By Associated Press • 

Oregon high court keeps state virus restrictions in place

By GILLIAN FLACCUS Associated Press

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The Oregon Supreme Court has kept statewide virus restrictions in place by halting a judge’s order to end them in a lawsuit filed by churches claiming the governor exceeded her authority when she shut down in-person religious services.

Baker County Circuit Judge Matthew Shirtcliff ruled Monday that Gov. Kate Brown erred by not seeking the Legislature’s approval to extend her stay-at-home orders beyond a 28-day limit. Brown's lawyers appealed to the Oregon Supreme Court, which just hours later put a hold on Shirtcliff's decree until the high court's justices can review the matter.

Presiding Justice Thomas Balmer gave both sides until Friday to submit legal briefs. He did not give a timeline for a decision.

In a statement late Monday, Brown, a Democrat, praised the state Supreme Court action.

“There are no shortcuts for us to return to life as it was before this pandemic. Moving too quickly could return Oregon to the early days of this crisis, when we braced ourselves for hospitals to be overfilled,” she said.

The lower court judge had issued his opinion in response to a lawsuit filed earlier this month by 10 churches around Oregon that argued the state’s social distancing directives were unconstitutional.

In his opinion, Shirtcliff wrote that the damage to Oregonians and their livelihood was greater than the dangers presented by the coronavirus. He also noted that other businesses deemed essential, such as grocery stores, had been allowed to remain open even with large numbers of people present and have relied on masks, social distancing and other measures to protect the public.

“The governor’s orders are not required for public safety when plaintiffs can continue to utilize social distancing and safety protocols at larger gatherings involving spiritual worship,” he wrote.

Courts in other states have ruled against similar orders. The Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down Gov. Tony Evers’ stay-at-home order last week, ruling that his administration overstepped its authority when it extended the order for another month without consulting legislators.

A federal judge in North Carolina on Saturday sided with conservative Christian leaders and blocked the enforcement of restrictions that Gov. Roy Cooper ordered affecting indoor religious services during the pandemic.

The order from Judge James C. Dever III came days after two churches, a minister and a Christian revival group filed a federal lawsuit seeking to immediately block enforcement of rules covering religious services within the Democratic governor’s executive orders.

In Louisiana, however, a federal judge refused a minister’s request to temporarily halt Gov. John Bel Edwards’ stay-at-home order, which expired that same day.

The ruling by the county judge in Oregon turned on the legal mechanism Brown used to issue her orders. The plaintiffs allege — and the judge agreed — that they were issued under a statute pertaining to public health emergencies, not an older provision that addresses natural disasters such as storms, earthquakes or floods.

The public health statute contains the 28-day time limit, while the other would give Brown broader powers but is not relevant in the current situation, said Kevin Mannix, who is representing business owners in the case.

California, Washington state and New York — where governors have repeatedly extended coronavirus restrictions — give their governors more power in public health emergencies, but Oregon law puts a specific clock on those “extraordinary powers,” he said.

“Maybe other states will take a lesson from us in the future about what to do about public health emergencies,” Mannix said. “We’ve thought about it, we’ve balanced the powers of the governor with the powers of the people and their representatives.”

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, nonessential businesses and a ban on dine-in service at restaurants and bars.

Earlier this month, Brown extended the order another 60 days until July 6. All but a handful of Oregon counties, however, got the state’s approval to begin loosening those restrictions last Friday.

Before the state Supreme Court stepped in Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum had urged residents to abide by the stay-at-home orders while the ruling is appealed.

“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,” she said in a statement.

Scott Erickson, chief pastor of one of the churches behind the lawsuit, was taking a wait-and-see approach before making any move to open the doors. Currently, his Peoples Church in Salem has drive-in service, with worshippers tuning in on their radios from the parking lot, and livestreaming.

“We’re going to wait until there’s finality,” he said in a phone interview.

If the judge’s ruling ultimately stands, Erickson’s church, which 3,700 people normally attend regularly, will change its ways, the pastor said. It will adhere to 6-foot (2-meter) distancing, every other row would be empty and anything that people touch, like chairs and pews, will be wiped down before each service. Masks would be optional.

