Arizona high court upholds ruling blocking school mask ban

The Arizona Supreme Court on Tuesday unanimously upheld a lower court ruling that found the Republican-controlled legislature violated the state’s constitution by including new laws banning school mask mandates and a series of other measures in unrelated budget bills.

The state’s swift ruling came less than two hours after the seven judges heard arguments in the state’s appeal against a trial judge’s ruling. The judges had hammered Solicitor General Beau Roysden with questions about the Legislature’s insertion of policies on issues as disparate as dog racing and secure ballots into one of the budget bills.

The state constitution states that each bill must cover a topic, with each element properly related to the others. Separately, the titles of each bill should reflect the content and inform lawmakers and the public of what is included.

The decision will have far-reaching ramifications for the legislature. Republicans who control the Senate and House have bypassed this requirement for years, slipping elements of policy into budget bills. This year, the legislature has been particularly aggressive and has wrapped the 11 bills that make up the budget with a mishmash of conservative policy articles, some of which had failed as stand-alone bills.

The court upheld a September ruling by Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Katherine Cooper that prevented the ban on school mask warrants and a host of other state budget provisions from taking effect . Cooper found that the provisions of three budget bills – including the ban on school mask mandates – violated the title rule. She blocked these provisions while allowing the rest of the bills funding education, universities and health to come into force.

She completely invalidated another budget bill because it violated the one subject rule. The Legislature had filled him with a conservative wishlist of unrelated policy items, including a ban on local governments from imposing COVID-19 restrictions, requiring the use of special security paper on the ballots, allowing the Hunting and Fishing Department to register voters and required survey of social media companies.

Other arrangements included a special committee to review the 2020 election, stripping Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs of her duty to defend election laws and turning it over to the Republican prosecutor. General Mark Brnovich, and the conversion of dog racing licenses to harness 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 that we can find just one topic in SB1819?” Justice Bill Montgomery asked Roysden.

“Here’s what I would say to that,” Roysden replied. “I would say the tribunal shouldn’t go down that road 110 years after gaining statehood.”

Chief Justice Robert Brutinel asked why, and Roysden said it was not for the judiciary to apply the one-subject rule.

“So the one subject rule is just a suggestion?” Asked Brutinel.

Montgomery and other judges also questioned Roysden about the mask warrant ban, asking what it had to do with funding schools. The constitution states that credits are to be contained in legislation known as the “food bill,” while instructions on how to spend the money are contained in separate bills for items such as K-12 schools. and health.

“So, how … the mandate to cover the face and the mandate to immunize, or the exclusion of a mandate, what does that have to do with the appropriations?” Montgomery asked.

Roysden said the legislature believed mask warrants would reduce attendance, but Montgomery and Brutinel were not persuaded and insisted on how the ban on mask warrants was specifically tied to spending on the ” food bill “.

“What I’m hearing is that it doesn’t have to be expense related,” Brutinel asked.

“It isn’t,” Roysden said. “Because it’s the legislature. “

He warned of “chaos” if the High Court upholds the trial court’s ruling.

Governor Doug Ducey’s spokesperson CJ Karamargin called the trial court’s decision “clearly an example of judicial overrun” rendered by a rogue judge. On Tuesday he said: “We are extremely disappointed with the decision.

“There are three distinct and equal branches of government, and we respect the role of the judiciary – but the court should give the same respect to the separate authority of the legislature,” Karamargin said in a statement.

He also said Arizonans should be able to make their own health decisions without a government mandate.

Ducey named four of the seven judges who heard the case on Tuesday. New judge Kathryn King recused herself from Tuesday’s hearing and an appeals court judge not appointed by Ducey heard the case.

In a case that raised the same issues, another judge on Tuesday blocked three sections of another budget bill because they violated the one-topic rule. Justice John Hannah left the rest of the Criminal Justice Budget Bill untouched.

The city of Phoenix raised the challenge, saying the provisions barring a majority of civilians from serving on civilian police oversight boards violated both the title and the single subject rule. The city also challenged a provision in the same budget bill that allows any lawmaker to request an attorney general investigation of “any written policy, written rule, or written regulation adopted by an agency, department or other county entity, city ​​or town ”.

Hannah wrote that the drafters of the state constitution “knew that democratically elected legislatures sometimes do not behave democratically,” so they included rules on the legislative process in the constitution knowing that the judiciary would be called upon. to enforce them.

In their decisions, Cooper, the Maricopa County Superior Court judge, and the Supreme Court sided with education groups, including the Arizona School Boards Assn., Which had argued that the bills contained policy elements unrelated to the budget.

Cooper’s decision paved the way for public schools in Kindergarten to Grade 12 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 warrants before the laws came into effect, and some immediately extended them after Cooper’s decision.

Arizona cities and counties have also been able to enact mask requirements and other COVID-19 rules that have reportedly been blocked by budget bills.

Roopali Desai, the attorney for the school boards association, urged the High Court to uphold Cooper’s decision because the legislature misled the public by not giving proper notice in the bill’s titles.

“You look to see if the challenged provisions are properly noted in the title or if the title is misleading,” Desai told the court. “In this case, both are true.”

In his court documents, Desai said Cooper “relied on well-established precedents and correctly ruled that each of the impugned laws was passed in violation of the constitution.”

Nothing in Tuesday’s rulings prevents the legislature from trying to reconstitute the laws struck in the next legislative session.

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