The Minnesota Voters Alliance has filed a lawsuit against Minnesota Governor Tim Walz for his recent mask-wearing mandate because it conflicts with a 1963 Minnesota law prohibiting the wearing of masks in public places.
A July 22nd executive order requires Minnesota residents to wear a mask or face covering in almost all indoor public spaces to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Conversely, Minnesota Statute 609.735 prohibits the wearing of “a robe, mask, or other disguise” that would conceal one’s identity in a public place. A violation would result in a misdemeanor.
Walz’s recent executive order mandates the use of masks in all public indoor spaces and businesses, including common ares of multi-residential buildings, public transportation, and when working outdoors when social distancing cannot be maintained.
Those exempted from the order include children under the age of 5, those who have health conditions or a disability that make it difficult to wear or remove a mask, and anyone who has trouble breathing.
Those found in violation of the order could be cited with a misdemeanor and fined up to $100. Businesses who fail to comply could face criminal charges and a fine of up to $25,000.
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court on Tuesday. It directly challenges the conflicting laws, asking for clarification ahead of the primary election on August 11th so that citizens participating in their First Amendment rights will have clarity on how to conduct themselves.
“…the State of Minnesota has created conflicting laws where people are criminally prosecuted for wearing a mask and for not wearing a mask,” said the plaintiff’s attorney, Erick G. Kaardal. “The executive and legislative branch must decide which law prevails.”
The governor’s office has defended the executive order, pointing out that a provision within the order already clarifies that the order is not at odds with current Minnesota law: “Wearing a face covering in compliance with this Executive Order or local ordinances, rules, or orders is not a violation of Minnesota Statutes 2019, section 609.735.”
Attorney General Keith Ellison, also a defendant named in the lawsuit, gave his full support for the governor’s decisions regarding COVID-19. “I stand behind the legality and constitutionality of this executive order. We will defend it strongly in court just as we have so far successfully defended others in court.”
Underneath the concerns about the two conflicting laws and the ability of Minnesota residents to vote next week, however, is a deeper concern about the government’s adherence to the Minnesota Constitution and the coherence of the entire legal system.
“We’re not debating the science behind masks,” Representative Jeremy Munson said in support of the lawsuit. “We’re really talking about the legislative process and the abuse of power by the governor.”
State Representative Tim Miller has also stated his support for the lawsuit. “What the governor is doing both here and with the emergency powers is either unconstitutional or certainly against the laws of Minnesota.”
Walz declared a peacetime emergency on March 13th of this year at the beginning of the COVID-19 shutdowns nationwide. He legitimized it, and his ability to procure emergency powers as a result, by calling the pandemic an act of nature.
According to Kaardal, Governor Walz has issued 75 executive orders.
In the proceedings of a separate lawsuit filed by business owners against Governor Walz in July, Kaardal told the governor, “you have to work with the legislature, you have to work with the agencies and you have to work with the judges. You can’t do it all on your own and to ignore these legal limitations you’re acting like a monarch. It’s not good. You have got to stop now.”