A New York Supreme Court judge ruled on Monday that Governor Kathy Hochul's mask mandates for schools and public places are void and cannot be enforced.
On December 10, Hochul reinstituted rules published by the New York Department of Health requiring masking in all public schools and for most venues generally unless they required proof of vaccination. The mandate was initially supposed to be reassessed on Jan. 15, but Hochul announced an extension on New Year's Eve, pushing the mandate until February 1.
In his decision in the case, brought by several New Yorkers against the state health department, New York Supreme Court Justice Thomas Rademaker of Nassau County wrote that Hochul and the state health commissioner lacked the authority to enact the measure and that the power to do so rests with the state legislature.
In March 2021, the New York Senate and Assembly passed legislation restricting New York governors from implementing or extend mandates outside of a state of emergency.
"It is evident that the Legislature of the State of New York is the branch of government charged with enacting laws and that the Executive branch is charged with enforcing the law," Rademaker wrote. He also expressed concern at the prospect of unelected officials doing the work of legislators.
"To allow such agency law making would result in laws being changed at the whim of every new Commissioner who could then be said to be beholden to their appointor," the decision reads. "But also it would surely result in a lack of representative government wherein only a select few appointees of the Governor make the laws."
On Monday night, the office of New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a notice of intent to appeal the ruling. She also announced this on her Twitter account. Hochul released a statement expressing "strong disagreement" with the ruling and declaring that she will seek "every option" to reverse it.
"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.
The ruling voids New York's statewide mask mandate for public spaces. However, it does not eliminate local mask mandates.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams said that the mask mandate would remain in place for the city's schools. "I believe it's unfortunate that it was struck down, and I believe those jurisdictions that are using it as an opportunity to remove mandates are making a big mistake," he said on New York radio station 1010 Wins.
Meanwhile, at least 20 Long Island school districts have moved to make mask-wearing optional. These districts include: Plainedge, Massapequa, North Merrick, Smithtown, Levittown, East Meadow, Sachem, West Islip, Farmingdale, Franklin Square, Rockville Centre, Sewanhaka, Bellmore-Merrick Central High School Districts, Copiague, Carle Place, Harborfields, Commack, Connetquot, Lindenhurst, and South Huntington.
The science behind masking children in schools has been deeply politicized. As Reason has reported, some widely-circulated studies cited by the CDC have amounted to "junk science." Furthermore, although the Omicron variant of COVID-19 is very contagious, it is milder than earlier strains of the virus, and the COVID-19 vaccine is available for anyone at least 5 years old.