Missouri AG Sues to Block St. Louis County Covid Restrictions

The Republican official’s lawsuit calls the local restrictions vague and ambiguous, but the county says the case is politically motivated.

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt speaks during a news conference in St. Louis last August. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)

CLAYTON, Mo. (CN) — Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt filed a lawsuit in state court Tuesday challenging St. Louis County’s measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Schmitt, who is also a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, sued St. Louis County Executive Sam Page, county public health director Dr. Faisal Khan and the St. Louis County Department of Public Health.

The lawsuit filed in St. Louis County Circuit Court comes a week after Page and St. Louis City Mayor Tishaura O. Jones loosened restrictions in both jurisdictions, including capacity limits on businesses and large public gatherings and a requirement to wear masks outdoors. The leaders cited declining Covid-19 cases and the availability of vaccines as the reasons for the decision.

Schmitt’s complaint targets restrictions left in place, including mask requirements for school-aged children, government preapproval for events and some outdoor mask requirements for when socially distancing is not possible.

“From requiring a mask outdoors to subjecting citizens to government preapproval for private events, enough is enough,” Schmitt said in a statement. “The seemingly unending control over people’s lives must end. Vaccines are widely available to all adults – it’s past time for St. Louis County to lift these restrictions, and that’s why I filed suit today.”

Doug Moore, a Page spokesman, said Schmitt’s lawsuit is politically motivated.

“We all know Mr. Schmitt is trying to increase his profile statewide and suing those protecting the health and safety of residents is apparently one of the ways he has chosen to do that,” Moore said in a statement. “Our focus is on getting people vaccinated and on economic recovery.”

In March, Schmitt announced his candidacy to fill the seat of Republican U.S. Senator Roy Blunt, who will not seek reelection in 2022. Schmitt vowed to defend former President Donald Trump’s “America First” agenda to appeal to the state’s heavy conservative rural voting base.

On April 20, Schmitt wrote a letter to Khan, the county health director, asking him to back up the county’s restriction with data and research.

“The county’s response was vague and unresponsive,” Schmitt said in his statement. “Just several days later, the county rushed to amend their shut-down order in an apparent attempt to appease this office and avoid litigation. It has not.”

The lawsuit claims the current event restrictions involving 500 or more people are “at best, vague, ambiguous, and self-contradictory.”

It calls the mask mandate for children in K-12 “unlawful, in light of the universal availability of vaccines for educational staff, the adverse impact on education, and the low risk of transmission in educational settings.”

The complaint also alleges the restrictions violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act by requiring religious institutions to seek preapproval from the government before holding events that go against capacity restrictions and social distancing and mask requirements.

The county’s restrictions, “exempted hospitals, public transit, airports, urgent care centers, medical offices, shelters, daycare facilities, schools, polling places, and professional businesses that do not engage in direct interactions with the public, from the 50-percent-capacity rule,” the lawsuit states. “These exempted entities provide comparable secular activities that St. Louis County treated more favorably than religious activities.”

Moore is confident that St. Louis County will prevail.

“Litigation around public health orders across the country is nothing new and St. Louis County has been successful in defending every legal challenge around public health orders,” he said. “Our legal foundation is sound.”

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