Two villainous governors, Ron DeathSantis (R-FL) and Greg Abbott (R-TX), were slapped down by judges yesterday for their dogged determination to kill as many people in their states as they can before losing office. Both have gone to court against local governments and school districts for promulgating mask mandates, as the CDC suggests. And both lost in court.
Yesterday, the NY Times Miami correspondent, Patricia Mazzei reported DeathSantis' efforts to ban mask mandates were rejected by Judge John Cooper of the state’s Second Judicial Circuit. He ruled that "Florida’s school districts may impose strict mask mandates on students to curb the spread of the coronavirus, handing a defeat to Governor DeSantis, whose administration has vehemently insisted on leaving masking decisions to children’s parents."
Remember, that though the state is 52% fully vaccinated, in the reddest counties in the state-- DeathSantis' political base-- as many as 75% of people are still not fully vaccinated. The 5 worst counties, all of which DeSantis won in gigantic landslides. These morons are the reason Florida has the most daily new cases for months, including another 27,584 new cases yesterday (bringing the state into the #3 spot for most cases per million-- 150,156, likely to surpass North Dakota and Rhode Island next week).
Holmes Co.- 78% unvaccinated (DeSantis- 88.7%)
Washington C.- 76% unvaccinated (DeSantis- 77.6%)
Baker Co.- 76% unvaccinated (DeSantis- 82.4%)
Union Co.- 75% unvaccinated (DeSantis- 78.9%)
Dixie Co.- 75% unvaccinated (DeSantis- 80.4%)
And yet DeathSantis is running round to right-wing media falsely claiming that Florida is a great model for how to beat the pandemic. " In a lengthy ruling from the bench," wrote Mazzei, "Judge Cooper sided with parents of students in various school districts who had argued that Florida’s Constitution requires keeping schoolchildren safe and secure, and masks would help accomplish that in a pandemic. Florida had previously indicated that it would appeal any adverse ruling to a more conservative appellate court."
Former Orlando Congressman Alan Grayson, contesting Marco Rubio's Senate seat noted last night that "If you look back at the decisions that Ron DeSantis has made in the past two years, every single one has resulted in more disease and more death. He is COVID’s best friend."
Lawyers for Mr. DeathSantis, a Republican, and the Florida Department of Education had countered that a “parents’ bill of rights” enacted by state lawmakers earlier this year gave parents the right to decide if their child should wear a mask. Judge Cooper disagreed, saying the new law “doesn’t ban mask mandates” and in fact gives school districts the discretion to impose them.
“I’m a parent-- parents’ rights are very important,” Judge Cooper said. “But they’re not without some reasonable limitation, depending upon safety, reasonableness and a compelling state need.”
In a statement, the Department of Education said it would appeal.
“We are immensely disappointed that the ruling issued today by the Second Judicial Circuit discards the rule of law,” said Jared M. Ochs, a spokesman. “This decision conflicts with basic and established rights of parents to make private health care and education decisions for children.”
The ruling, delivered over nearly two hours on Friday, came after a high-profile trial was held via Zoom over the course of four days this week. At one point, more than 2,000 people watched Judge Cooper deliver his ruling in a livestream on YouTube.
Judge Cooper granted an injunction against the Department of Education-- but not the governor-- blocking it from punishing local school boards. Florida had threatened to withhold funding from two school districts, Alachua and Broward, which were the first to impose strict mask mandates, in an amount equal to school board members’ monthly salaries.
Other Republican governors who have banned school mask mandates, including Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas and Gov. Doug Ducey of Arizona, are also facing legal challenges.
Florida is experiencing its worst moment of the pandemic after a brutal summer surge fueled by the Delta variant that has left more people testing positive for, hospitalized with and dying from the virus than ever before. More children in the state are hospitalized with Covid-19 than at any other point. This week in Orange County, where Orlando is, children between the ages of 5 and 14 made up about 20 percent of new virus cases.
Classes have started over the past few weeks, prompting 10 of the state’s 67 countywide school districts, covering about half of the state’s 2.8 million students, to defy the state and require masks with limited medical exemptions. Other districts made masks voluntary or allowed parents to opt out for any reason.
Florida has allowed parents to apply for private school vouchers if they consider mask mandates to be “harassment” of their children.
Cindy Banyai, a congressional candidate in southwest Florida told me that "DeSantis and his political allies like Byron Donalds have chosen to politicize the COVID-19 pandemic. They’ve misled people on the value and effectiveness of masks and vaccines because it supports far right talking points. I’m glad that Judge Cooper agreed that public safety matters and DeSantis stepped over the line by banning mask mandates. His overreach not only endangered our kids and our teachers, but encroached on home rule by disempowering locally elected leaders. Time for school leaders to step up and do what’s right for our kids."
Joshua Hicks is the progressive candidate running for a Republican-held seat on the Jacksonville city council. "Florida has over 20,000 cases daily," he reminded me yesterday, "our hospitals are overrun, and now, our children are being impacted in large numbers. Ron DeSantis might believe this pandemic will just disappear but reality suggests it won’t. And today, a court rejected his executive order that banned mask mandates and upheld local school boards authority to protect the health and safety of their students, teachers and support staff. Today was a win for all Floridians and a rejection of the delusional nonsense coming from the QAnon wing of the Republican Party. Ron DeSantis is a failed Governor whose only concern is himself. It’s time we send him packing and place Floridians first again."
Meanwhile the Texas Tribune's Joshua Fechter reported that Texas' crackpot governor, Greg Abbott, also lost his court battle to prevent mask mandates by 10 local governments and 69 school districts. "Even as Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton vow to punish local government and school district officials who flout the governor’s executive order, they conceded in court documents that they actually have no power to enforce the ban. 'Neither Governor Abbott nor Attorney General Paxton will be enforcing' the order, Paxton argued in a Monday court filing in Dallas. Since the pandemic began, Abbott has issued a flurry of executive orders, the most prominent of which have limited cities and counties from enacting measures intended to slow the spread of COVID-19, like mask mandates and occupancy restrictions on businesses like restaurants and retailers."
Cities, counties and school districts in the state’s major urban areas have responded with a flood of lawsuits challenging Abbott’s executive order prohibiting them from enacting mask mandates amid a surge of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.
UPDATE: Florida Is Rethinking DeathSantos
Matt Dixon, reporting yesterday for Politico, wrote that Floridians are getting sick of DeSantis. "Covid infection rates continue to climb as the state faces shortages of health care staff, morgue space and even oxygen for patients. About 16,000 people are hospitalized. Child infection rates have shot up. School districts-- even in Republican strongholds-- have rebelled against DeSantis’ anti-mask mandates. And cruise lines are resisting DeSantis’ vaccine passport ban. Even his recent poll numbers are slipping... The multi-front Covid-19 battle is becoming inextricably linked to DeSantis’ 2022 re-election bid, and more broadly his future White House aspirations. The governor remains popular with conservatives across the country and in Florida, but his steadfast refusal to implement Covid-related restrictions amid hundreds of virus-related deaths in the state and rising infection numbers has the potential to threaten his electability."