By Daniel Trotta and Brad Brooks
(Reuters) – A New York judge struck down the state’s mask mandate on Monday, one week before it was due to expire, ruling the governor overstepped her authority in imposing a rule that needed to have been passed by the state legislature.
Judge Thomas Rademaker of New York State Supreme Court on Long Island found that the state legislature last year curbed any governor’s ability to issue decrees, such as a mask mandate, amid a declared state of emergency.
It was latest setback for executive branch officials at state and federal levels. Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked President Joe Biden’s vaccination-or-testing mandate for large businesses. A judge in Texas last week ruled that Biden could not require federal employees to be vaccinated.
Governor Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, vowed to fight back, saying in a statement, “We strongly disagree with this ruling, and we are pursuing every option to reverse this immediately.”
“My responsibility as Governor is to protect New Yorkers throughout this public health crisis, and these measures help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and save lives,” Hochul said.
Disagreements and court action over mandates in a number of states have become a flashpoint of the pandemic response in the United States, often dividing Democrats and Republicans.
The requirements in New York state, home to around 20 million people, include wearing masks in schools, on public transit and other public indoor spaces.
Hochul declared a state of emergency almost immediately after the World Health Organization named Omicron as a variant of concern on Nov. 26.
At the time, New York state’s seven-day average of new daily cases was around 6,400. That number rapidly rose until peaking at 73,815 on Jan. 10. It has since fallen to about a third of that.
When Hochul imposed the rule on Dec. 31, she called it temporary. She later extended the original expiration date of Jan. 15 until Feb. 1.
Rademaker wrote that his ruling is not intended in any way to question or otherwise opine on the efficacy, need, or requirement of masks as a means or tool in dealing with the COVID-19 virus, but that “enacting any laws to this end is entrusted solely to the State Legislature.”
Hochul’s Democrats hold large majorities in both houses of he New York state legislature.
(Reporting by Daniel Trotta, Brad Brooks and Costas Pitas; Editing by Sandra Maler, Leslie Adler & Simon Cameron-Moore)