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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.

Confirmed Cases: 19097

Reported Deaths: 326
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Multnomah445092
Washington283023
Marion266767
Umatilla199624
Clackamas140136
Malheur67310
Deschutes5378
Lane5183
Lincoln3919
Union3882
Jackson3851
Yamhill35911
Jefferson3103
Morrow3041
Polk28812
Linn24810
Klamath1941
Hood River1690
Wasco1613
Benton1556
Douglas1321
Josephine1051
Coos840
Clatsop800
Columbia780
Crook431
Lake320
Baker300
Tillamook280
Wallowa191
Curry140
Sherman140
Harney80
Gilliam40
Grant20
Unassigned00
Wheeler00

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 512175

Reported Deaths: 9396
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Los Angeles1921774693
Orange37391651
Riverside37011695
San Bernardino32980417
San Diego29883565
Kern20545144
Fresno15083138
Alameda11524189
San Joaquin11483168
Santa Clara10626191
Sacramento10067142
Tulare9454178
Imperial9409220
Stanislaus9061110
Contra Costa7966125
Ventura734476
San Francisco681161
Santa Barbara616760
San Mateo5544119
Marin499470
Monterey482230
Kings438056
Merced428550
Solano361137
Sonoma305537
Madera194330
Placer192516
San Luis Obispo178315
Yolo154442
Santa Cruz11524
Butte9417
Napa8888
Sutter7866
San Benito6434
El Dorado6371
Lassen6310
Yuba4854
Shasta3699
Glenn3251
Colusa3234
Mendocino3179
Nevada2991
Tehama2341
Humboldt2334
Lake1951
Mono1451
Tuolumne1412
Amador1260
Calaveras1251
Del Norte880
Siskiyou730
Mariposa562
Inyo511
Plumas330
Trinity50
Alpine20
Modoc20
Sierra20
Unassigned00
Medford
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