ST. LOUIS — Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt filed a lawsuit on Monday in an attempt to stop a mask mandate in St. Louis and St. Louis County.
Schmitt, a Republican, said in a tweet on Friday that he intended to file a lawsuit to "stop this insanity," and followed through Monday, filing a 37-page lawsuit in St. Louis County circuit court.
“St. Louis County and St. Louis City seek expanded government power that has failed to protect Missouri citizens living within their boundaries in the past and is not based on sound facts and data,” the first line of the lawsuit alleges.
St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones and St. Louis County Executive Sam Page, both Democrats, announced the new mandate Friday, and held a press conference Monday morning providing more details.
The order requires people to wear masks in indoor public places and on public transportation. It includes everyone 5 and older, regardless of their vaccination status. Wearing a mask outside is strongly encouraged, especially in group settings.
The joint announcement came as the fast-spreading delta variant is helping fuel an increase in COVID-19 cases in the area and the state. Missouri health department officials have issued six virus “hotspot” warnings, with the latest one forecasting the spread to continue from southwest and central Missouri toward the St. Louis area.
In a statement Friday, a spokesman for Mayor Jones' "yet another frivolous lawsuit which only serves his own political ambitions and not the public’s health."
A spokesman for County Executive Page's office provided the following statement in response to the lawsuit:
"Does Mr. Schmitt prioritize the health and safety of those he is supposed to serve or making bombastic remarks to try to elevate his run for higher office?"
Schmitt is running to fill the U.S. Senate seat of Roy Blunt, who is retiring after his term.
This is not the first time Schmitt has sued over coronavirus-related restrictions in St. Louis County. In May, he filed a lawsuit against Page, St. Louis County Health Director Dr. Faisal Khan and the St. Louis County Department of Public Health over what he called the “arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable application of COVID-19 restrictions in St. Louis County.” The suit specifically mentioned restrictions on religious institutions, masking requirements for K-12 grades, government pre-approval for events and outdoor mask requirements.
Schmitt's legal action essentially became moot after the county on May 14 lifted health orders requiring masks and social distancing in public in keeping with new federal guidelines that had been released earlier that week. The county had lifted occupancy restrictions for businesses May 3.
Health orders in St. Louis County were upheld after multiple legal challenges last year, but state legislators passed a new bill limiting the power of local leaders when it comes to health restrictions.
According to a release, House Bill 271 says "political subdivisions may only issue public health orders that directly or indirectly restrict access to businesses, churches, schools or other places of assembly for 30 calendar days in a 180-day period when the governor has declared a state of emergency."
The bill says those orders can be extended more than once with a majority vote by the local governing body.