“It would certainly impact our capacity, but that’s where we’re at on this,” Erickson said.

___

Associated Press Writers Andrew Selsky in Salem, Oregon and Chris Grygiel in Seattle contributed to this report.

[This article was updated at 7:50 a.m. Tuesday to reflect Supreme Court ruling and at 11:45 a.m. with additional details, including timeline for briefing, decision by Oregon Supreme Court.]

Comments

Jim

Best news I’ve heard in 70 days. Now maybe we can get Kate Brown recalled and get Oregon back to being the great state it was.

Christmas has Talons

I want to thank our County Commissioner Mary Starrett for standing up for our religious rights and for the rights of small business as well as this judge for doing the right thing. I know it wasn't easy with the type of hype and peer pressure this virus has brought.

treefarmer


Damn straight - demand freedumb! (It's not like repudiating caution and common sense is a matter of life and/or death?) 90,000+ dead Americans is surely just hype, and contagion not more than a political hoax.

tagup

Common sense would require people to argue as hard for increased testing as they do for re opening......

GRM

Common sense ? Not anymore. Bipartisan politics ? Not anymore. Every cause nowadays is handled via Twitter etc. None of the two parties and their members are willing to listen to the other side as it was in the past for the good of the country.
By the way the Oregon Supreme Court just announced that the restrictions are still standing !!

tagup

People from all political views would benefit from a strong testing program.
Testing will give confidence to consumers and will lead to business demand.
Pressure from the people can make this happen......everyone should demand a national testing and tracing program from our leadership....

RobsNewsRegister

The world isn't as simple as Twitter and many of these mantras make it out to be (e.g. dollars per life).

The AI (artificial intelligence) program I referenced earlier has proved correct. According to the UN, 130 million are now at risk of starvation, note - that is not just poverty which comes with a higher risk of death as well - that is hundreds of millions more.

Some of largest layoffs and furloughs have ironically been in the health care sector. I thought the shut-down goal was to ensure they didn't get overwhelmed? Cancer diagnoses are down 80% YOY. We didn't just magically cure cancer, heart disease, diabetes etc.. - they are just going un-diagnosed.

I saw an article in that 20-30% of Linn county small businesses won't reopen. What is it in Yamhill county? Some recent national bankruptcies include J.P. Penny, Garden Fresh Restaurants, Neiman Marcus, and many others. We are closing in on 40 million unemployment claims - how many jobs where they don't qualify?

We need to use science and be smart. Why are there restrictions still outdoors? The data is overwhelming (Japan, China) that it is far more difficult to transmit outside than inside and that sunlight, heat and humidity kill the virus quickly (MIT study) - e.g. a half-life of 90 seconds.

I'm actually seeing articles where there are now more tests than people to test (see link).

https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/as-coronavirus-testing-expands-a-new-problem-arises-not-enough-people-to-test/2020/05/17/3f3297de-8bcd-11ea-8ac1-bfb250876b7a_story.html

tagup

More tests than people to test?....you’re kidding right?....every employee that has public contact should be tested on a routine basis .....does an employer have no duty to protect customers?
Oregon has done less than 100,000 tests....Yamhill county has done less than 2300....for the entire county.....doesn’t it make sense to test before people actually get sick?....

RobsNewsRegister

That depends. What is the false positive rate for the test in question? When does one show up as positive (e.g. if asymptomatic - do you test positive?) How invasive is the test? I'm just referencing a Washington Post story I saw and provided the link.

RobsNewsRegister

That said - I do like how you're thinking @Tagup. Strategically target whom with what rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.

tagup

Rob...sorry....didn’t mean to imply “you” personally...:)

tricia

Thank you Rob for providing factual information that's apparently beyond comprehension for the children who typically post on this forum.

Finch

Missed you Rob!

RobsNewsRegister

Thanks Finch! Its been a little crazy getting my first novel out. At least it gave me something so I was super busy during the lockdown. I hope you all are staying safe and well.

Finch

Congratulations Rob! That's something to be proud of!

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