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Kentucky Supreme Court Maintains Beshear's Coronavirus Restrictions For Now

Kentucky Supreme Court Chamber
Creative Commons
Kentucky Supreme Court Chamber

Kentucky’s coronavirus restrictions will remain in place at least until the state Supreme Court hears a case over the constitutional authority of the governor to issue executive orders.

The Kentucky Supreme Court pre-empted a lower court ruling Friday to ensure Governor Andy Beshear’s executive orders remain in effect.

Beshear said Friday afternoon the Supreme Court’s actions protected the lives and safety of Kentuckians while allowing the governor’s detractors to have their day in court.

“These are emergency powers that are provided by the legislature to the governor to respond in a time like this,” Beshear said. “But if we want to argue in front of a court let’s do it… but let’s make sure along the way we don’t risk the lives of Kentuckians.”

Late Thursday Boone Circuit Judge Rick Brueggemann signaled his intention to block all of the executive orders Gov. Andy Beshear signed to protect the health of Kentuckians amid surging coronavirus infections.

The impacts of that ruling would have ended the governor’s mask mandate, eviction protections, coronavirus-related business protocols and other executive orders Gov. Andy Beshear has signed since his March 6th declaration of a state of emergency.

Beshear said the ruling could have also endangered hundreds of millions of dollars meant for schools, which have budgets based on the number of days that kids are in schools.

“We faced a horribly uncertain future where a request had been made to have zero rules, the wild west,” Beshear said.

Instead, Kentucky Chief Justice John Minton wrote the court would keep the governor’s executive orders in place until the Supreme Court hears the case.

“Given the need for a clear and consistent statewide public health policy and recognizing that the Kentucky legislature has expressly given the Governor broad executive powers in a public health emergency, the Court orders a stay of all orders of injunctive relief until such time as the various orders are properly before the Court with a full record of any evidence and pleadings considered by the lower courts,” Minton wrote.

Brueggeman ruled against the administration in early July, overturning coronavirus-related requirements for crowd and class sizes at the Florence Speedway racetrack and Little Links to Learning Childcare center.

In that case, Brueggemann ordered that Kentuckians ought to have a choice in how they participate with health and safety requirements, and that “value judgment” is best left to individuals.

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron said his involvement in the lawsuit stemmed from his desire to protect the rights of Kentuckians and ensure the governor’s executive orders comply with the law.

In a 31-page motion, Cameron built on Brueggemann’s July 2 ruling for a temporary restraining order, expanding the argument to include all of Beshear’s executive orders related to the coronavirus.

Cameron claimed in the suit that removing the orders would not harm defendants in the case — or by extension, Kentucky residents. That’s despite scientific evidence showing that measures Beshear’s administration put in place — like mask wearing, social distancing and more intense cleaning protocols — have helped to flatten the curve of increasing infections.

On Friday, Cameron tweeted that he respects the Supreme Court’s decision to keep the orders in place.

“Our goal in joining these cases is that the law is followed and the rights of Kentuckians are protected. We look forward to having the Supreme Court take up these important issues in the coming days,” Cameron wrote on Twitter Thursday.

The Beshear administration separately filed a complaint in the Franklin Circuit Court to uphold the authority of the governor to enforce his executive order requiring Kentuckians to wear masks in most circumstances.

In that case, Beshear’s counsel also asked the court to declare that all claims about the governor’s official authority must be heard in the Franklin Circuit Court — the jurisdiction where the State Capitol is seated.

More than 21,000 people have contracted coronavirus in Kentucky and the number of positive cases are increasing. On Friday, 10 children under the age of five tested positive for the virus including two infants. A total of 653 Kentuckians have died.

As of Friday, Kentucky’s rate of positive tests was 4.19 percent, Beshear said that he would consider additional restrictions if the positivity rate exceeded 5%.

This story has been updated.

Ryan Van Velzer is the Kentucky Public Radio Managing Editor. Email Ryan at rvanvelzer@lpm.org.

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