Judge denies injunction in lawsuit challenging Northam's mask mandate

Judge denies injunction in lawsuit challenging Northam's mask mandate

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A Virginia judge has denied an injunction in a challenge to Gov. Ralph Northam's mask mandate.

Circuit Court Judge Jeanette Irby of the 20th Judicial Circuit, which covers Fauquier, Loudoun and Rappahannock counties, ruled Monday that Northam's order requiring residents over the age of 10 to wear masks in order to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 can stand after a legal challenge from a Fauquier County winery and its owner.

“Contrary to the Plaintiffs’ contention, the Governor’s powers do not preclude him from issuing orders requiring face coverings, and in fact, (a section of Virginia code) explicitly anticipates such an event," Irby's ruling reads.

Northam issued the statewide mask order May 26, with a violation of the order carrying with it a possible Class 1 misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine.

Philip Carter Strother, a Henrico County resident, sued the state over the order this month along with Philip Carter Winery, the Fauquier winery he owns. The lawsuit argues that the governor does not have the power to issue such a mandate and that no governor in Virginia's history "has ever claimed the unilateral authority to impose a dress code on the citizenry, under any circumstances." 

They sought a temporary injunction allowing them to opt out of the mandate.

Northam and other state leaders argue that wearing masks helps slow the spread of the virus, which has killed more than 1,700 people in the state.

“Wearing a mask is such an easy, effective way to help control the spread of COVID and to show your fellow Virginians that you care about the health and well-being of your friends, neighbors, and community,” Attorney General Mark Herring said in a statement. “As cases continue to spike around the country, we know that our progress in controlling COVID in Virginia is real, but requires a sustained commitment to things like covering our faces and maintaining social distancing whenever possible."

Herring added: "I’m proud we were able to defend this commonsense measure to help stop COVID, and I’m really proud of all the great work my team has done to keep Virginians safe during this uncertain time.”

Despite the virus' toll on the state, Virginia is set to enter its third reopening phase Wednesday. Restaurants can operate at full capacity, with social distancing in place, and social gatherings can have up to 250 people, among other guidelines.

Masks will still be required in Phase Three.

jmattingly@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6012

Twitter: @jmattingly306​

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