SC Supreme Court hears mask mandate disagreement, decision pending

COLUMBIA, SC (WOLO) — The issue with mask mandates in schools continues.

Tuesday, the state’s highest court heard both sides for the first time.

At the center of the discussion is the question: Does the state’s budget proviso allow a ban on mask mandates or does it just prohibit state funds from being used to enforce it?

“It would be wrong for a school district or government to tell a parent that their child must wear a mask when the parents think that’s not good for the child and that’s not what they want their child to do,” said Gov. Henry McMaster on Tuesday.

The governor’s stance has been consistent, as has that of Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin. Earlier this summer, he announced a city wide mask mandate for 43 elementary and middle schools in the city.

Tuesday, an attorney defended this position in front of the South Carolina Supreme Court.

“Mask mandates have nothing to do with the appropriation. It is not in furtherance or connected with the raising or spending of money,” said Chris Kenney, an attorney representing the City of Columbia.

On the other side was the attorney general and an attorney representing the state. They argue that a mask mandate in schools goes against a budget proviso passed by state lawmakers this summer.

“The city’s ordinance would conflict with that proviso because it penalizes employees who fail to comply with the ordinance. Those employees are state funded,” said J. Emory Smith Jr., state deputy solicitor general.

The City of Columbia believes that using local funds to enforce the mask mandate does not go against the proviso.

In court, Chief Justice Donald Beatty asked Attorney Smith if the state law called for an outright ban on mask mandates, to which he answered ‘no.’  Another chief justice had an issue with this answer.

“Don’t tell him that this is not a blanket ban on mandates, because it is. You embrace that. Your position is that it is not possible for a school district to impose a mask mandate because of the proviso,” said Chief Justice John Cannon Few of the South Carolina Supreme Court. “The answer to the chief’s question is ‘yes’.”

A second trial continued in the afternoon. Attorneys representing Richland Two School District and an Orangeburg parent are against the state’s budget proviso. 

According to state law, legislation must have one clear subject. Attorney Carl Solomon says this is not the case with the state’s budget proviso and also called it “unconstitutionally vague.”

“The threat is the Department of Education can take your state funds,” said Solomon, who represented Richland Two School District. “This disincentive is designed to control the actions of school boards on a policy basis and not to control spending.”

Despite hearing both cases, the South Carolina Supreme Court has yet to rule in either one.

Monday, the US Department of Education announced an investigation into South Carolina and four other Republican led states over their bans on mask mandates.

Categories: Local News, Richland