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Supreme Court judge in N.Y. strikes down state's COVID-19 mask mandate; Hochul promises fight

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Supreme Court judge in N.Y. strikes down state's COVID-19 mask mandate; Hochul promises fight
A masked pedestrian walks past a COVID-19 testing site along 5th Avenue in New York City on January 18. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

Jan. 25 (UPI) -- A judge of the New York State Supreme Court has struck down Gov. Kathy Hochul's COVID-19 mask mandate as unconstitutional, but the state's Education Department says schools must continue to comply with the requirement.

The mandate was enacted in December for schools and indoor public spaces and was extended until Feb. 1, due to a dramatic rise in coronavirus cases. But Judge Thomas Rademaker of the Nassau County Supreme Court ruled on Monday that Hochul doesn't have emergency powers to support the restriction.

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The New York state legislature passed a law last March to curb the governor's authority to issue executive orders during a state disaster emergency.

"There can be no doubt that every person in this state wishes, wants and prays that this era of COVID ends soon and they will surely do their part to see that is accomplished," Rademaker said in his ruling, which was posted by News 12. "However, enacting any laws to this end is entrusted solely to the State Legislature."

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"While the intentions of [Health Commissioner Marry] Bassett and Gov. Hochul appear to be well aimed squarely at doing what they believe is right to protect the citizens of New York state, they must take their case to the State Legislature," he added.

Gov. Kathy Hochul, pictured with New York City Mayor Eric Adams on January 6, said her administration will attempt to get the judge's ruling reversed. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI
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Hochul indicated that her administration will appeal the ruling.

"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," the governor said in a statement. "We strongly disagree with this ruling, and we are pursuing every option to reverse this immediately."

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U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., who's opposed mask mandates in schools and public places, described the court's ruling as a "win" for small businesses, parents, students and "freedom for all New Yorkers."

"Gov. Hochul's authoritarian mandates were crushing New York small businesses that already have faced unprecedented challenges throughout the COVID-19 pandemic," she said in a statement. "By forcing masks on the children in our schools, these mandates have impeded the development of our next generation."

Despite the ruling, the New York Department of Education said children and staff statewide will still be required to wear masks in schools.

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"It is [our] understanding that the Department of Health will appeal the Nassau County Supreme Court decision, which will result in an automatic stay that will unambiguously restore the mask rule until such time as an appellate court issues a further ruling," the department said in a statement. "Therefore, schools must continue to follow the mask rule."

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