A Thurston County Superior Court judge Friday rejected a legal challenge brought by Tim Eyman, Clint Didier and others seeking to strike down Gov. Jay Inslee’s mask requirement.
Friday’s ruling from the bench is the latest upholding of Washington’s government orders seeking to prevent the spread of COVID-19 amid the pandemic.
Opponents have argued that orders such as business restrictions or facial-covering requirements to stem the virus infringe on constitutional rights or are overextensions of the governor’s emergency powers.
Eyman, a longtime anti-tax activist, and conservatives like Didier, a Franklin County commissioner and former candidate for U.S. Congress, have opposed such requirements.
In this case, Eyman attorney Stephen Pidgeon contended there was no proof that masks prevent the spread of COVID-19, and there was therefore no rational basis for the government to require them. He also contended the requirement violated the First Amendment.
“Because the mask is demonstrably ineffective, its purpose is singular — to force the expression of submission among the body politic to the dictates and whims of the governor and his secretary of health,” Pidgeon wrote in a legal filing in December. “Such actions are constitutionally prohibited as impermissible forced expression.”
The argument did not sway Judge Chris Lanese, who said in his ruling that wearing a mask does not “constitute compelled speech.”
He cited doctrine from both the state and the U.S. supreme courts contending, “There must be an intent to convey a particularized message and a great likelihood that the message would be understood by those who view it.”
But masks can be worn for many reasons, the judge said. Some believe in the science behind them, or wish to follow government requirements, while others could simply choose to wear them for fashion purposes. Some people could wear masks even if they are unconvinced about them but think, “What’s the harm in wearing it if it might protect my fellow neighbors?”
“The mere act of wearing of a mask may be viewed in a whole host of ways to convey different meanings,” Lanese said. “If any meaning is intended at all.”
The judge added that Inslee and the state Department of Health did have a rational reason to order people to wear masks amid the pandemic.
At the end of the hearing, which was held virtually and available on Zoom, several people chimed in to criticize the ruling.
“You’re biased,” one person said. Added another: “Masks don’t work.”
In a statement, Eyman said, “Having 1 person — Jay Inslee — making all decisions for all 3 branches of government is unprecedented and disturbing.”
“The judiciary and legislative branches have refused to assert their rightful role,” Eyman said in prepared remarks. “Citizens deserve checks and balances and they aren’t getting any.”
In an email, Inslee spokesperson Mike Faulk wrote, “We appreciate the court’s careful review of this issue.”
Lanese’s ruling came just days after another Thurston County judge ruled that Eyman committed “numerous and particularly egregious” violations of state campaign-finance law after a yearslong investigation.
In that case, Judge James Dixon barred Eyman from “managing, controlling, negotiating, or directing financial transactions” for any kind of political committee.
Dixon issued a fine of more than $2.6 million and barred him from “managing, controlling, negotiating, or directing financial transactions” for any type of political committee.