We live in an extremely interesting, and many would say, an extremely frightening point in time. From the coronavirus pandemic, ongoing protests, harsh political debate and even to murder hornets, 2020 has brought so many new issues for every American to consider. Also, unlike any other time in our nation’s history, we have way too much information. With a twenty‑four hour news cycle and countless social media platforms, we are barraged with stories which usually contain more opinions than facts. Every time we turn on an electronic device, we see videos, photographs, shows and articles which give us competing points of view, and often, present versions of the same event from diametrically opposing perspectives. Having practiced law for over twenty-five years, I inevitably find myself asking,, “How does the law apply to that event? ” I sincerely believe that people need to be informed about the law and how it affects their daily lives. In that light, I intend to make a few informative posts about what the law says on certain social issues and current events. To be clear, I know that you don’t want my opinion, and I don’t want to give it. Who am I to tell people how to think or act, after all? Besides, I think most would agree that we don’t need more opinions since we can’t get through our first cup of coffee without hearing several unsolicited opinions from people we don’t know personally. So, if the information I post is helpful to you, great! If not, take a breath please and realize, I don’t make the law. I am just telling you what the law says.
One of the trends I see nowadays involves people arguing about having to wear a mask during the coronavirus pandemic or complaining about people not wearing a mask in public. In some cases, arguments have turned into violent altercations and a few have sadly turned fatal. As you know, many state and local governments have passed laws, ordinances and regulations stating that citizens are required to wear masks over their faces. In addition, many small and national businesses alike are requiring customers to wear masks while in the business. The debate is ongoing over whether the masks protect the person wearing the mask or people who are exposed to the person wearing the mask. Further, there appears to be a dispute among some over how effective the masks are and whether they may actually exacerbate pre-existing health problems of the person wearing the mask.
For most citizens, however, these issues fade into the background. State and local governments have the authority to pass laws designed to manage the citizens located within their boundaries pursuant to the Tenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. Further, the United States Supreme Court has recognized for well over one hundred years that these governmental entities can impose restrictions or issue mandates to citizens for the purpose of addressing public health concerns. For example, in 1905, the United States Supreme Court upheld a Massachusetts municipal ordinance requiring people to be vaccinated for small pox. Jacobson v. Massachusetts, 197 US 11 (1905). In the videos and news reports I see today, people often state that the ordinance or requirement violates their constitutional rights. As Mr. Jacobson found out in 1905, this argument does not hold water. In exchange for having certain constitutional rights, Americans must yield those rights at certain times for the greater good. In other words, when public health is concerned, your personal preferences will take a back seat under the law.
In addition, Mississippi citizens should know that Mississippi law allows any business, other than a public utility, to choose its customers. Miss. Code Ann. ‘ 97‑23‑17. In other words, a business can impose whatever restrictions it wishes on its customers and can refuse to allow people to patronize the business. If a store or other business imposes a restriction and asks a customer to leave the premises for not abiding by the restriction, the customer is guilty of criminal trespass if they don’t leave. Obviously, there are certain limitations on these restrictions. For example, a business cannot discriminate on the basis of age, race, gender, disability or other legally protected characteristics. Most of the people I see in the videos, however, do not appear to be the subject of discrimination. They just don’t like wearing masks. Again, I’m not offering my opinion, just stating the facts about the law.