PHOENIX — The Arizona Supreme Court has upheld a ruling that found the Arizona Legislature unconstitutionally included a ban on school mask mandates in the state's budget passed over the summer, which means school districts will continue to be able to require masks for the time being.
The Supreme Court issued the ruling Tuesday stating that a lower court's previous ruling would stand.
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, who has encouraged Arizonans to get the vaccine, but is adamantly against vaccine and mask mandates, challenged that court's ruling.
A Maricopa County Superior Court judge issued the initial ruling in late September, days before the newly-enacted law was set to take effect.
In the previous ruling, the Arizona School Boards Association argued that the Legislature violated the state constitution's title requirement and single-subject rule, meaning that each piece of legislation needs to focus on one subject and law.
The Legislature included the mandates within the state's budget, part of a budget reconciliation maneuver.
"Sections 12, 21, and 50 of HB2898; Sections 12 and 13 of SB1824; Section 2 of SB1825; and SB1819 violate the title and/or subject matter requirements of the Arizona Constitution...and are therefore void and unenforceable," the county judge wrote in her ruling.
Prior to the September ruling, several districts in the state enacted their own mask mandates in defiance of the law and Gov. Ducey's orders, citing ongoing health concerns around the pandemic.
Following Tuesday's ruling, the Phoenix Union High School District, who has challenged the governor on his mask mandates throughout the pandemic, issued the following statement, applauding the court's ruling.
"Phoenix Union is grateful for the Arizona Supreme Court’s ruling this afternoon. Arizona’s classrooms are now safer places for students and educators," the statement read. "School systems with a mask requirement are 3.5 times less likely to have a COVID-19 outbreak. The safety of all staff, students, and families must be the top priority of local and state leaders. We will continue to enforce our mask requirement and provide widespread access to the vaccine, including the soon-to-be-approved Pfizer pediatric formula, at all PXU large campuses weekly."
The Arizona Education Association also released a statement Tuesday afternoon on the ruling.
"Today's Arizona Supreme Court ruling is a victory for our students, educators, and parents," said AEA President Joe Thomas in a statement. "This ruling puts the power of local control and decision making back in the hands of our communities. Now, our elected school boards can make decisions based on local conditions in determining whether to have a mask requirement to keep their students and school staff safe."
Gov. Ducey has not yet issued a statement regarding the Supreme Court's ruling.
In September, the Governor's Office said the lower court's ruling was "an example of judicial overreach" by a "rogue" judge.
"This decision is clearly an example of judicial overreach. Arizona’s state government operates with three branches, and it’s the duty and authority of only the legislative branch to organize itself and to make laws. Unfortunately, today’s decision is the result of a rogue judge interfering with the authority and processes of another branch of government. Further action will be taken to challenge this ruling and ensure separation of powers is maintained," the statement said.