A Nassau County judge ruled Monday that a New York State mandate requiring people wear masks to curb the spread of coronavirus in schools, on mass transit, and in public places is unconstitutional.
The ruling, which came one week before the mandate was due to expire, indicated that Gov. Kathy Hochul overstepped her authority in imposing a rule that needed to have been passed by the state legislature.
“Until the New York State Legislature acts,” Judge Thomas Rademaker wrote in his ruling, the executive orders “… are violative of the New York State Constitution.”
The ruling was the results of a lawsuit brought by members of a group called Mandate for Freedom that is challenging the mask mandates. The judge cited the fact that last year the state legislature curbed any governor’s ability to issue decrees, such as a mask mandate, amid a declared state of emergency.
“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 Monday night. “We strongly disagree with this ruling, and we are pursuing every option to reverse this immediately.”
The State Department of Education issued a statement saying that the mandate remains in effect and the state attorney general’s office indicated that a stay of the ruling automatically goes into effect upon filing of an appeal, which is expected Tuesday morning. But some of LI’s 124 school districts said that masks would be optional until the the stay is in effect.
“Until such a time as the governor takes the necessary legal action to stay the court’s decision, there is no authority to require that masks be worn in school,” John Stimmel, superintendent of Sayville Schools, said in an email to parents. “As of this memo, masks will be optional at the start of the school day tomorrow.”
Rademaker wrote that his ruling is not intended in any way to question or otherwise opine on the efficacy, need, or requirement of masks as a means or tool in dealing with the COVID-19 virus, but that “enacting any laws to this end is entrusted solely to the state legislature.”
Hochul’s Democrats hold large majorities in both houses of the state legislature.
The school mask mandates was issued on Hochul’s first day in office in August, days before the fall semester started, and the rule requiring masks in public places was issued in December. The ruling comes after newly elected Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman recently signed an executive order telling local school boards to vote on whether to continue following the mandate.
Republican opponents of coronavirus restrictions cheered the decision.
“The governor and State Education Department have no authority to enforce this mandate without the approval of state lawmakers,” Blakeman tweeted. “This is a major win for students and parents.”
On Tuesday, Blakeman held a news conference praising the decision.
“We want our kids to have a childhood, we are tired of sending our kids to school with masks, and by the way, this is about choice,” he said. “If a parent chooses to send their child to school with a mask, that’s fine … We have no problem with that. We’re not anti-mask, we’re anti-mandate.”
U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), the GOP’s gubernatorial frontrunner challenging Hochul in the November elections, agreed.
“The overreach of this statewide mask mandate that relies on partial science rather than all of it has been very widely and adversely felt throughout New York,” he said.