Oregon Supreme Court Says Virus Restrictions Still In Force, Halting Lower Court's Order

A rural judge on Monday granted a preliminary injunction on Gov. Kate Brown's emergency coronavirus restrictions, but the higher court later stayed his decision.

The Oregon Supreme Court ruled Monday night that Democratic Gov. Kate Brown’s emergency coronavirus restrictions would remain in place for the time being — putting the brakes on a rural judge’s decision earlier in the day that had invalidated Brown’s executive orders aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19.

Baker County Circuit Judge Matthew Shirtcliff had granted a preliminary injunction on more than 20 of Brown’s executive orders, including those mandating business closures and banning dine-in services at restaurants, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported.

Shirtcliff said in his opinion that the damage caused by such restrictions to state residents outweighed the danger posed to them by the coronavirus.

His ruling — which took effect immediately — was issued in response to a lawsuit filed earlier this month by a group of Oregon churches and others that claimed the state’s social distancing rules were unconstitutional.

Brown has faced pressure from some Oregonians to reopen the state amid the coronavirus pandemic. An April poll, however, found that a vast majority of Oregon residents ― more than 80% ― were in support of Brown’s stay-at-home restrictions.

A protester at the Re-Open Oregon Rally on May 2, 2020, in Salem, Oregon. Demonstrators gathered at the state capitol to dema
A protester at the Re-Open Oregon Rally on May 2, 2020, in Salem, Oregon. Demonstrators gathered at the state capitol to demand a reopening of the state and to protest Gov. Kate Brown's stay-at-home order which was put in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Following the lower court’s ruling on Monday, Brown said she would immediately appeal the decision to the state’s Supreme Court. Within hours, the higher court had issued a temporary stay on Shirtcliff’s injunction, pending a review of the churches’ lawsuit.

The governor responded to the Supreme Court’s decision in a statement on Twitter.

“From the beginning of this crisis, I have worked within my authority, using science and data as my guide, heeding the advice of medical experts. This strategy has saved lives and protected Oregonians from the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Brown wrote. “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 for overfilled hospitals and ventilators in short supply.” 

Judges in other states have heard similar cases in recent weeks. 

Last Wednesday, the Wisconsin Supreme Court tossed out Gov. Tony Evers’ (D) extension of a statewide stay-at-home order, ruling the Democrat had overstepped his authority in prolonging the restrictions. 

A few days later, a federal judge in North Carolina ruled that churches and other religious entities could temporarily hold indoor services, invalidating Gov. Roy Cooper’s (D) executive order prohibiting large gatherings inside houses of worship. Cooper said he wouldn’t appeal the ruling. 

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