LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KARK) – A Pulaski Co. circuit judge ruled on Wednesday that Law 1002, the state’s ban on the mask warrant, was unconstitutional. Previously, he temporarily blocked the law, which paved the way for cities and schools to implement mask warrants.
Judge Tim Fox released his ruling on Wednesday. The law banned in-state mask warrants, which were implemented at the state level at the start of the pandemic and have been instituted locally to varying degrees since.
The masks have become a source of political debate as administrators balance Americans’ ideas of freedom with security amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. When Fox granted the preliminary injunction in August, more than 100 Arkansas schools implemented the warrants. Health officials have repeatedly said that a combination of masks and widespread vaccination is the key to ending the pandemic.
“Frankly, I would be a fan of making it compulsory [in schools]”said Dr Robert Hopkins, professor of internal medicine and pediatrics at UAMS.” I think it’s too easy if it’s not a mandate for people not to do it. “
UALR Law School Professor Robert Steinbuch said Wednesday’s decision has not had a significant impact on the functioning of the state since August.
“We are already living under Judge Fox’s ruling,” said Steinbuch.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) released a statement indicating his support for Judge Fox’s ruling, despite signing Bill 1002 in his executive role.
State Senator Trent Garner (R) sponsored the bill which became Law 1002. He said he had made changes to the legislation at Hutchinson’s request and believed they were on the same wavelength, and he called Hutchinson “weak” for his response to Fox.
“What upsets me is literally that thousands of parents are having this choice taken away, and tens of thousands of children will suffer,” Garner said.
In documents, Fox accused Attorney General Leslie Rutledge of mishandling the case from the start with his rulings on the attorney.
“The Attorney General’s failure to recognize a clear conflict of interest wasted thousands of dollars of Arkansas taxpayer dollars,” Fox wrote.
In a response, Rutledge’s office said, “The Attorney General is reviewing the opinion of the trial court and will determine next steps.
The future of the state’s ban on mask warrants remains uncertain, Steinbuch said. Lawmakers can try to bring it up in future special sessions if called, but the next regular session is not imminent. Steinbuch said that means the appeal process is likely the next step.
“I fully expect Justice Fox’s decision to be appealed to the Supreme Court, and I am not convinced that his decision will prevail,” Steinbuch said.