(The Center Square) – The temporary restraining order blocking Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s COVID-19 mask and exclusion policies in schools remains in place after an appeals court dismissed the governor’s appeal Thursday evening.
“Because the emergency rules voided by the TRO are no longer in effect, a controversy regarding the application of those rules no longer exists,” the appeals court panel said in a ruling published late Thursday evening. “Thus, the matter is moot.”
Justices John Turner and Thomas Harris agreed to dismiss the governor’s appeal. Justice Lisa Holder White concurred in part and dissented in part.
The dismissal effectively means there is no statewide mask mandate for schools, but local school districts have the authority to implement their own policies.
In October 2021, more than 700 parents sued the governor, state education officials and more than 145 school districts over the mask and exclusion mandates Pritzker ordered two months prior.
The lawsuit was heard over two days in Sangamon County Circuit Court in January. On Feb. 4, Circuit Court Judge Raylene Grischow issued a temporary restraining order against the mandate, deeming it null and void.
“Statutory rights have attempted to be bypassed through the issuance of Executive Orders and Emergency Rules,” Grischow wrote earlier this month. “This type of evil is exactly what the law was intended to constrain.”
Pritzker appealed. The appellate court notes the governor’s rule expired Feb. 13, with the Illinois Department of Public Health renewing the rule Feb. 14.
“However, on February 15, 2022, the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR) objected to and suspended IDPH’s renewal,” the appellate court said. “Thus, none of the rules found by the circuit court to be null and void are currently in effect. Accordingly, for the following reasons, we dismiss defendant’s appeal because the expiration of the emergency rules renders this appeal moot.”
The court did say local control of the issue is still in place.
“We note the language of the TRO in no way restrains school districts from acting independently from the executive orders or the IDPH in creating provisions addressing COVID-19,” the court wrote. “Thus, it does not appear the school districts are temporarily restrained from acting by the court’s TRO.”
On Wednesday, Pritzker insisted there was still a statewide mandate for masks and exclusion of suspected close contacts from schools.
“Yeah, the executive order is in effect,” Pritzker said. “We still have a mask requirement in the state of Illinois for schools.”
The majority of the appeals court panel disagreed.
“As such, the expiration of the rules renders defendants’ arguments moot,” the panel wrote. “Accordingly, this appeal is dismissed as moot. Further, this decision renders the Emergency Motion to Stay Pending Appeal also moot.”
Holder White, the dissenting appellate court justice, said she agreed with the majority’s opinion that because JCAR declined to extend the emergency rule, the issue is moot.
She disagreed with the circuit court enjoining the enforcement of Pritzker’s executive orders, saying that is not moot.
“As it stands, the majority’s decision leaves open the question of whether the circuit court properly enjoined the enforcement of the executive orders.”