Closing arguments in Florida mask trial highlight ‘sophisticated legal issues’

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TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Attorneys for both the families suing Gov. Ron DeSantis and his defense team differed on what Judge John Cooper called “sophisticated legal issues” on Thursday in their closing arguments.

“I’m just struggling with all these issues,” Judge Cooper said. “This case presents a lot of sophisticated legal issues. I’m still wrestling with pretty much all of them. This case represents issues that are important to a lot of people.”

Plaintiffs’ attorney Craig Whisenhunt presented his closing arguments first, continuing his argument that Gov. Ron DeSantis overstepped his authority in issuing his executive order that effectively prevented local school districts from mandating that all students wear masks.

Whisenhunt also argued that the governor’s order was “arbitrary and capricious” with “no rational basis” in the context of a raging COVID-19 pandemic with a Delta variant that has hospitalized hundreds more adults and children this month than at any other time since it began.

“It can never be rational to tell a school board they are prohibited from adhering to the guidelines of the CDC and all of the world’s health organizations, who agree that masking is an important part of a layered defensive strategy to control the spread of COVID,” said Whisenhunt.

Attorneys for the governor’s defense team argued the plaintiffs failed to sue an indispensable party to the case—the Florida Department of Health—which issued the emergency rule banning masks at the direction of the governor’s executive order.

They also argued this is a “political question,” a legal doctrine that should force the court not to decide an issue that defense attorneys argue is better handled by the other two political branches of government.

“Unlike the governor, who leads one of the political branches of government—and has the constitutional and statutory authority to exercise his discretion, and issue executive orders that reflect complex policy determinations— we’re in a court of law,” said Mike Abel, one of the governor’s defense attorneys.

Judge Cooper said he will take the rest of Thursday to review the legal issues and look at all exhibits, as well as prior case law, especially FEA v. DeSantis. He expects to issue a ruling Friday morning via a verbal order.

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