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Arizona's Ban On Mask Mandates In Schools Was Just Ruled Unconstitutional

MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty

A judge ruled Arizona’s ban on mask mandates in schools unconstitutional — just before it was set to take effect

With the delta variant still tearing its way across the country, mask mandates are still front and center in the culture wars that have arisen surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. States and counties with conservative leaders are still fighting to find ways to ban public health measures like mask mandates in schools, and in Arizona, lawmakers got particularly sneaky about it — they tried to sneak a handful of anti-progressive legislation, including a ban on mask mandates in schools, into the state’s budget.

Luckily, their attempt was so thinly veiled as to allow a judge to see right through it. Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Katherine Cooper just ruled that the law banning mask mandates — as well as a ban on vaccine requirements for universities, an “anti-fraud” rule that would restrict voting rights, and a ban on teaching critical race theory in schools — is unconstitutional.

“The issue here is not what the Legislature decided but how it decided what it did,” Cooper wrote, pointing to two rules in the Arizona Constitution that say a bill can only tackle one subject at a time, and that a bill must be given a title that accurately represents its content. The state budget, Cooper said, is clearly meant to allocate taxpayer money in the state, and all the rules the legislature tried to shoehorn in amount to an “array of provisions are in no way related to nor connected with each other or to an identifiable ‘budget procedure.'”

Cooper added, “The bill is classic logrolling – a medley of special interests cobbled together to force a vote for all or none.”

Cooper’s ruling comes just before the ban on mask mandates in schools was set to go into effect. Without her ruling, mask mandates would have been banned on school campuses as of Wednesday, but now, school officials are free to require students, staff, and visitors to mask up.

Cooper rejected arguments from the state’s attorney, who said it’s up to the Arizona legislature to interpret what a “single subject” is, and what policies can fit under the title of a bill. The state’s Republican governor, Doug Ducey, called her ruling “an example of judicial overreach.”

“Arizona’s state government operates with three branches, and it’s the duty and authority of only the legislative branch to organize itself and to make laws,” Ducey said in a statement. “Unfortunately, today’s decision is the result of a rogue judge interfering with the authority and processes of another branch of government.”

Arizona’s Republican attorney general has already said he plans to appeal the decision.