Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt filed a lawsuit on Monday to stop the mask mandate in St. Louis City and St. Louis County, alleging that the newly reimposed masking requirement is “arbitrary and capricious” and violates the state constitution.
Schmitt, a Republican, filed the suit (pdf) in a circuit court in St. Louis County, naming St. Louis County Executive Sam Page, St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones, along with the directors of the county and city’s health departments.
“This continued government overreach is unacceptable and unconstitutional, especially in the face of a widely available vaccine,” Schmitt said in a news release, adding, “I will continue to fight this seemingly unending control and intrusion on peoples’ lives—we will not back down.”
The filing comes after local officials recently announced the city of St. Louis and St. Louis County were imposing an indoor mask mandate for anyone over the age of 5 regardless of vaccination status, citing a rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations and the spread of the Delta variant.
The new rule, which went into effect on July 26, requires mask-wearing in indoor public places and on public transportation. The mandate represents a stricter posture than the mask-wearing guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which says that fully vaccinated people need not wear facial coverings indoors, although the agency defers to local rules in the matter.
“We need everyone, vaccinated or not, to wear masks in crowded indoor settings,” Dr. Faisal Khan, acting director of the St. Louis County Department of Public Health, said in a statement. “We must protect our most vulnerable residents as well as children under 12, who are not yet eligible for vaccinations.”
Exceptions to the mask-wearing mandate include people seated in restaurants or bars, or individuals with disabilities that prevent them from putting on or taking off facial coverings. Mask wearing outdoors, while not required, will be “strongly encouraged,” the mayor’s office said.
In a July 23 order (pdf), Dr. Fredrick Echols, Acting Director of the Department of Health for the City of St. Louis, said the mask mandate would be in effect for 30 days, subject to extension.
Schmitt, in his lawsuit, said he was taking legal action “to prevent unlawful, unconstitutional, arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable conduct” by the Defendants, while asking the court to declare the mask mandate invalid.
The lawsuit, which calls the mask mandate “vague and self-contradictory,” also seeks a declaration that the mask mandate violates the Missouri Constitution, which prohibits government restrictions that are unconstitutionally vague.
In the filing, Schmitt also argues that requiring children to wear masks in school is “arbitrary and capricious” given that children are at low risk of catching the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, which causes COVID-19, and when they do, they have low mortality rates and less severe symptoms.
“There is absolutely no scientific reason to continue to force children to wear a mask in school,” Schmitt said in a statement.
Schmitt also argued that wearing masks in school may harm children, citing research that indicates mask-wearing by schoolchildren may inhibit their verbal and non-verbal communication, impeding their linguistic and emotional development.
Jones, the mayor of St. Louis, said she expects Schmitt’s lawsuit to fail.
“I wish that he would put more of his attention toward serving the people of the state of Missouri and holding our health and safety paramount instead of filing frivolous lawsuits that waste taxpayer dollars,” Jones said at a press conference, according to local outlet KMOV4.
Responding to the lawsuit, a spokesperson for St. Louis County Executive Sam Page’s office told local outlet KSDK in a statement: “Does Mr. Schmitt prioritize the health and safety of those he is supposed to serve or making bombastic remarks to try to elevate his run for higher office?”
In March, Schmitt announced that he is running for the U.S. Senate, seeking to succeed Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a fellow Republican who is retiring.