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Understanding New York’s mask mandate court battle

On Monday, January 24, a state supreme court struck down Governor’s Hochul mask mandate, only to have it reinstated by a state appellate court. This has left many confused, but an understanding of how the New York court system works could clear up some misconceptions.

Every county in New York has at least one Supreme Court. Many in the public assume the supreme court is the highest in NYS, but it is actually the lowest court in civil matters, according to WENY News.

The Appellate Division is the intermediate-level appellate court in NYS.  It hears appeals from trial courts and has the power to review both civil and criminal cases. Appeals from the Appellate Division are then taken to the Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court.

“It’s all about separation of power. It’s not about mask mandates, it’s not about whether children should have masks in schools, it’s not about whether businesses should be forced to have their patrons wear masks,” said Christina Sonsire with the Elmira-based Ziff Law firm. “It’s about separation of power, does the executive branch in New York State have the power to unilaterally make a rule like this? Nassau County said no because the Legislature acted last March to greatly curtail the Governor’s powers.”

The Appellate Division has issued a stay on the mask mandate, meaning they have essentially paused the trial court’s decision. There will be a hearing in the Appelate Court on Friday, January 28, where Sonsire believes they will hand down a swift ruling.