Tennessee Supreme Court “Strongly Encourages” Implementation of Minimal Public Health Measures in Tennessee Courts

August 30, 2021 K.O. Herston 0 Comments

In March 2020, when everyone recognized the deadly effects of the unrestrained spread of COVID-19, the Tennessee Supreme Court suspended all in-person court proceedings except for certain emergency matters. Instead, courtroom proceedings continued remotely via video conferences and telephone.

In July 2020, the Court went further by imposing mask mandates on the small number of emergency matters occurring in person.

The following year, with vaccines being administered and COVID cases declining, the Court lifted the suspension on in-person proceedings in March 2021. Judges, lawyers, and litigants returned to courtrooms across Tennessee.

In May 2021, with vaccines widely available to adults across Tennessee, the Court lifted the mask mandate while continuing to “strongly encourage” the use of masks during in-person proceedings.

The judicial system was getting back to normal.

It didn’t last long.

Because of the large number of unvaccinated adults and the proliferation of the far more contagious Delta variant, COVID is raging across Tennessee, hospitals are full, and people are dying unnecessarily.

These developments caused the Tennessee Supreme Court to issue an administrative order late last week that:

  • “strongly encourages” judges to consider imposing mask mandates in their courtrooms per CDC Guidelines;
  • prohibits those testing positive for COVID-19 from attending court in person;
  • requires those who have come into close contact with COVID-positive people to quarantine and avoid appearing in court; and
  • directs judges to prefer remote proceedings (telephone and video conferencing) over in-person proceedings.

But is it enough?

Justice Lee doesn’t think so.

She issued a separate “dissenting order” explaining her opinion that the Court should reimpose a mask mandate:

In my view, the Court should continue to follow the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The most recent update from the CDC on August 13, 2021, advised that people in areas of substantial and high-risk transmission, which includes every county in Tennessee, should wear facial coverings in indoor public places. Thus, to protect the health and safety of people entering a courthouse for court-related business, the Court should require facial coverings until the CDC changes its mask guidelines.

K.O.’s Comment: I resent that our return to routine work, family, school, and economic life is being interrupted and delayed by adults who choose not to get vaccinated because of sheer ignorance, deliberate misinformation, or reflexive and irrational defiance.

While, like me, our Supreme Court Justices are not scientists, they understand the value of subject-matter expertise and routinely defer to the wisdom, judgment, and recommendations of subject-matter experts.

When their auto mechanic says the brake pads need to be replaced, they replace them.

When their doctor says an x-ray is needed, they get an x-ray.

When their appliance repair person says the dishwasher needs to be replaced, they replace the dishwasher.

That’s what all smart, successful people do. And our Justices are smart, successful people.

With infectious diseases and public health, Americans are blessed with the best subject-matter experts that ever lived. Those experts strongly recommend we take simple, effective, and modest measures to mitigate the risk of the highly contagious and deadly virus disrupting everything.

Get vaccinated. Wear masks indoors. Isolate from others if you test positive.

Until we collectively take these simple steps, the virus will do what viruses do—spread, mutate, disrupt our lives and economy, and kill more people.

What the Court should do is simple.

Do what the broad consensus of subject-matter experts say. Here, that means to do what the CDC says.

That is always the answer.

It is our civic duty and moral obligation to each other.

Tennessee Supreme Court Order ADM2020-00428 (August 26, 2021).

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Tennessee Supreme Court “Strongly Encourages” Implementation of Minimal Public Health Measures in Tennessee Courts was last modified: August 29th, 2021 by K.O. Herston

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