Judge: Former Missouri AG Schmitt had no power to stop school mask orders

(The Center Square) – Former Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt didn’t have the legal authority to insert his office into a public school district’s effort to manage a pandemic, according to a circuit court ruling.

Schmitt, now a U.S. senator, in December 2021 warned all public school districts to expect legal action from his office if they didn’t “rescind and cease enforcement and publicizing” mask mandates, quarantine orders and other measures. Schmitt’s warning came after Cole County Circuit Judge Daniel Green ruled against the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services for abolishing “representative government in the creation of public health laws” and authorizing “closure of a school or assembly based on the unfettered opinion of an unelected official.”

Later that month, Schmitt set up a system for parents to report school mask mandates and quarantines and publicized it on his social media accounts.

As masking in schools subsided with the pandemic, Schmitt dropped the lawsuits against school districts. However, the Lee’s Summit School District filed a counterclaim against Schmitt and the attorney general’s office.

Judge Marco Roldan issued a summary judgment against Schmitt and also mentioned current Attorney General Andrew Bailey, who was appointed by Republican Gov. Mike Parson when Schmitt was elected to the Senate.

“Aside from lacking any authority over locally elected boards of education, the Attorney General’s orders did not follow Missouri law and were therefore without legal force or effect,” Roldan wrote in an 18-page ruling. “Neither Attorney General Schmitt nor his successor has disavowed the orders, and in fact, the Attorney General continues to insist that school districts lack the very authority granted them under Missouri law.”

Roldan wrote Judge Green’s ruling didn’t legally allow Schmitt to sue school districts over mask mandates because the public school orders weren’t unconstitutional or illegal.

“The Attorney General did not identify statutes or constitutional provisions to support his order, resting his directive instead on a judgment in another case to which no school district was a party, and whose rationale did not apply to the School District,” Roldan wrote.

Roldan didn’t mention Schmitt was campaigning to run for the U.S. Senate during this time, but he wrote the continuous promotion of Green’s ruling and threats of lawsuits caused disruption. He mentioned some parents notified they were sending their children to school without masks while others claimed the mandate violated state law, both citing Schmitt’s communications.

“The Attorney General then amplified his orders on social media, encouraging parents and students to defy the authority granted to the Board of Education by Missouri law,” Roldan wrote. “Parents and students followed the Attorney General’s lead, leading to even greater confusion than the pandemic had already caused.”

Email and phone messages to the Lee’s Summit School District, its attorneys and Bailey’s office weren’t immediately returned.

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