PHOENIX (AP) – The Arizona Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear an appeal from a lower court ruling that found new laws prohibiting schools from requiring masks and a host of others measures were unconstitutional.
The High Court’s decision came two days after judges rejected Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s request to allow provisions of state budget legislation to come into force.
The laws will remain blocked until the court hears the case and renders a decision. The court presented arguments for Nov. 2 after accepting Brnovich’s request to bypass the Court of Appeal.
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Katherine Cooper issued a ruling on Monday preventing the ban on school masks and a host of other state budget provisions from taking effect as scheduled on Wednesday. She sided with education groups who argued that the bills were filled with political elements unrelated to the budget and violated the state constitution requirement that subjects be related and expressed in the title of the bills.
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 warrants before the laws came into effect, and some immediately extended them after Cooper’s decision. Districts make up about one-third of Arizona’s 930,000 students attending traditional public schools in the district.
Arizona cities and counties can also enact mask requirements and other COVID-19 rules that would have been blocked by budget bills.
Republican opponents of school mask requirements and local COVID-19 restrictions are powerless to immediately pass new versions of the laws, even if GOP Governor Doug Ducey calls a special legislative session. That’s because there are two GOP vacancies in the tightly divided House, and Republicans no longer have the votes to pass bills without Democrat support.
Cooper’s sweeping move also hit non-virus provisions that slipped into the state budget and an entire fiscal measure which had served as a vehicle for a conservative political wish list. They included a required investigation into social media companies and the removal of the Democratic Secretary of State from her duty to defend election laws.
Brnovich had urged the court to overturn Cooper’s decision, claiming that the groups that sued had no legal right to challenge the bills, that the issue was political and outside the jurisdiction of the courts, and that Cooper had wrongly concluded that they had violated the constitution.
Lawyers for the education advocacy group that sued, including the Arizona School Boards Association, had urged the High Court to overturn the attorney general’s request for a swift ruling.
“The trial court relied on well-established precedents and correctly ruled that each of the impugned laws had been passed in violation of the constitution,” their record reads.
If the Supreme Court upholds Cooper’s decision, it will have far-reaching ramifications for the legislature. Republicans who control the Senate and House have long ignored the constitutional requirement that finance bills deal only with spending items. Lawmakers have filled them with political articles, and this year majority Republicans have been particularly aggressive.
A spokesperson for Ducey, CJ Karamargin, on Monday called Cooper’s decision “clearly an example of judicial overrun.”