A Superior Court judge ruled in favor of Gov. Ned Lamont Monday and upheld the constitutionality of the state’s requirement that students wear masks in schools following actions by both the legislature and state Supreme Court.
“[T]he Constitution requires nothing more of this court than to grant the defendants a full and final summary judgment — not merely because the lawsuit is moot — but because the actions of the executive have been ratified as correct by both of the other co-equal branches of government,” Judge Thomas Moukawsher wrote in the ruling.
The case had been one of few remaining legal challenges to a host of emergency orders the governor issued over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic since he declared public health and civil preparedness emergencies last March.
Since then, courts have largely upheld the constitutionality of the orders and Lamont has lifted almost all of them in recent weeks as the state’s coronavirus situation has improved amidst high vaccination rates. The school mask requirement remains one of few public health orders in effect, at least for the duration of the current school year.
After the court rejected their claim that masks endangered school children, lawyers for a group of parents opposed to the mask requirement argued the order was unconstitutional on the grounds that it violated separation of powers provisions of Connecticut law. The legislature, they claimed, had abdicated its responsibilities to Lamont by allowing him to continue operating with emergency authority.
In his Monday decision, Moukawsher reflected on a prior ruling, in which he found that Lamont’s executive orders required more oversight by the legislature. The judge found that the governor’s orders needed to be ratified by lawmakers and the law required a means for them to reject orders they did not approve of. He also found the need for time limits to the governor’s declarations.
He said all those concerns had since been addressed by a Supreme Court decision on a related case and recent action by the legislature, which afforded the branch more oversight of the governor’s emergency powers.
Moukawsher said the matter was settled.
“The Supreme Court and this court also recognized that emergencies are fluid and that the General Assembly cannot be expected to vote every time a road or a business is to be closed or reopened during a crisis,” the judge wrote. “A court also cannot review week-to-week changes in conditions to say whether the Governor acted within or exceeded his powers.”
Earlier this month, the legislature approved an extension of Lamont’s emergency authority until July 20. Although he lifted most remaining public health restrictions last week, the governor has said he expects to ask the legislature to maintain some emergency declaration for the foreseeable future. He said it necessary to qualify for federal aid and continue to administer the state’s rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine.
During a press briefing Monday, Acting Public Health Commissioner Dr. Deidre Gifford said the state would maintain the school mask requirement for the duration of the current school year and would be assessing future guidance from the Centers for Disease Control before it makes a determination on the next school year.
“We don’t think we’ll have vaccines for young children in time for the start of school in the fall,” Gifford said. “So we’ll have to see where things are with cases and what the new CDC guidance is to know for sure what the fall school year will look like.”