In a move that left conservatives reeling, an Arkansas judge issued a preliminary injunction Friday that will block the state from enforcing a ban on mask mandates by government entities — at least for the time being.
According to the Associated Press, the ruling by Judge Tim Fox means a measure that blocks government offices from imposing mask mandates amid COVID-19 “cannot be enforced in any shape, fashion or form” as two cases against it make their way through the courts.
The law, first signed by Arkansas’ GOP governor Asa Hutchinson last spring, made it so public, government entities, like school boards, couldn’t require masks of patrons (or students).
But Fox said the law violated the Arkansas constitution, including by discriminating between students at public and private schools, according to the AP.
“Everything has changed”
Hutchinson indicated after the ruling was handed down that he actually supported the decision to scrap the law.
“I signed it for those reasons that our cases were at a low point,” the governor said of the ban on mask mandates, according to The Hill. “Everything has changed now. And yes, in hindsight I wish that had not become law,” he added in a talk with reporters.
As the AP notes, those challenging the law say it’s necessary to require masks particularly at public schools in the state as cases of the coronavirus continue to tick up nationwide.
One of the two suits comes “from an east Arkansas school district where more than 900 staff and students are quarantining because of a coronavirus outbreak,” the AP said.
“My objective has been achieved”
Citing this and other concerns, Hutchinson had hoped state lawmakers would amend the law prior to Fox being forced to rule on it. But though they didn’t, Hutchinson is still claiming victory, much to the chagrin of fellow Republicans in the state who don’t support mask requirements.
“While the Arkansas General Assembly did not amend Act 1002, my objective has been achieved by the court’s decision today of Judge Fox who ruled that Act 1002 is unconstitutional,” the governor said in a statement Friday, according to The Hill. “This ruling provides flexibility for school districts to make decisions on how to best protect their students.”
In the meantime, however, other Republican governors are continuing to stand by their principles as the pandemic picks up steam yet again. In Florida, for example, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has taken action to ensure that parents — not the state and schools — get to decide whether to have their children masked up this fall.
It’s a shame other members of the GOP across the U.S. don’t seem to be following suit.