Oregon Governor Kate Brown’s COVID-19 emergency orders restricting religious gatherings were ruled “null and void” by Baker County Circuit Court Judge Matthew Shirtcliff because they exceeded a 28-day time limit set by state law.
UPDATE: Late Monday the Oregon Supreme Court placed a stay on Judge Shirtcliff’s order, pending full review. Watch Conservative Firing Line for further updates.
According to the Portland Oregonian, Judge Shirtcliff “granted 10 churches that had sued the governor a preliminary injunction, finding they had shown “irreparable harm” from the deprivation of the right to freely exercise their religions.”
The Washington Times noted that in the seven-page ruling, Judge Shirtcliff observed, “Once the maximum 28-day period is exceeded, the governor’s executive orders and all subsequent orders were rendered null and void.”
The judge’s order may be read here.
Gov. Brown was also quoted by the Washington Times, asserting the “science behind my executive orders hasn’t changed: today’s ruling from the Baker County Circuit Court will be appealed to the Oregon Supreme Court within hours to keep my emergency orders in effect.”
In several states, citizens have rallied at state capitols to oppose extended shut-down orders from various governors, including Gov. Jay Inslee in neighboring Washington state. Protests have also been held in Lansing, Michigan.
While the order against Brown may not stand, the judge’s ruling appears to go into great detail about the state laws, and limits, relating to emergency powers allowed for the governor. Judge Shirtcliff noted in his ruling, “this court finds the Plaintiff’s likelihood of success on the merits is high” when he granted the preliminary injunction.
In his ruling, Judge Shirtcliff acknowledged, “Section six provided that the actions taken by the governor once invoked, shall cease to be operative not later than 30 days following the date the Governor invoked the provisions of sections to of the article, or on date recommended by the Governor and determined by the legislative assembly. This constitutional provision does allow an extension when the legislative assembly extends the Governor’s extraordinary powers beyond the 30-day limit upon approval of three-fifths of the members of each house who are able to attend session…”
“However,” the judge says a few lines later, “the statute does not grant the Governor power directly over the movement of citizens and gatherings.”
The judge further noted that Brown’s orders are not required for public safety when Plaintiffs can continue to utilize social distancing safety protocols at larger gatherings…”
As the country continues to re-open, it appears guidelines vary from state to state. Both Washington and California are creeping toward re-opening their economies, which have been devastated by the shutdown orders. Along the Pacific Coast, hundreds of thousands of people have lost their jobs and businesses have been closed, some to never reopen.
Judge Shirtcliff noted in his ruling that “public interest is furthered by allowing people to fully exercise their right to worship and conduct their business.”
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