Kentucky Supreme Court hands governor major legal defeat
FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – In a rare Saturday decision, the Kentucky Supreme Court unanimously ruled Franklin Circuit Court abused its discretion in blocking new state laws from taking effect that limit the governor’s authority to enact emergency orders to help control the COVID-19 pandemic.
In its 34-page order, the high court sent the case back to the lower court to dissolve the injunction.
Democratic Governor Andy Beshear challenged Republican-backed laws that limit his authority to enact emergency orders during the pandemic.
The state Supreme Court ruled last year that Gov. Beshear’s orders were legal, but that was prior to the most recent legislative session where laws were passed restricting the governor’s powers.
The ruling does not impact the Kentucky Board of Education’s Aug. 12 emergency regulations requiring a mask mandate for students for most of the academic year, and the Department for Public Health’s mask mandate for child care facilities statewide.
A legislative panel recently found those regulations “deficient,” but Gov. Beshear overrode that decision. One of the new laws in question would eliminate the governor’s ability to override such decisions.
Saturday’s ruling from the state Supreme Court came from cases in Scott and Franklin circuit courts.
The Scott County case came from Gov. Beshear’s appeal of Circuit Judge Brian Privett’s ruling to temporarily block the state from enforcing some of Beshear’s executive orders restricting crowd capacity and operating hours at several restaurants and breweries.
The Franklin County case involved Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s appeal of Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd’s decision to temporarily block four new measures passed during the most recent legislative session that curbed the governor’s emergency powers.
The state Supreme Court heard nearly two-hours of oral arguments in the case June 11, 2021, one day before Gov. Beshear repealed many of his COVID-19 emergency regulations.
The governor’s Communications Director, Crystal Staley, released the following statement following the ruling:
The court’s order will dissolve Kentucky’s entire state of emergency for the COVID-19 pandemic. It either eliminates or puts at risk large amounts of funding, steps we have taken to increase our health care capacity, expanded meals for children and families, measures to fight COVID-19 in long-term care facilities, worker’s compensation for front-line workers who contract COVID-19 as well as the ability to fight price gouging. It will further prevent the governor from taking additional steps such as a general mask mandate. The administration will work to determine whether the General Assembly would extend the state of emergency as we assess whether to call a special session. The Governor has had the courage to make unpopular decisions in order to keep Kentuckians safe – the court has removed much of his ability to do so moving forward. If called in to a special session, we hope the General Assembly would do the right thing.”
House Speaker David Osborne and Senate President Robert Stivers issued the following statement after today’s ruling:
“After months of deliberation, the Supreme Court has confirmed what the General Assembly has asserted throughout this case – the legislature is the only body with the constitutional authority to enact laws. Let us be clear that today’s ruling in no way diminishes the seriousness of this virus or its impact on our Commonwealth, and the General Assembly will continue to work to maintain both the safety and rights of all Kentuckians. The General Assembly has made it clear on numerous occasions that its disagreements with Governor Beshear were founded in process. This fact is affirmed throughout today’s decision, in statements like ‘the Governor has no implied or inherent emergency powers beyond that given him by the legislature,’ and ‘the General Assembly establishes the public policy of the Commonwealth.’ Despite his historic inability to recognize these facts, we continue to stand ready to work with the Governor, as we have for nearly a year and a half, and address what is a very real public health crisis.”