Arizona Supreme Court Upholds Ruling Blocking School Mask Ban | Q check policy
PHOENIX (AP) – The Arizona Supreme Court on Tuesday unanimously upheld a lower court ruling finding that Republican-controlled lawmakers violated the state’s constitution by enacting new laws banning school mask mandates and a number incorporated other measures into independent budget laws.
The state Supreme Court’s swift verdict came less than two hours after the seven judges heard arguments in the state appeal against a judge’s judgment in court. The judges had hammered Attorney General Beau Roysden with questions about the legislature’s inclusion of policies as diverse as dog racing and safe ballot papers on one of the budget bills.
The state constitution states that any bill must cover only one subject, with each point properly linked to another. Regardless, the titles of any bill must reflect its content and adequately inform lawmakers and the public about what is in it.
The decision will have far-reaching consequences for the legislature. Republicans who control the Senate and House of Representatives have bypassed this requirement for years and included political issues in budget bills. This year the legislature was particularly aggressive, packing the eleven bills that make up the budget with a hodgepodge of conservative political elements, some of which had failed as bills in their own right.
The court upheld a September ruling by Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Katherine Cooper preventing the school mask ban and a host of other provisions of the state budget package from taking effect. Cooper found provisions in three budget laws – including prohibiting school mask mandates – violate the title rule. It blocked these provisions while the rest of the education, university and health funding laws went into effect.
She completely rejected another draft budget because it violated the one-subject rule. Lawmakers had packed it with a conservative wish list of independent political items, including a ban on local governments from imposing COVID-19 restrictions that mandate the use of special security paper on ballot papers, allowing the Game and Fish Department to register voters and one required investigation of social media companies.
Other provisions included a special committee to review the 2020 elections, depriving Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs of her duty to defend electoral laws and handing it over to Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich, and converting dog racing permits into horse racing licenses.
“Can you tell me, and this is a serious question, how does dog and harness racing relate to the anti-fraud ballot so we can find a single subject within SB1819,” asked Judge Bill Montgomery Roysden.
“Here’s what I would say about it,” replied Roysden. “I would say that the court shouldn’t take this path to statehood for 110 years.”
Chief Justice Robert Brutinel asked why not, and Roysden said it was not the place of justice to enforce the single-subject rule.
“So the one-subject rule is just a suggestion?” Brutinel asked.
Montgomery and other judges also questioned Roysden about the mask mandate ban, asking what it had to do with school funding. The constitution says funds should be included in laws known as “feed bills,” while instructions on how to use the money are included in separate bills for things like K-12 schools and health.
“So how does the face-covering mandate and the vaccination mandate, or excluding a mandate, relate to the funds,” asked Montgomery.
Roysden said the Legislature believed mask mandates would reduce attendance, but Montgomery and Chief Justice Brutinel were not convinced and urged him on how a mask mandate ban was specifically related to “feed bill” spending.
“What I hear is that it doesn’t have to have anything to do with expenses,” Brutinel asked.
“It doesn’t,” said Roysden. “Because it is the legislature …”
He warned of “chaos” if the Supreme Court upheld the judgment of the first court.
Governor Doug Ducey’s spokesman, CJ Karamargin, had described the trial’s verdict as “clearly an example of the hyperbole of justice” struck by a rogue judge. On Tuesday he said, “We are extremely disappointed with the verdict.
“There are three different branches of government on an equal footing, and we respect the role of the judiciary – but the court should show equal respect to the separate authority of the legislature,” Karamargin said in a statement.
He also said that Arizonans should be able to make their own health decisions free of government mandates.
Ducey has appointed four of the seven judges who heard the case on Tuesday. Newly appointed judge Kathryn King has withdrawn from Tuesday’s hearing, and an un-appointed Ducey appellate judge has heard the case.
In one case that raised the same issues, another judge blocked three sections of another budget on Tuesday for violating the one-compartment rule. Judge John Hannah left the remainder of the Criminal Justice Budget Act intact and said they were independent of the contested provisions.
The City of Phoenix brought up the challenge, saying that regulations preventing a majority of civilians from serving on civil police supervisory bodies violate both the title and the individual subject rule. The city has also challenged a provision in the same draft budget that would allow any lawmaker to conduct an attorney general’s investigation into “any written policy, regulation, or ordinance issued by any agency, department, or other entity of the county, city, or town the city was accepted ”to apply.
Hannah wrote that the drafters of the state constitution “knew that democratically elected legislatures sometimes do not behave democratically,” so they incorporated rules for legislative process into the constitution, knowing that the judiciary was called upon to enforce them.
Cooper, and now the Supreme Court, sided with educational groups, including the Arizona School Boards Association, who had argued that the bills were filled with political elements unrelated to the budget.
Cooper’s decision paved the way for K-12 public schools to continue requiring students to wear face masks to help slow the spread of the coronavirus. At least 29 of the state’s public school districts issued mask mandates before the laws went into effect, and some extended them immediately following Cooper’s decision.
Cities and counties in Arizona could also enact mask requirements and other COVID-19 rules that would have been blocked by household bills.
School board attorney Roopali Desai called on the court to uphold Cooper’s judgment as lawmakers misled the public by failing to inform the public through the titles of the law.
“They look to see whether the challenged provisions are appropriately noted in the title or whether the title is misleading,” Desai told the court. “In this case both are true.”
In her court records, Desai said Cooper “relied on a well-regulated precedent and correctly determined that each of the challenged laws was passed in violation of the Constitution.”
Nothing in Tuesday’s decisions prevents the legislature from re-enacting the tarnished laws in the next legislative period.