Lawsuit challenges Minnesota's mask mandate

A group of people opposed to Minnesota's statewide mask mandate
A group of people opposed to Minnesota's statewide mask mandate rallies on the Capitol grounds in St. Paul on Saturday.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

A lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal court is challenging the constitutionality of Minnesota’s mask mandate.

DFL Gov. Tim Walz imposed the mask requirement last month through an executive order to help stop the spread of COVID-19. But a group of Republican lawmakers and voters, including the watchdog group Minnesota Voters Alliance, is suing Walz, Attorney General Keith Ellison and other officials. They want the mask requirement halted ahead of next week’s primary election.

The mask mandate conflicts with an existing state law that prohibits mask-wearing in public, said Erick Kaardal, the plaintiffs’ attorney.

“With the state of Minnesota both criminalizing wearing a mask and criminalizing not wearing a mask, people are fearful of political participation in public places,” Kaardal said.

Voters need clarity, said Rep, Jeremy Munson, R-Lake Crystal.

“We’re not debating the science behind masks,” Munson said. “We’re really talking about the legislative process and the abuse of power by the governor.”

The attorney general defended the executive order and said he would defend it strongly in court.

“I stand behind the legality and constitutionality of this executive order,” Ellison said.

State law does prohibit a person from concealing their identity with a mask in public, with some exceptions, but the Walz executive order specifically addresses that point, saying compliance with the order does not violate the statute.

A man wearing a red and black plaid face mask gestures at a podium.
Gov. Tim Walz announces a statewide order on July 22 requiring Minnesotans to wear masks in public indoor gathering spaces.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News file

Still, Kaardal is seeking an injunction to prevent its enforcement. He wants the Legislature to decide which law prevails.

Kaardal is also involved in an active lawsuit challenging other aspects of the governor’s executive orders. He said more lawsuits are likely.

“We’re in a monarchy that may never end,” he said, “and that’s very, very sad.” 

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