Oregon Gov. Kate Brown’s COVID-19 restrictions are “null and void” according to a ruling from a Baker County judge on Monday, May 18.
Gov. Brown stated she would attempt to keep the social-distancing executive orders in place by immediately appealing the decision to the state Supreme Court.
“This will ensure we can continue to safeguard the health of all Oregonians — including frontline health care workers, those living in nursing homes, workers in agriculture and food processing plants, and Oregonians with underlying health conditions — while the legal process moves forward,” Brown said.
Her attorneys asked the judge to stay the ruling until the high court could review the case, but he declined, meaning it took effect immediately.
“We will argue that the judge erred in his construction of the relevant statutes and that he abused his discretion in issuing the preliminary injunction,” Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum stated.
Baker County Circuit Judge Matthew Shirtcliff said his ruling was because Gov. Brown didn’t have her emergency orders approved by the Legislature.
The lawsuit, brought by churches, businesses and others, claimed the governor’s directives were unconstitutional.
The suit also argued, and Shirtcliff agreed, that emergency powers only last for a month and after that Gov. Brown needed legislative approval to extend it after 28 days.
Brown declared a statewide state of emergency due to the virus on March 8 and has issued multiple executive orders since then, including the closure of all schools, non-essential businesses and a ban on dine-in service at restaurants and bars. All but a handful of Oregon counties, however, got the state's approval to begin loosening those restrictions on Friday, May 15.
AG Rosenblum asked residents to abide by the stay-at-home orders while the ruling is being appealed.
“I urge Oregonians to continue to comply with the measures in place,” Rosenblum stated. “They are there to protect all of us, and they are working. We are in close contact with the Governor and intend to support, as allowed by law, the critical work she has done, guided by public health experts, to ensure the safety and health of all Oregonians.”
Similar court rulings have occurred in Wisconsin and North Carolina.
The attorney who represented the churches, Ray Hacke of Pacific Justice Institute, according to various media reports said in a phone interview Monday the ruling not only invalidates Brown’s ban on churches gathering for worship but also the entire stay-at-home order.
Common Sense intervened after the Sacramento-based Pacific Justice Institute filed the case earlier this month on behalf of Oregon businesses, expanding the scope, he said.
“The stay-at-home order is no longer in effect. It is invalidated. If people want to get their haircut, they can. They can leave their home for any reason whether it’s deemed essential in the eye of the state or not,” he said.
He added that the ruling was a vindication not just for freedom of religion, but for all Oregonians’ freedoms.
“Praise God. I’m excited, and I’m glad that the judge saw that there are limitations on the governor’s power, even in the midst of emergencies,” he said.
Brown appointed Shirtcliff judge in September of 2019, with the appointment having taken effect on Nov. 1.