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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: 42808

Reported Deaths: 664
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Multnomah9292163
Marion5929108
Washington583877
Umatilla337645
Clackamas317265
Lane241927
Malheur192738
Jackson17076
Deschutes113613
Yamhill100115
Linn81615
Polk65715
Jefferson6059
Morrow5457
Lincoln51713
Union4682
Benton4456
Klamath4173
Douglas3598
Wasco34816
Hood River2771
Columbia2691
Josephine2693
Coos2510
Clatsop2440
Baker1253
Crook1102
Tillamook700
Curry581
Wallowa462
Lake380
Harney340
Sherman190
Gilliam110
Grant110
Wheeler20
Unassigned00

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 914888

Reported Deaths: 17460
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Los Angeles3020777027
Riverside669931303
San Bernardino633671073
Orange589801454
San Diego55210877
Kern33928416
Fresno30969439
Sacramento25601491
Santa Clara24425392
Alameda23471462
San Joaquin21729489
Contra Costa18763242
Stanislaus17714398
Tulare17590288
Ventura14330165
Imperial12967336
San Francisco12189140
Monterey1141990
San Mateo11198159
Santa Barbara9827122
Merced9531155
Sonoma9494136
Kings826483
Solano744576
Marin7096129
Madera503774
Placer420757
San Luis Obispo417432
Yolo321959
Butte309552
Santa Cruz280825
Napa196616
Shasta195431
Sutter186512
San Benito144215
El Dorado13514
Yuba132310
Mendocino113621
Tehama8928
Lassen7661
Lake69816
Glenn6713
Nevada6238
Humboldt56810
Colusa5516
Calaveras34218
Amador33116
Tuolumne2754
Inyo23115
Siskiyou2050
Del Norte1801
Mono1802
Mariposa792
Plumas700
Modoc360
Trinity270
Sierra60
Alpine30
Unassigned00
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