DC To Lift Bar Exam’s Mask Mandate After Free Beacon Report

‘Looks like someone who probably doesn’t want to wear a mask sent it to the media to force our hand,’ bar officials complain.

A masked Chief Justice John Roberts / Getty Images
May 19, 2023

Bar officials in Washington, D.C., say they will "likely" lift the mask requirement for the city’s upcoming bar exam in the wake of a Washington Free Beacon report on the mandate. But, according to emails obtained by the Free Beacon, they aren’t happy about it and certainly aren’t going to give test takers or the public any insight into how or why the decision was made.

The Free Beacon sent the D.C. Court of Appeals, which administers the test, a request for comment Thursday afternoon. Upon receiving the inquiry, Marie Robertson, the court’s acting chief deputy clerk, forwarded it to Douglas Buchanan, the court’s public relations director, with clear instructions: control the narrative.

"Looks like someone who probably doesn’t want to wear a mask sent it to the media to force our hand," Robertson wrote in an email. "We are likely to lift the mask requirement, but I’d like to announce that closer to the exam and I prefer that we announce it, and not that it comes from the media."

The next day—after the story was published—Buchanan responded to the inquiry. He thanked the Free Beacon for bringing a study on the harms of mask usage to the court’s attention, adding that "protocols may change between now and the time of the exam," which is 12 hours long. He also forwarded Robertson’s email to the Free Beacon, apparently by accident.

Buchanan declined to comment on the forwarded email, stating only that "we hope to make the best decision that is best for all involved."

Robertson did not respond to a request for comment.

The exchange offers a rare peek behind the curtain of COVID decision-making, showing how unwanted attention can shock officials out of bureaucratic autopilot. In January 2022, for example, Minnesota and Utah stopped rationing COVID drugs based on race in the wake of a Free Beacon exposé of the states’ allocation schemes, which many experts said were illegal. A large hospital system, SSM Health, reversed a similar policy amid well-publicized legal threats.

Mask mandates can have serious implications, especially for test-takers. A German study found that prolonged mask use can cause "difficulty concentrating" and "reduced cognitive performance" due to carbon dioxide buildup. And masking toddlers—as many daycares and preschools did—has been shown to retard speech and emotional development.

The D.C. court system did drop its mask requirement in April, two years after vaccines were widely available. Masks are still required in the D.C. Court of Appeals.