Mask mandates are not against the US Constitution

Cropped version of an image from the Staten Island Advance, by Jason Paderon
Updated 7/19/2020 with information from the 1905 Supreme Court case Jacobson v. Massachussets

I keep seeing people claim that masks are assaults on their freedom and that they shouldn’t have to wear a mask because the government isn’t allowed to force them to give a shit about other people.

Except that’s wrong. The government is allowed to do that very thing, and does all the time in states that have motorcycle helmet laws. In fact, motorcycle helmet laws been found to be Constitutional by none other than the Supreme Court of the United States, to say nothing of many, many states nationwide.

The Supreme Court affirmed a ruling of the United States District Court for Massachusetts that read in part

For while we agree with plaintiff that the act’s only realistic purpose is the prevention of head injuries incurred in motorcycle mishaps, we cannot agree that the consequences of such injuries are limited to the individual who sustains the injury…. From the moment of the injury, society picks the person up off the highway; delivers him to a municipal hospital and municipal doctors; provides him with unemployment compensation if, after recovery, he cannot replace his lost job, and, if the injury causes permanent disability, may assume the responsibility for his and his family’s continued subsistence. We do not understand a state of mind that permits plaintiff to think that only he himself is concerned. [emphasis added]

And then there’s this lovely letter written by the acting counsel for the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in 1989 to Representative Butler Derrick of South Carolina:

You also stated that your constituent believes that the Supreme Court has declared laws requiring the use of motorcycle helmets to be unconstitutional. This belief is inaccurate. Page 7 of the enclosed Kohrig decision lists 35 different State and Federal cases that have held that State laws requiring the use of motorcycle helmets are a valid exercise of a State’s powers and not unconstitutional. That list shows that the Supreme Court has affirmed a lower court decision that the Massachusetts motorcycle helmet use law was a constitutional exercise of a State’s power (Simon v. Sargent, 346 F. Supp. 277, aff’d, 409 U.S. 1020 (1972)). Additionally, the Supreme Court has refused to review decisions by State Courts in Louisiana, Massachusetts, Washington, and Wisconsin upholding the constitutionality of State motorcycle helmet use laws. There are no Supreme Court decisions suggesting that State motorcycle helmet use laws are unconstitutional exercises of the State’s power. [Emphasis added]

And let’s look at the Supreme Court case most commonly referenced with respect to all manner of anti-COVID public health measures, Jacobson v. Massachussets:

The defendant insists that his liberty is invaded when the state subjects him to fine or imprisonment for neglecting or refusing to submit to vaccination; that a compulsory vaccination law is unreasonable, arbitrary, and oppressive, and, therefore, hostile to the inherent right of every freeman to care for his own body and health in such way as to him seems best; and that the execution of such a law against one who objects to vaccination, no matter for what reason, is nothing short of an assault upon his person. But the liberty secured by the Constitution of the United States to every person within its jurisdiction does not import an absolute right in each person to be, at all times and in all circumstances, wholly freed from restraint. There are manifold restraints to which every person is necessarily subject for the common good. On any other basis organized society could not exist with safety to its members. Society based on the rule that each one is a law unto himself would soon be confronted with disorder and anarchy. Real liberty for all could not exist under the operation of a principle which recognizes the right of each individual person to use his own, whether in respect of his person or his property, regardless of the injury that may be done to others. [emphasis added]

We can go even further back to an 1890 decision, as the Jacobson decision does, to quote Crowley vs. Christensen, that says:

Even liberty itself, the greatest of all rights, is not unrestricted license to act according to one’s own will. It is only freedom from restraint under conditions essential to be equal enjoyment of the same right by others. It is then liberty regulated by law.

So it might be true that any particular executive order issued by a Governor is beyond the authority of what the Governor is allowed by his or her own state Constitution. But mask orders in general, if we view them similarly to helmet laws, are entirely Constitutional.

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