Law professor weighs in on legality of required face mask use

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - An increase in new coronavirus cases across the country is sparking a debate over whether face masks can be mandatory in public places.

At least fourteen states and the District of Columbia have mandatory face mask requirements. We asked one law professor if the government can legally force you to wear a mask.

“The reality is that if you look back at court decisions going back 200 years, the courts have not hesitated to intrude on personal liberties in circumstances where it was essential for public health,” University of Washington law professor Jeff Feldman said.

Jeff Feldman, who practiced law in Alaska for nearly 40 years says a face mask requirement does not violate constitutional rights.

“The government does have the authority. The Tenth Amendment gives states a great deal of power that wasn't otherwise allocated to the federal government in the Constitution,” Feldman said.

He said that if there was not a reasonable purpose for it, that would be a problem.

State health officials highly recommend that all Alaskans wear a cloth face covering in public settings but there is no state mandate in place.

“We do best when we give Alaskans information, ask them to use their best judgment in situations that we are in and I think we are going to get better outcome because there are folks all over the map on this issue,” Gov. Mike Dunleavy said at a recent press conference.

Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz has said he might issue a mask mandate soon if COVID-19 cases continue to increase.

Feldman says another question will be how governments respond in the face of non-compliance.

“Are you going to have police officers out there issuing citations or arresting people for not wearing a mask? Probably that is not going to happen unless the health situation gets significantly worse than it is now,” he said.

Feldman says during the polio outbreak in the 1940s and 1950s, there were similar restrictions put in place.

“I can recall for a couple of summers that we were restricted on our ability to go to the beach and to be in large crowds, fortunately, a vaccine was developed, and we all were vaccinated, we all lined up at schools and were vaccinated,” he added.

There have been lawsuits filed across the country challenging the mask rule.

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