Masked students in school (Gundam Ai via Shutterstock)

Lawyers representing Gov. Ned Lamont cited recent actions by the state legislature and Supreme Court and asked a Superior Court judge this week to uphold an executive order mandating masks in Connecticut schools.

In documents filed Tuesday, the attorney general’s office asked Judge Thomas Moukawsher for a summary judgment ruling in an ongoing case challenging one of Lamont’s executive orders aimed at slowing the spread of the COVID-19 virus. 

The case stems from a lawsuit by a group of parents contesting an order that requires students and teachers to wear masks in public schools. Lawyers for the parents positioned the issue as a challenge of Lamont’s authority under two emergency declarations made as a result of the pandemic. They have argued that the governor’s authority required greater oversight by the state legislature. 

Although Moukawsher has maintained that the mask order itself was a prudent response to the virus, the judge last month issued an opinion in which he warned of the dangers of executive overreach and agreed that Lamont’s orders required ratification by the legislature. 

Moukawsher also said the outcome of the school mask case would hinge in large part on the state Supreme Court’s reasoning in another case, where it upheld the governor’s emergency authority against a challenge by a bar owner from Milford. 

In a motion filed this week, assistant attorneys general said the governor has since received clarification and endorsement by both branches of government. At the end of March, the Supreme Court explained its unanimous decision upholding executive emergency powers in the Milford bar case and, around the same time, the legislature voted to ratify and extend Lamont’s emergency orders. 

“The legislature has now acted, has fully approved of the Governor’s emergency actions to date, and authorized him to continue exercising them through May 20 and beyond. During the legislative debate, Senator Martin Looney remarked that the purpose of the bill was ‘to make sure we are now providing a degree of acknowledgement of the correctness of the Governor’s actions,’” Assistant Attorney General Timothy Holzman wrote. 

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court’s decision eliminated concerns that the governor’s emergency authority had violated the separation of powers provision of the state constitution, Holzman said. 

In a separate motion filed Monday, lawyers for the plaintiffs drew different conclusions. Although the Supreme Court dispelled separation of powers concerns in that case, lawyers for the parents said that the high court ruling did not preclude all of Moukawsher’s earlier opinions. In particular, they pointed to the judge’s suggestion that there should be limits to how long the legislature could turn power over to the governor.

“If the Court accepts Defendant Lamont’s invitation to read the time limitation out of [a civil preparedness emergency statute], it will grant him and any subsequent governor a free license to rule by executive fiat indefinitely. The day that happens will spell the end of our constitutional republic and a return to the yoke of a tyrannical monarchy, which our ancestors fought a bloody war to lift from their necks,” the plaintiffs’ lawyers wrote. 

They said Lamont’s emergency declarations should have been limited to their initial six-month period. The legislature’s subsequent vote in March to ratify them could not retroactively validate the executive orders, they contended. They asked Moukawsher for a summary judgment against the ongoing mask requirement.

“For a whole school year, the Plaintiffs’ children have endured a mask mandate regime imposed on them without lawful authority and by railroad tactics that have disregarded all proper procedures of law,” the lawyers wrote.