Schmitt lawsuit challenges St. Louis Co. COVID restrictions

O’FALLON, Mo. (AP) — Republican Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt on Tuesday filed a lawsuit challenging St. Louis County’s COVID-19 restrictions, citing concerns about their impact on religion, education and the freedom of residents.

The lawsuit filed in St. Louis County Circuit Court names Democratic County Executive Sam Page, the county’s health department and its director, Dr. Faisal Khan. It seeks an injunction to end the restrictions.

“From requiring a mask outdoors to subjecting citizens to government pre-approval for private events, enough is enough,” Schmitt said in a news release. “The seemingly unending control over people’s lives must end. Vaccines are widely available to all adults – it’s past time for St. Louis County to lift these restrictions, and that’s why I filed suit today.”

Page’s spokesman, Doug Moore, said litigation related to public health orders is common across the country “and St. Louis County has been successful in defending every legal challenge around public health orders. Our legal foundation is sound.”

The lawsuit is the latest of several filed by Schmitt, who announced in March that he will seek the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate in 2022. His announcement came weeks after incumbent Republican Sen. Roy Blunt announced he would not seek reelection.

In April 2020, Schmitt filed suit against the Chinese government over the coronavirus, alleging that the nation’s officials are to blame for the global pandemic. In December, he joined multi-state lawsuits against Google and Facebook. And also in December, he was among several GOP attorneys general who joined Texas’ lawsuit that sought to overturn former President Donald Trump’s November election loss.

“We all know Mr. Schmitt is trying to increase his profile statewide and suing those protecting the health and safety of residents is apparently one of the ways he has chosen to do that. Our focus is on getting people vaccinated and on economic recovery,” Moore said.

Schmitt’s spokesman, Chris Nuelle, denied any political motive in the lawsuits.

“The Attorney General’s Office serves all 6 million Missourians and is tasked with protecting the rights and liberties of those 6 million Missourians — when we find that Missourians’ personal freedoms and liberties are being trampled, we will seek information and take action,” Nuelle said in an email. “He (Schmitt) is doing his job.”

Republican Gov. Mike Parson allowed businesses in Missouri to reopen in May 2020, just months into the coronavirus pandemic. St. Louis County, St. Louis city and several other jurisdictions enforced more stringent regulations, including restrictions on indoor dining, mask mandates and limits on gatherings. Nuelle said an analysis of shutdown orders across Missouri showed St. Louis County’s “was far and away the most stringent.”

Schmitt wrote to Khan on April 20 and asked him to explain the county’s continued restrictions. Schmitt called the county’s response “vague and unresponsive.”

Earlier this month, St. Louis city and county both announced easing of some restrictions, including elimination of limits on the number of people allowed in restaurants and an end to an outdoor masking requirement. Schmitt’s lawsuit said it wasn’t enough.

“Instead of providing meaningful relief for St. Louis County residents, the new Order replaces prior restrictions with vague, confusing, and self-contradictory directives that continue to impose unjustified burdens on religious, economic, and personal freedom,” the lawsuit states.