Ky. Supreme Court upholds governor’s COVID-19 orders

FRANKFORT, Ky. — The Kentucky Supreme Court has given Gov. Andy Beshear a significant victory, ruling unanimously that the governor’s emergency orders dealing with the coronavirus pandemic are constitutional.

Those orders touch on many aspects of daily life, such as limits on occupancy in stores and restaurants and the requirement for all Kentuckians to wear face masks.

In its opinion, the justices said Beshear acted within the limits of the Kentucky Constitution and state law — specifically KRS 39A, which deals with the governor’s emergency powers. They also said the COVID-19 pandemic is exactly the sort of situation covered by the governor’s emergency powers.

“The Governor’s orders were, and continue to be, necessary to slow the spread of COVID-19 and protect the health and safety of all Kentucky citizens,” the ruling reads. “This type of highly contagious etiological hazard is precisely the type of emergency that requires a statewide response and properly serves as a basis for the Governor’s actions under KRS Chapter 39A.”

Despite the court’s approval of his actions, Beshear says he does not currently anticipate making any new orders. In particular, he said he does not foresee elevating his “red zone recommendations” to mandates.

“We’re not there yet, and I don’t have specific plans on it,” Beshear said. “We’ll need to see, first of all, how well they work, and we believe they will work. But also, how well they’re followed. And again, if a community embraces these, then we believe that they will be really effective. But I’m not sure you get embracing from a mandate, as opposed to encouragement and, with what’s in place, enforcement.”

Attorney General Daniel Cameron, who challenged the governor’s actions, said the case was never about whether those actions were right or wrong, but whether the law and state constitution were being followed. And he said the Republican-controlled legislature could take action to limit the governor’s powers in its upcoming session.

“We have always maintained that the governor should be able to enact policies that protect the health of citizens, but he must follow a process that allows for public input and respects the Constitution,” Cameron said in a statement on Twitter. “While the court disagreed with our position in this case, there are still lingering issues concerning KRS 39A and executive power that must be considered by the General Assembly in the upcoming legislative session. I look forward to working with the legislature on these matters.”

Kentucky Republican Party spokesman Mike Lonergan echoed that sentiment.

“We disagree with the court’s ruling – it is a shame they sided with the governor,” Lonergan said. “He refuses to work with lawmakers and statewide constitutional officers. We’re looking forward to upcoming legislative efforts to reexamine the governor’s unilateral use of emergency executive powers.”