Laws that the legislature passed last winter to put time limits on the governor’s emergency powers should not have been blocked by a lower court, which now must remove the block and hear legal arguments in the case, says a unanimous Kentucky Supreme Court.
In an unusual Saturday ruling, the timing of which was not explained, all seven justices agreed that Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd abused his discretion in blocking the laws, which limit emergency orders to 30 days and call for his emergency pandemic declaration to expire on June 28.
The ruling is “a momentous legal defeat” for Beshear, write Jack Brammer and Karla Ward of the Lexington Herald-Leader. However, it does not affect the key emergency measure now in effect, a mask mandate in public schools, imposed by a 270-day emergency regulation of the Beshear-appointed state school board. Beshear issued a broader 30-day order for all schools, preschools and child-care centers; a federal judge has blocked that order in at least one Northern Kentucky school.
While the Supreme Court ordered Shepherd to dissolve his injunction, “It is not certain when that will happen,” reports Joe Sonka of the Louisville Courier Journal. The high court’s 34-page decision left that unclear.
Meanwhile, the pandemic has resurged, setting new records several days this week and threatening hospital capacity, and Beshear has said he might need to issue other emergency orders such as a mask mandate.
The laws at issue limit Beshear’s emergency orders to 30 days unless extended by the General Assembly; allow businesses, schools, nonprofits and churches to stay open if they meet federal or state guidelines, whichever is least restrictive; and give the legislature more power over administrative regulations issued during an emergency.