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The Rule of Law Matters, Even When it Comes to Masks

I get that everyone, including journalists, is entitled to moments of snark. Still, that doesn’t mean we can’t wish they would choose to be better, particularly on matters of importance.

Last week, Indiana’s Republican Governor Eric Holcomb became the latest to issue a statewide mask mandate that began Monday, July 27th. Holcomb’s entire modus operandi during the coronavirus era has been watch and imitate. He has positioned himself comfortably in the middle of traffic, not ever giving anyone the indication he has a desire to lead. Find the pack, peel back a few layers, and right there in the healthy middle is where you’ll find him.

So no one was surprised that Holcomb followed the path of neighboring governors in declaring that everyone in the state must wear a mask in public, nor that he included a stipulation that failure to wear one would be considered a Class B misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

What is at question to reasonable people, however, is where the Governor thinks he derives the authority to do that.

Some of those reasonable people include state senators and legislators who wrote to Indiana State Attorney General Curtis Hill, asking him to clarify if the Governor had such legal latitude. Hill said no.

The governor of Indiana does not have the authority to order Hoosiers to wear masks in public places, and he most certainly does not have the power to make not wearing a mask a criminal offense.

That’s the official opinion of Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill in a letter issued Wednesday night in response to a request by five Republican state lawmakers for Hill’s assessment of the Republican governor’s mask order set to take effect Monday.

Hill writes that while Indiana’s governor has broad authority to restrict personal liberties and business operations under the state’s Emergency Management and Disaster Law, the statute “does not provide that a governor may issue a mandate on wearing masks.”

“Without properly delegated authority from the General Assembly, the proposed order would not have the force and effect of law,” said Hill, a Republican.

When news of Hill’s response became public, left-leaning journalists, like the Indy Star’s sports writer Gregg Doyel didn’t care for it:

Doyel is referencing a sexual harassment scandal that saw Hill accused of groping four women at an Indianapolis bar two years ago. The legal he-said-she-said ended up before the state Supreme Court which slapped Hill’s wrists, suspending his law license for 30 days.

Like most sports writers, Doyel is an uber-lefty and so taking a shot at the Republican AG was too good to pass up. I get it. Even though, according to the left’s own rules, there are hints of a racial dog whistle when a white guy like Doyel plays up the predatory black man angle, let’s just say Gregg was going for snark, and award him 4 stars for the effort.

But the truth is that even sports writers should take extra-constitutional power grabs seriously. Let me first say that I probably agree with Doyel on wearing masks. If they work and can get us past this spread mess, let’s do it. Even though at this point it seems that lockdowns may have missed the mark and this virus was bound to work its way through the population regardless of our economic suicide, I’m more than happy to listen to the latest science and slap a mask on. I don’t particularly like wearing them, but it is certainly not a hill I’m going to die on.

But I do think we all should be willing to push back against any single executive, at the state or federal level (something Doyel does regularly when the executive in question is DJ Trump), who is overstepping his bounds of authority. It’s how we interned Japanese citizens, forced Cherokee to walk the Trail of Tears, and a host of other really bad stuff after all. Doyel should ask himself what happens when the next executive decree is something he doesn’t agree with.

The rule of law is important for all of us, regardless of who is advocating it – even a black Attorney General you despise.

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