(The Center Square) – The Kentucky Supreme Court ruled unanimously Thursday that Gov. Andy Beshear acted within his authority when he issued emergency orders in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The justices overturned a ruling from a Boone County judge who sided with a racetrack and a childcare facility that claimed the governor’s orders for businesses unfairly affected them while not requiring similar businesses to take similar actions. They also argued that Beshear’s actions violated constitutional rights and harmed businesses financially. A judge in Scott County also overturned emergency orders against agribusinesses.
“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 state justices wrote. “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.”
In speaking with reporters after the ruling, Beshear, a Democrat, said he was grateful the state’s top court sided with him.
“This lawsuit … would have eliminated every single safeguard we have here in Kentucky to keep you safe,” he said. Among the actions the court’s decision protects are funding for school districts to implement distance learning programs and a directive giving emergency responders workers’ compensation when they have to quarantine.
The businesses were joined in the case by Attorney General Daniel Cameron.
In a statement, Cameron, a Republican, said he and others in the lawsuit did not contest that the governor has the right to take action to protect the public in times of emergency. However, they contended that Beshear failed to “follow a process that allows for public input and respects the Constitution.”
Cameron also noted that the governor has had to adjust some of his orders, including ones on travel bans and religious gatherings, after federal courts intervened.
“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,” he said.
Republicans will hold large majorities in both the state Senate and House when the legislature reconvenes in January. As long as they pass bills curbing the governor’s powers before the governor’s veto period, Republicans should be able to override any Beshear vetoes on those bills. Only a simple majority in both chambers are needed for that.
In addition, to revising state law, lawmakers may look to pursue an amendment to the state Constitution that would allow legislators to call a special session. Currently, only the governor can summon one.