‘The Rundown’: Mike Lee says mask mandates may violate the First Amendment. Experts say he’s wrong.

Your Monday morning Utah political cheat sheet.

"The Rundown" logo

Good Monday morning Utah! Thanks for reading “The Rundown”.

📬 Send me your feedback or news tips. You can email me or find me on Twitter @SchottHappens.

Get this newsletter delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. Sign up for free here.

Mike Lee says mask mandates may violate the First Amendment. Experts say he’s wrong.

Sen. Mike Lee took to his personal Facebook page to argue that requiring people to wear masks may violate the First Amendment.

Lee argued that masks make it hard for people to communicate, especially since they conceal facial expressions.

“Should government-issued mask mandates be subject to ‘strict scrutiny’ under the First Amendment? If so, the government would have to prove that the mandate is the least intrusive means of furthering a compelling state interest. By design, that standard is extremely difficult to satisfy,” Lee wrote.

“The Rundown” reached out to a pair of experts to gauge the validity of Lee’s argument.

First Amendment lawyer Ari Cohn called Lee’s idea “ludicrous.”

“If Senator Lee were truly interested in the legal issues rather than bad-faith performative nonsense, basic legal research would have quickly disabused him of his idea’s validity,” Cohn said.

“Even if it wasn’t facially laughable, Senator Lee is simply wrong about the level of constitutional scrutiny that would be applied. Mask mandates serve a government interest unrelated to the suppression of expression and would be subject to a lower level of scrutiny. The government would need only prove that the mandates serve a substantial government interest and that there be no less restrictive means for serving that interest as efficiently as the mask mandate. Unless Senator Lee would stipulate that vaccine mandates are less restrictive than mask mandates, it’s hard to see how a court would strike down mask mandates on First Amendment grounds,” Cohn added.

Eric Segall, Ashe Family Chair Professor of Law at Georgia State University College, was similarly unimpressed.

“A mandate for wearing masks inside or in large groups outside would be a ‘reasonable time, place, and manner restriction.’ Also, even when pure speech is prohibited, this isn’t that. The government can do so if it’s using narrowly tailored means to achieve a compelling interest, a test easily met here,” Segall said.

Last week Lee delivered a 17-minute speech on the Senate floor railing against a mask mandate for House members imposed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Here’s what you need to know for Monday morning

🦺 Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced Sunday night a bipartisan group finished crafting the $1 trillion infrastructure funding bill. The legislation is more than 2,700 pages. [WaPo]

💵 The Treasury Department must turn over six years of former President Donald Trump’s taxes to Congress. The Justice Department issued a legal opinion on Friday. [NYT]

🏛 Salt Lake County District Attorney says lawmakers made it more difficult for prosecutors to charge police officers who use deadly force when they shouldn’t have. [Tribune]

🏛 Utah joined 23 other states in a “friend of the court” filing supporting a Mississippi case seeking to overturn Roe v. Wade. [Tribune]

💧 A newly formed multi-million dollar Utah agency tasked with determining whether Utah is using all of the Colorado River water it’s entitled to met for the first time on Friday. [Tribune]

⛈ Heavy rains Sunday night flooded areas of Salt Lake City. [Tribune]

🏠 The federal moratorium on evictions ended this weekend. Expect to see a spike of evictions as Democrats in Congress and the White House pointed fingers at each other over who was responsible for an extension. [AP]

💉 The number of Americans getting the COVID-19 shot is rising steadily, especially in places with poor vaccination rates. [CNN]

💉 Disney and Walmart are mandating the COVID-19 vaccine for employees. [CNN]

😷 Utah parents with immunocompromised family members are facing some tough choices when children return to the classroom. [Tribune]

🦠 A report from Republicans in Congress says there is overwhelming evidence COVID-19 leaked from a lab in China. [Reuters]

📉 The number of Americans on welfare declined during the pandemic. [WaPo]

😬 The pro-Trump social network GETTR has turned into an online safe haven for ISIS and other terrorist organizations. [Politico]

💰 Former President Trump’s political organization raised more than $100 million in the first half of 2021. [NYT]

👀 The U.S. and Britain are blaming Iran for a drone strike against an oil tanker off the coast of Oman. [Reuters]

⚽️ “This sucks,” Megan Rapinoe said after the U.S. women’s soccer team lost 1-0 to Canada in the Olympic semifinals. The Americans will play for the bronze medal instead of gold. [ESPN]

Monday’s Utah news roundup


  • Verbal abuse over mask requirements leads five Zion bus drivers to quit. [Tribune]

  • New University of Utah-run ‘innovation district’ planned west of Salt Lake City’s Pioneer Park. [Tribune]

  • Utah school districts are struggling to keep the wheels on the bus going round and round. Here’s why. [Deseret News]

  • Are Utah licensing laws unfair? Cox wants to remove ‘harmful’ regulations. [Deseret News]

  • With more people outdoors, can search and rescue teams keep up? [Deseret News]

  • Sheriff: Stop hanging hammocks from high-voltage power lines. [KUTV]


  • Number of new COVID-19 cases in Utah climbs even higher — to 1,211. [Tribune]

  • U of U increases COVID research efforts during latest patient surge. [KUTV]

Severe weather

  • Rain, hail are once again causing flooding in Cedar City; severe storm pounds Salt Lake City. [Tribune]

  • Iron County hit by second wave of heavy rain, flash flooding. [KUTV]

  • Thunderstorms, heavy rain, flooding hit Salt Lake, Tooele areas. [Fox 13]

  • Iron County flooding includes parts of I-15, warning for travelers. [ABC 4]


  • Down the drain: As the water level hits a record low, what will become of the Great Salt Lake? [Tribune]

  • Great Salt Lake historic low impacts first responders, snowfall, and tourism. [KUTV]

Local government

  • Tiny-home village may be coming to Salt Lake City’s west side. [Tribune]

  • Iron County School District board approves racism directive; mask wearing, bonds also discussed. [Fox 13]

On the editorial page

  • Utah lawmakers won’t lead so they should get out of the say, Editorial Board writes. [Tribune]

🎂 You say it’s your birthday?!!

Happy birthday to Cam Madsen, Legislative Assistant for Rep. Chris Stewart.

Got a birthday you’d like us to recognize in this space? Send us an email.