CIRCUIT JUDGE TIM FOX: Blocks enforcement of ban on public mask mandates.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox on Friday issued a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of a new state law that prohibits public mask requirements.

Fox ruled that the public mask prohibition law violated the separation of powers and equal protection clauses of the Arkansas Constitution. The law is discriminatory in its treatment of public and private school children, Fox ruled.

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“Act 1002 of 2021 cannot be enforced in any shape, fashion or form pending further orders of this court” or from Arkansas Supreme Court, Fox said.

Brian Chilson
CIRCUIT JUDGE TIM FOX (standing). With lawyer Tom Mars and plaintiff Ashley Simmons looking on.

Two parents of public school children too young to receive the COVID-19 vaccine filed a suit challenging the law. Pulaski County Judge Barry Hyde and Sheriff Eric Higgins, who want to require masks in county buildings and the county jail, joined the original suit as intervenors. The Little Rock and Marion school districts filed a separate lawsuit seeking to strike down the mask ban. Fox also considered their arguments in the hearing.

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The plaintiffs made numerous additional arguments, which Fox denied without prejudice, meaning he would consider them again in a full trial. He said they were all fact-based claims, which he couldn’t rule on without testimony.

So what’s all this mean? Governor Hutchinson now has the power, because of this ruling, to issue a statewide mask mandate for all or some school children. That’s probably unlikely, but he’s holding a session with reporters at 1 p.m., so we’ll know soon. Attorney General Leslie Rutledge will likely appeal Fox’s ruling to the Arkansas Supreme Court. Even if that appeal happened today and lawyers for each side worked over the weekend on briefs, it’s hard to imagine the state high court holding a hearing until mid-next week, at the earliest.

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Even if the Supreme Court overturned the injunction, the challenges would return to Fox’s court, where a full hearing would be held. While all this is ping-ponging around unpredictably, school boards will have to decide whether to impose mask requirements on some or all students.

Fox had issued notice yesterday that, because of COVID-19 concerns, attendance would be limited to one attorney per side and witnesses. Media and the general public could follow along with an audio-only Zoom link provided by the court. But ahead of the hearing, someone logged on with a GIF of a man masturbating as his profile pic. When circuit court staff logged onto the Zoom, someone said, “How can we get him off?” and then soon thereafter shut down the stream. KATV reported that Fox said he would ask authorities to file charges against the pornographic Zoomer.

After that, Fox allowed media in the courtroom and KATV streamed most of the proceedings, which you watch here.