(Headline USA) While it is perfectly fine for officials at every level—from the federal to the local—to issue lockdowns and mandates imposing on civil liberties under the auspices of the coronavirus, a Republican governor’s attempts to block such power grabs was deemed overreach by an activist Circuit Court judge.
For now, Florida school districts can legally require their students to wear masks, a judge ruled Friday
Leon County Circuit Judge John C. Cooper claimed Gov. Ron DeSantis overstepped his authority when he issued an executive order banning such mandates.
Cooper sided with a group of parents who claimed in a lawsuit that DeSantis’ order was unconstitutional and “without legal authority.”
The governor’s order empowered parents to decide if their child wears a mask at school.
The decision came after a three-day virtual hearing, and after 10 Florida school boards voted to defy DeSantis and impose mask requirements with no parental opt-out.
Districts that have done so include Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, Tampa, Jacksonville, West Palm Beach and others.
Cooper’s ruling will not go into effect until it is put into writing, which the judge asked the parents’ lawyers to complete by Monday.
While a Florida law supported by DeSantis gives parents the ultimate authority to oversee health issues for their children, it also exempts government actions that are needed to protect public health and are reasonable and limited in scope.
Cooper said a school district’s decision to require student masking to prevent the spread of the virus falls within that exemption.
The law “doesn’t ban mask mandates at all,” Cooper said during a two-hour hearing that was conducted online because of the resurgent pandemic. “It doesn’t require that a mask mandate must include a parental opt-out at all.”
The judge also noted that two Florida Supreme Court decisions from 1914 and 1939 found that individual rights are limited by their impact on the rights of others.
For example, he said, adults have the right to drink alcohol but not to drive drunk, because that endangers others. There is a right to free speech, but not to harass or threaten others or yell “fire” in a crowded theater, he said.
In that same vein, he said, school boards can reasonably argue that maskless students endanger the health of other students and teachers, despite the fact that young people constitute only a minuscule portion of COVID deaths and vaccines are readily available to protect adults who may be susceptible.
DeSantis has dismissed the latest overreaching recommendation from the flip-flopping Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that demands people wear masks regardless of vaccination status.
He has questioned the highly partisan CDC’s legitimacy and said the fiat is not applicable to Florida.
But Cooper claimed the state’s medical experts who testified during the trial that masking is ineffective in preventing COVID-19’s spread were in a distinct minority among doctors and scientists.
He also said that while DeSantis frequently states that a Brown University study concluded masks are ineffective, the study’s authors wrote that no such conclusion should be drawn.
“I don’t say that the governor has time enough to read a report that thick, but his advisers do … and that statement is incorrect,” Cooper said.
The governor’s office said Friday that Cooper’s decision wasn’t based on the law and the state will appeal it.
“It’s not surprising that Judge Cooper would rule against parents’ rights and their ability to make the best educational and medical decisions for their family, but instead rule in favor of elected politicians,” spokeswoman Taryn Fenske said in a statement. “This ruling was made with incoherent justifications, not based in science and facts—frankly not even remotely focused on the merits of the case presented.”
Rather than defend the merits of his case Craig Whisenhunt, one of the attorneys representing the parents, opted to engage in ad hominem attacks against the governor.
He claimed DeSantis’ actions in the case were “atrocious” and called him “a bully in the room that is beating up children.”
“The path that he took showed evidence of some cowardice,” Whisenhunt sniped.
DeSantis had threatened to impose financial penalties on school boards, specifically threatening two districts in Democratic strongholds that voted for strict mask mandates.
Democratic President Joe Biden said if that happened, federal money would be used to cover any costs.
Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press