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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: 309841

Reported Deaths: 3569
CountyCasesDeaths
Multnomah50840642
Washington34683272
Marion32181388
Clackamas26315270
Lane23632246
Jackson20753255
Deschutes16401100
Umatilla12552125
Douglas10599185
Linn1030285
Josephine8536163
Yamhill737299
Klamath637891
Polk617770
Malheur475867
Benton454027
Coos406469
Columbia320237
Jefferson310446
Lincoln272829
Union266036
Wasco236739
Crook212137
Clatsop210225
Tillamook179623
Baker171920
Morrow166621
Curry166317
Hood River161635
Harney77115
Grant7538
Lake6608
Wallowa50111
Gilliam1364
Sherman1283
Wheeler651
Unassigned00

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 4620663

Reported Deaths: 67781
CountyCasesDeaths
Los Angeles144072125799
Riverside3561924786
San Diego3481004002
San Bernardino3456445474
Orange3135295344
Sacramento1494582070
Santa Clara1398391835
Fresno1347291868
Kern1343971515
Alameda1155381318
Ventura972861115
San Joaquin965701608
Contra Costa95152917
Stanislaus800341229
Tulare72268894
San Mateo51984607
San Francisco51582605
Monterey49321562
Solano43887312
Santa Barbara42872497
Sonoma39192376
Merced38977532
Placer36118358
Imperial34105753
Kings29822280
San Luis Obispo28136310
Madera21520258
Butte20994230
Shasta20308276
Santa Cruz20066211
Yolo19040239
Marin17020242
El Dorado15864127
Sutter12955152
Napa1219395
Yuba915461
Nevada839485
Humboldt819084
Tehama810983
San Benito706167
Mendocino676471
Lassen634127
Tuolumne605593
Lake596487
Amador486658
Glenn394630
Siskiyou383241
Calaveras334566
Del Norte330134
Colusa289718
Inyo164939
Mono14625
Plumas12076
Mariposa96712
Trinity70510
Modoc6278
Sierra1980
Unassigned1170
Alpine990
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