By GILLIAN FLACCUS and ANDREW SELSKY Associated Press
SALEM, Ore. (AP) — The Oregon Supreme Court halted a rural judge’s order which had tossed out statewide coronavirus restrictions imposed by Gov. Kate Brown.
In the earlier ruling on the case, Baker County Circuit Judge Matthew Shirtcliff had ruled that Brown erred by not seeking the Legislature’s approval to extend the stay-at-home orders beyond a 28-day limit.
The Supreme Court’s Monday decision stays Shirtcliff’s decree pending review by all the high court justices.
In a statement, Brown praised the Supreme Court action. “There are no shortcuts for us to return to life as it was before this pandemic. Moving too quickly could return Oregon to the early days of this crisis, when we braced ourselves for hospitals to be overfilled,” she said.
The lower court judge had issued his opinion in response to a lawsuit filed this month by 10 churches around Oregon that argued the state’s social distancing directives were unconstitutional.
In a seven-page opinion, Shirtcliff wrote that the damage to Oregonians and their livelihood was greater than the dangers presented by the coronavirus. He also noted that some businesses deemed essential, such as grocery stores, had been allowed to remain open even with large numbers of people present and have relied on masks, social distancing and other measures to protect the public.
“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,” he wrote.
Courts in other states have ruled against similar orders. The Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down Gov. Tony Evers’ stay-at-home order last week, ruling that his administration overstepped its authority when it extended the order for another month without consulting legislators.
A federal judge in North Carolina on Saturday sided with conservative Christian leaders and blocked the enforcement of restrictions that Gov. Roy Cooper ordered affecting indoor religious services during the pandemic.
In Louisiana, however, a federal judge refused a minister’s request to temporarily halt Gov. John Bel Edwards’ stay-at-home order, which expired that same day.
The ruling by the county judge in Oregon turned on the legal mechanism Brown used to issue her orders. The plaintiffs allege — and the judge agreed — that they were issued under a statute pertaining to public health emergencies, not an older provision that addresses natural disasters such as storms, earthquakes or floods.
The public health statute contains the 28-day time limit, while the other would give Brown broader powers but is not relevant in the current situation, said Kevin Mannix, who is representing business owners in the case.
California, Washington and New York — where governors have repeatedly extended coronavirus restrictions — give their governors more power in public health emergencies, but Oregon law puts a specific clock on those “extraordinary powers,” he said.
“Maybe other states will take a lesson from us in the future about what to do about public health emergencies,” Mannix said. “We’ve thought about it, we’ve balanced the powers of the governor with the powers of the people and their representatives.”
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Source:: The Mercury News – Nation, World