Lawsuit challenging Lamont’s school mask rule heads to CT Supreme Court

Photo of John Moritz
Protesters of mask rules and vaccine mandates gathered at the state Capitol in Hartford on Saturday, Aug. 28.

Protesters of mask rules and vaccine mandates gathered at the state Capitol in Hartford on Saturday, Aug. 28.

Dan Haar / Hearst Connecticut Media

A lawsuit challenging Gov. Ned Lamont’s school mask mandate is headed to the Connecticut Supreme Court, five months after a lower court judge cited the justices’ own rulings as precedent to keep the requirement in place.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday took over the case from the state’s Appellate Court, where the original appeal was filed after Hartford Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher dismissed the lawsuit in May.

The court did not set a date for oral arguments and attorneys on the case were told to abide by the previously set schedule for filing briefs.

The lawsuit was filed more than a year ago by four Connecticut parents and the anti-mask group CT Freedom Alliance, arguing that Lamont and his then-education commissioner Miguel Cardona exceeded their authority by issuing the mask mandate, which the plaintiffs also described as “dangerous and damaging,” to the health and emotional well-being of schoolchildren.

The plaintiffs are represented by two conservative state lawmakers — Doug Dubinsky and Craig Fishbein — along with high-profile defense attorney Norm Pattis.

Dubinsky said Friday the justices “essentially reached down and grabbed” the case from the lower appeals court, before referring additional questions to his co-counsel Pattis, who could not be reached for comment.

In a statement posted to its website this week, the CT Freedom Alliance welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision to take the case while also asking its supporters to donate to the group’s legal defense fund.

“This has taken far longer than we would have preferred, as our children are well into their second school year of muzzling, with a COVID shot mandate for schoolchildren looming on the horizon,” the post read.

A Lamont spokesman declined to comment on the case when reached on Friday.

In his order earlier this year to dismiss the lawsuit, Moukawsher leaned heavily on the Supreme Court’s previous ruling against Milford bar owner Kristine Casey, who challenged Lamont’s executive order to close bars early in the pandemic. Moukawsher also noted that state lawmakers have repeatedly endorsed Lamont’s emergency actions.

“There can be little doubt that between the Casey ruling and the General Assembly’s action that principles and oversight exist and have been strengthened,” Moukawsher wrote in May. “This means this court must deem the governor’s actions within his rights under the constitution.”

In September, lawmakers voted again to extend Lamont’s emergency powers until February, including the mask requirement in public schools. Despite waning case numbers, Lamont has said the requirement is necessary due to the lack of vaccine eligibility for children under age 12, as well as continued guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Lamont’s administration is being represented in the lawsuit by Attorney General William Tong, a fellow Democrat. Two attorneys in Tong’s office, Darren Cunningham and Timothy James Holzman, are listed as those representing the defendants in online court records.

The Connecticut Supreme Court is comprised of seven justices who were all appointed by Democratic governors.