West Virginia Governor Jim Justice has come under fire in recent days for the enhancements made last week to the state’s mask mandate. Under Justice’s new executive order, face coverings are required at all times while inside public locations, regardless of the ability to socially distance. The response to Justice’s new mandate was as immediate as it was divisive.
In a statement released on the evening of Friday, November 3, Justice said, “ If a business asks you to put on a mask or leave, and you refuse to do so, you are violating the law. If a police officer orders you to put on a mask or leave, and you refuse to do so, you are also violating the law. If a police officer orders a business to enforce our indoor face covering requirement, and they refuse to do so, the business is violating the law. There are real penalties for these violations.
I am trying with all in me to avoid a loss of our businesses and your jobs. But I am also trying with all in me to avoid a massive loss of life in West Virginia.”
Justice also said he had conferred with council, and felt it was within the scope of his authority to issue such an order.
During his Monday, November 16 coronavirus response media-briefing, Justice softened his tone somewhat, saying, “I surely don’t have the ability to make law.”
However, the governor still implored West Virginians to follow the mandate, and stated that he believes 95% of the state’s population believes that wearing a mask at all times in public is the right thing to do. This is a sentiment that Justice repeated once again during his Wednesday, November 18 coronavirus briefing.
Shortly after the conclusion of the Wednesday briefing, W.Va. Attorney General Patrick Morrissey took to social media to share his thoughts on the governor’s mandate.
“As your Attorney General, we (Morrissey) speak for the state on criminal matters at the appellate level and handle all criminal appeals at the WV Supreme Court and in the federal courts, We also speak for the legal interests of the people of West Virginia.
During this pandemic, I will continue to ensure that any efforts to use the criminal code for any purpose are not applied in an arbitrary, improper, or heavy handed manner. Let’s be clear: no one is going to send people to jail and that simply should not be occurring with respect to the Governor’s executive orders.”
Morrisey goes on to say, “Significantly, our office will utilize its criminal appellate enforcement discretion to ensure that no one impinges upon our constitutionally protected freedoms. This is a serious virus and everyone must do their part to protect the public.
Socially distance, wear coverings, keep good hygiene, minimize personal contact, and stay away from immunocompromised individuals who may be particularly susceptible to the virus.
We cannot and must not shut down our state – we must protect the public health while staying open.
Act responsibly and know we will use our constitutional authority to protect your freedoms and the due process you are afforded to the fullest extent the law allows.”
Morrissey’s comments were rather startling in light of the current pandemic. While he does recommend that residents “act responsibly,” he is seemingly less supportive of the governor’s executive order. This is something which Justice apparently finds disappointing.
In a statement released at approximately 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Justice said: “I was saddened this evening to see the statement that Attorney General Morrisey posted to his Facebook. With the overwhelming majority of West Virginians in favor of wearing masks, it is extremely disheartening that he doesn’t also strongly support the wearing of masks, especially after all our medical experts on a state and federal level have made it abundantly clear that wearing a mask works to stop this virus.
West Virginians have entrusted me to make the right decisions in the best interest of our health and prosperity. I will work tirelessly to keep our businesses open, our people working, and our schools open. Wearing our masks, while inconvenient, will help. I consider it an honor to be in this position. I have always done what I believe in my heart is best for all West Virginians and I promise you I will not stop until we stop this pandemic.”
While Justice has relaxed his language surrounding the legality of enforcing his indoor face covering mandate, he has not lessened his push to convince residents to follow it for the health and safety of all West Virginians.
The WV Daily News will have more on this story as additional information becomes available.