KENTUCKY — The highest court in the Commonwealth delivered a major legal defeat to Gov. Andy Beshear on Saturday, clearing the way for new laws to rein in his emergency powers.
What You Need To Know
- The Kentucky Supreme Court issued a set of rare Saturday decisions, ruling in favor of the state legislature and laws passed to reign in Gov. Beshear's executive authority
- The ruling concerns House Bill 1, which was previously blocked by an injunction in Franklin Circuit Court
- The high court calls for the injunction to be lifted, allowing the laws to be in effect while a larger lawsuit is worked through
- The ruling comes as COVID-19 cases, fueled largely by the delta variant and unvaccinated populations, surges across Kentucky
In rare Saturday rulings on Cameron v. Beshear and Beshear v. Goodwood Brewing Company, the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled in favor of the state legislature and laws passed to reign in Beshear's executive authority.
The state's Supreme Court ordered a lower court to dissolve an injunction that temporarily blocked the Republican-backed laws strictly limiting Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s emergency powers.
The ruling revolved around a constitutional showdown between Beshear and the GOP-led legislature over the scope of the governor’s executive authority in emergencies. It comes as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are surging because of the highly contagious delta variant.
The case stems from measures passed by the legislature this year to curb those emergency powers in response to Beshear’s aggressive handling of the coronavirus crisis. The governor immediately filed a lawsuit challenging the measures after his vetoes of the bills were overridden.
The Supreme Court said Saturday that the governor’s claims that the measures impaired his ability to carry out his constitutional duties were “largely unsupported by sound legal principles.”
“In sum, considering that the challenged legislation was lawfully passed, the governor’s complaint does not present a substantial legal question that would necessitate staying the effectiveness of the legislation,” Justice Laurance B. VanMeter wrote.
Republican lawmakers said the new laws were meant to put checks on what they viewed as Beshear’s overreach in ordering a series of restrictions to combat the virus’s spread. The governor maintained the steps he took to limit activity during the pandemic have saved lives.
The governor lifted most of his pandemic restrictions in June. But with COVID-19 cases spiking due to the delta variant, he signed a recent executive order imposing an indoor mask mandate in K-12 schools, child care and pre-kindergarten programs across Kentucky.
The Kentucky Department of Education’s emergency regulation regarding mask remains in effect for public schools, as does the Cabinet for Health and Family Services’ emergency regulation related to child care settings, according to Sebastian Kitchen, Gov. Beshear's deputy communitcations director. All emergency regulations related to the pandemic remain in effect.
One of the contested laws limits the governor’s executive orders in times of emergency to 30 days unless extended by lawmakers. Under another measure, businesses and schools have to comply either with COVID-19 guidelines from the governor or the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They could follow whichever standard is least restrictive.
Last year, the state Supreme Court upheld the governor’s authority to issue coronavirus-related restrictions on businesses and individuals to try to contain the spread of COVID-19. The legislature responded by passing the new laws this year.
Crystal Staley, with Gov. Beshear's office, said the court's order on Saturday could jeopardize pandemic-related funding and other COVID-19 emergency processes.
"[The court’s order] 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."
A special session could be called to assess measures needed to combat the ongoing pandemic, Staley said.
"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."
In a statement on Twitter, the Kentucky School Board Association urged all Kentuckians to take time for thoughtful consideration of the ruling as everyone review the opinion.
KSBA’s statement on today’s KY. Supreme Court opinion: pic.twitter.com/O5atV9Eonn— KSBA (@ksbanews) August 21, 2021
"Hot takes absent of full understanding of the ruling's impact on our public schools risk perpetuation of more misinformation in a time where our schools and communities are seeking clarity," the organization wrote.,
Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, an ardent critic of Beshear eyeing a potential run for Governor in 2023, quickly praised the decision in a statement on Twitter.
"With this ruling, Governor Andrew Beshear should turn away from his lawless ways and his open disrespect for the People’s branch, and do what he should have done from the beginning: actually bring people together and lead," Quarles wrote.
In today’s ruling, the Kentucky Supreme Court said the General Assembly sets the public policy of the Commonwealth. Our constitutional order does not take a break during a pandemic. pic.twitter.com/IQlxx3ivgz— Commissioner Ryan Quarles (@KYAgCommish) August 21, 2021
Bookending the court's opinion was a statement from the justices calling for all parties in the matter to work together for the good of all Kentuckians.
"As a Justice, and more pertinently as a lifelong Kentuckian, I implore all parties to this matter to lay down their swords and work together cooperatively to finish this immensely important task for the benefit of the people they serve."
The Supreme Court's ruling comes as COVID-19 cases, fueled largely by the delta variant and unvaccinated populations, surges across Kentucky. The state reported 3,869 new cases on Friday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.