."

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Unlike many other states, New York's Supreme Court is a trial court that's divided into 12 judicial districts. The New York Court of Appeals serves as the state's highest court.

Hochul responded swiftly to the ruling with a statement promising to challenge it.

"My responsibility as Governor is to protect New Yorkers throughout this public health crisis, and these measures help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and save lives," Hochul said in a statement. "We strongly disagree with this ruling, and we are pursuing every option to reverse this immediately."

The judge's ruling was welcomed by the state's right-leaning political figures.

U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, a New York Republican who serves as House GOP conference chair, said in a statement that the "ruling is a win for small businesses, parents, students, and the freedom of all New Yorkers."

"Governor Hochul's authoritarian mandates were crushing New York small businesses that already have faced unprecedented challenges throughout the COVID-19 pandemic," she said. "By forcing masks on the children in our schools, these mandates have impeded the development of our next generation."

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Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman, who has clashed with Hochul over the mandate, wrote on Facebook that state officials have no authority to enforce the mandate.

"A judge declared that Gov. Hochul's student mask mandate is UNCONSTITUTIONAL, deeming mandates invalid statewide," he wrote on Facebook. "It was a packed house tonight as I spoke with the media about this huge win in the fight for parents rights. If you want to wear a mask, we support you. If you don't, it's your constitutional right."

However, state education officials said they expect the school masking requirement to remain while the judge's ruling is challenged.

The New York State Education Department said in a statement Monday that it has instructed superintendents across the state to continue following the masking requirement, reports PIX11. The statement noted that school masking regulations have been subject to conflicting court rulings.

"It is SED's understanding that the Department of Health will appeal the Nassau County Supreme Court decision, which will result in an automatic stay that will unambiguously restore the mask rule until such time as an appellate court issues a further ruling," the department said in the statement. "Therefore, schools must continue to follow the mask rule."

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