Mask mandates are legal, S.C. attorney general says

Published: Jun. 25, 2020 at 10:22 AM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WMBF) – The South Carolina attorney general is clearing up some confusion over whether individual cities can pass ordinances that require people to wear masks in certain places.

It comes after Greenville and Columbia leaders both passed ordinances that said people must wear masks in certain businesses in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson said his office has received a number of calls asking if a city can lawfully pass those kinds of ordinances and he said that the short answer is yes.

“Our state constitution and state laws have given cities the authority to pass these type of ordinances under the doctrine of Home Rule. The basic premise behind the Home Rule doctrine is to empower local governments to effectively govern themselves without interference from state government,” Wilson said in a statement.

But there are some limits to the power.

Wilson explained that one limit would be if the state General Assembly would prohibit a city from passing the ordinance through some state law.

Another limitation is if the ordinance is arbitrary or capricious.

“In other words, if there were no COVID-19 pandemic or public health emergency going, a court might find the requirement to wear a mask arbitrary. This is not the case here,” Wilson explained.

The final limitation is if the ordinance would violate a person’s constitutional rights, but it would have to be a on a case by case basis involving very specific facts.

“Based on court precedent, simply requiring someone to wear a mask at the grocery store, or stop smoking in a restaurant, or be home before curfew does not constitute a violation of rights. We would need specific facts to make that determination and we do not have those facts at this time,” Wilson said.

Copyright 2020 WRDW/WAGT. All rights reserved.

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