Appellate court dismisses Pritzker’s appeal of Sangamon County school mask case

A facemask and gavel.
A facemask and gavel.(Source: Pixabay via MGN)
Published: Feb. 18, 2022 at 1:52 AM CST
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SPRINGFIELD (WGEM) - A temporary restraining order against 145 Illinois school districts enforcing mask mandates will stand after the Fourth District Appellate Court dismissed Gov. JB Pritzker’s attempt to appeal the case.

The three-judge panel released a decision late Thursday night. They argued Judge Raylene Grischow’s decision in Sangamon County did not stop school districts from acting independently from Pritzker’s executive orders or rules from the Illinois Department of Public Health. The appellate court noted IDPH officials renewed the emergency rules on February 14.

“However, on February 15, 2022, the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR) objected to and suspended IDPH’s renewal,” wrote Justice John Turner. “Thus, none of the rules found by the circuit court to be null and void are currently in effect.”

Judges also stressed that the recent expiration of IDPH’s emergency rules for masking, testing, and school exclusion rendered the appeal moot. But what does moot mean in this context?

“An issue is moot where an actual controversy no longer exists between the parties or where events have occurred that make it impossible for the court to grant effective relief,” Turner wrote.

The Pritzker administration had asked the appellate court to consider the issue under the public-interest exception to the mootness doctrine. While the judges agree the public is interested in the Sangamon County court’s decision to void the emergency rules, they argued it did not make the issue one of public nature as defined by courts.

“Given the changing nature of the COVID-19 pandemic - which affects the State defendants’ response to the pandemic - and JCAR’s decision on February 15, 2022, it is not clear these same rules would likely be reinstated. As a result, we do not find the public-interest exception applies in this case,” wrote Turner.

The appellate court also said the emergency rules voided by that temporary restraining order are no longer in effect.

Although, Justice Lisa Holder White dissented from her two colleagues on one point in the case. Holder White said the circuit court may not have properly prohibited enforcement of Pritzker’s executive orders.

“Defendants asserted the Governor implemented masking, exclusion, and testing through the executive orders pursuant to his authority under the Illinois Emergency Management Act, and plaintiffs challenge that authority,” Holder White wrote. “Thus, I would find this issue not moot.”

She went on to say the majority’s decision still leaves a question of whether Grischow properly “enjoined” the administration’s ability to enforce the executive orders.

This story will be updated.

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