Oregon Supreme Court sides with Gov. Brown on COVID-19 restrictions

Justices on the Oregon Supreme Court ruled against a group of churches and individuals, vacating an earlier ruling from the Baker County Circuit Court.

Posted: Jun 12, 2020 9:46 AM
Updated: Jun 12, 2020 11:26 AM

SALEM, Ore. — The Oregon Supreme Court sided with Governor Kate Brown's coronavirus restrictions on Friday, vacating an earlier ruling in a Baker County court that rendered those executive orders "null and void."

The original lawsuit — brought by a coalition of Oregon churches, individuals, and businesses — argued that Brown's executive orders restricting gatherings and workplaces were not consistent with the state constitution or laws. On May 18, Baker County Circuit Court judge Matthew Shirtcliff approved a preliminary injunction, temporarily throwing out Brown's restrictions.

Lawyers for Brown quickly appealed to the Oregon Supreme Court, resulting in the court issuing a stay — keeping Brown's orders in place while the court awaited further information from both sides.

On Friday the court issued its decision, vacating the preliminary injunction issued by judge Shirtcliff, saying that it was "based on a legal error."

In its opinion, the Oregon Supreme Court addressed an argument by the plaintiffs and endorsed by judge Shirtcliff that Governor Brown's executive orders had gone beyond their statutory time limits, a provision of the Oregon statute governing "public health emergencies." However, the Governor's orders were issued under a broader state of emergency statute that does not have a similar time limit, and can only be ended by the Governor or the legislature.

"Because the circuit court’s conclusion about the statutory time limit was fundamental to its issuance of the preliminary injunction, it is necessary to vacate the preliminary injunction," the court wrote.

Moreover, the Oregon Supreme Court said, the plaintiffs had not argued that Governor Brown's executive orders violated their constitutional rights to freely exercise their religion or assemble. Instead, the preliminary injunction took broad aim at all of Brown's orders — not only those that might have impacted the plaintiffs' ability to practice their religion — based on the statutory time limits argument.

The court also cited decisions at the U.S. Supreme Court, including a recent ruling on a lawsuit brought against Governor Gavin Newsom of California, that supported elected officials' necessarily broad powers to respond in the event of a public health emergency.

The court's role is to intervene when political leaders attempting to protect the public against an epidemic act in "an arbitrary, unreasonable manner" or in a way that goes "far beyond what is reasonably necessary," the high court wrote in its opinion.

"There have been and will continue to be debates about how best to respond to the threat posed by the coronavirus. Those debates include debates about what balance the government should strike between protecting lives and protecting liberties," the court wrote in its introduction to the decision. "To the extent that those debates concern policy choices, they are properly for policymakers. That is, those difficult choices must be made by the people's representatives in the legislative and executive branches of the government."

The full Oregon Supreme Court opinion may be seen here or read below.

Oregon Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 175121

Reported Deaths: 2460
CountyCasesDeaths
Multnomah34937568
Washington23491229
Marion20195299
Clackamas15386204
Lane11591144
Jackson9923127
Umatilla796883
Deschutes712972
Linn416063
Yamhill410175
Klamath349059
Polk344252
Malheur342858
Josephine306362
Douglas304765
Benton273218
Jefferson207032
Coos197531
Columbia154526
Union141624
Lincoln130220
Wasco129128
Hood River112529
Morrow107915
Clatsop8958
Crook88019
Baker85814
Curry5959
Tillamook5813
Lake4137
Grant4124
Harney3066
Wallowa1575
Sherman570
Gilliam561
Wheeler251
Unassigned00

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 3718210

Reported Deaths: 61038
CountyCasesDeaths
Los Angeles122899723653
Riverside2972154525
San Bernardino2947794555
San Diego2749603674
Orange2689624896
Santa Clara1170812013
Kern1078591322
Sacramento1011721646
Fresno1005621646
Alameda853671477
Ventura802301000
San Joaquin714311334
Contra Costa67019782
Stanislaus603831028
Tulare49383829
Monterey43267357
San Mateo41157560
San Francisco36032523
Santa Barbara33896446
Solano31875239
Merced31196452
Sonoma29696311
Imperial27987719
Kings22774245
Placer21751283
San Luis Obispo20917256
Madera16260239
Santa Cruz15571204
Marin13861226
Yolo13580200
Shasta11677217
Butte11573196
El Dorado9719109
Napa966679
Sutter9268109
Yuba609844
San Benito598663
Lassen566924
Tehama543056
Nevada445775
Tuolumne406664
Mendocino398747
Amador362551
Humboldt358737
Lake340943
Glenn235725
Colusa219816
Calaveras205551
Siskiyou194021
Inyo141738
Del Norte12747
Mono12734
Plumas6906
Modoc4884
Mariposa4247
Trinity3985
Sierra1100
Alpine880
Unassigned610
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