A county judge on Monday declared “null and void” the pandemic-related emergency orders of Oregon Gov. Kate Brown in response to a lawsuit filed by churches and residents challenging the state shutdown.
Baker County Circuit Court Judge Matthew B. Shirtcliff said in a seven-page decision that Ms. Brown’s executive orders, including her “Stay at Home and Save Lives” and “Closure of Certain Businesses” shutdowns, exceeded the 28-day legislative time limits.
“Once the maximum 28-day period is exceeded, the governor’s executive orders and all subsequent orders were rendered null and void,” he said in his seven-page ruling.
He also granted a preliminary injunction against the shutdown orders, declaring that the “public interest is furthered by allowing people to fully exercise their right to worship and conduct their business.”
The Democrat Brown responded with a statement saying that the “science behind my executive orders hasn’t changed: today’s ruling from the Baker County Circuit Court will be appealed to the Oregon Supreme Court within hours to keep my emergency orders in effect.”
“This will ensure we can continue to safeguard the health of all Oregonians — including front-line 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,” she said.
The Pacific Justice Institute, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Elkhorn Baptist Church and others, described her emergency orders as an example of “liberal governors … abusing their powers to the significant detriment of churches and businesses across America.”
“We’ve got plaintiffs from Portland all the way south to Klamath Falls, from Lincoln City on the coast over to the eastern part of the State,” said PJI attorney Ray Hacke in a statement after the case was argued May 14.
“There’s a rising tide of churches wanting to push back against Governor Brown’s oppressive executive orders, and this case will hopefully remind her that she is not free to dispense with constitutionally protected liberties, even in emergencies,” he said.
Ms. Brown warned that “reopening the state too quickly, and without ongoing physical distancing, will jeopardize public health and cost lives.”
“It is irresponsible to dismiss the health risks and science behind our measures to stop COVID-19,” she said. “We would be faced with the prospect of another mass outbreak without the tools that have proven to be effective in protecting our friends, families, neighbors, and loved ones from this disease.”
Ms. Brown isn’t the first Democratic governor to have her orders challenged. Last week, the Wisconsin Supreme Court invalidated the “Safer at Home” order of Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, while a decision is pending in a challenge filed against Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s emergency shutdown.
State Republicans who have balked at the governor’s lockdown orders cheered the judge’s decision.
“Oregonians are fed up with Gov. Kate Brown’s abuse of power,” said Dylan Richards, a Republican candidate for the state legislature. “This ruling is a big win for religious freedom and reopening Oregon so we can save lives and livelihoods.”
• Alex Swoyer contributed to this story.