In Oregon, judge overturns Democratic governor’s executive order
Officials in many blue states want to keep their constituents on a COVID-19 lockdown leash — perhaps indefinitely. But the tethers seem to be fraying. Oregon provides the latest example.
On Monday, a state judge declared Democratic Gov. Kate Brown’s extension of statewide lockdown restrictions “null and void.” Brown had declared a coronavirus “state of emergency” on March 8, with her original order ending on May 7. Before it expired, Brown tacked on another 60 days.
Judge Matthew Shirtcliff sided with a coalition of 10 churches that challenged the order, and which were represented by the Pacific Justice Institute, a conservative legal defense nonprofit. The plaintiffs argued that Oregon’s constitution mandated the governor to obtain approval of three-fifths of the legislature before extending an emergency declaration beyond 28 days. Brown sought no such authority.
“The governor’s orders are not required for public safety when plaintiffs can continue to utilize social distancing and safety protocols at larger gatherings involving spiritual worship,” Judge Shirtcliff wrote.
Brown immediately appealed to the state Supreme Court, which on Monday afternoon granted a stay on Shirtcliff’s ruling, which the governor wants overturned.
Oregon’s high court will have to sort out which law applies to Brown’s declaration.
In her order, Brown cited the state’s emergency declaration statute, which has no deadline on the governor’s authority to take action to address the crisis. The plaintiffs alleged that the law applies to natural disasters like earthquakes or floods. They counter that the laws governing public health emergencies, which would require legislative approval to be continued, are applicable in this case.
In her original order, Brown cited both laws. Yet she also stated plainly, “I find that the novel infectious coronavirus has created a threat to public health and safety.”
Additionally, the order noted that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services had declared a nationwide “public health emergency” on Jan. 31 and that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had determined COVID-19 “presents a ‘high’ potential public health threat both globally and in the United States.”
The Oregon Supreme Court could very well decide for Brown and keep the lockdown intact.
But if so, the justices will likely fuel the tide of restlessness that Oregon residents see rising in other places, where residents and local authorities believe their state’s central government has overreached as the coronavirus death toll slows.
For instance, the Wisconsin Supreme Court knocked down Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ stay-at-home order because he, too, failed to get legislative approval before extending it. A federal judge in North Carolina agreed with religious leaders who tested Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s ban on religious services. And sheriffs in several Illinois counties have announced that they won’t enforce Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s executive order because it exceeds his constitutional authority.
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