The Connecticut Supreme Court concluded Thursday it lacked jurisdiction to rule on a lawsuit challenging a now-lapsed executive order requiring students to wear masks in classrooms in an effort to mitigate spread of COVID-19.
In September, the court heard arguments in the case, brought by the CT Freedom Alliance and a group of parents opposed to the mask requirement. The plaintiffs asked the high court to overturn a 2021 Superior Court ruling, which upheld the mandate issued by Gov. Ned Lamont at the outset of the pandemic. Lamont sunset the order early last year.
In a 19-page unanimous ruling dismissing the appeal, Justice Gregory D’Auria wrote that the court was not convinced by the plaintiffs’ arguments that the case was still relevant despite the mandate’s repeal. One such argument, brought by attorney Norman Pattis, was based on the potential that the state would enact another mask mandate in the future.
The court saw no evidence to suggest that was the case and in its ruling, D’Auria said the argument was “entirely speculative” since neither Lamont nor the Department of Education had signaled any plans to impose new restrictions.
“To conclude that there is a reasonable likelihood that a school mask mandate will be reinstated would require this court to predict the future trajectory of the current pandemic as well as how the political branches will respond to a return of more severe conditions or increased risk of contagion,” D’Auria wrote.
The court’s ruling acknowledged the emotionally-charged nature of the debate surrounding the legality of COVID restrictions issued during the pandemic, especially those that impacted kids.
“Both the effectiveness of masking and the justification for and legality of mandating masking have been the topics of widespread and often vehement public debate, dividing citizens, families, and elected officials,” D’Auria wrote. “Like most public controversies, this one has made its way into the courts. Not surprisingly, feelings have run most passionately when the controversy has involved children.”
The ruling appears to put to rest one of the last remaining challenges to the emergency orders issued by Lamont during the pandemic. In an earlier ruling released in 2021, the court upheld another executive order in a case brought by the owner of a bar in Milford, which had been forced to close during the lockdown at the start of the pandemic.
State Attorney General William Tong’s office defended Lamont and former Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona in the case. In a Friday statement issued through a spokesperson on Friday, Tong said the court made the right call.
“The Governor’s actions during the pandemic were lawful and necessary, and saved countless lives. The Connecticut Supreme Court was right to dismiss this challenge as moot,” Tong said.
Meanwhile, the CT Freedom Alliance, the organization that brought the lawsuit, was no longer active, according to a social media post from last year.
This week’s ruling comes as a recent surge in hospitalized COVID patients began to subside. As of Thursday, there were 698 COVID positive patients admitted to Connecticut hospitals, a decline of 63 people from the prior week.
As of Friday, seven of Connecticut’s eight counties had been designated by the Centers for Disease Control as high transmission areas. Only New London County remained in the medium range.
The state Judicial Branch itself reminded residents in the seven high transmission counties that masks were recommended in courts in those areas.