LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear's executive orders during the coronavirus pandemic were legal and "necessary," the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
In a unanimous decision, the high court determined that Beshear properly declared a state of emergency, used his emergency powers and, because his orders and regulations were not arbitrary, did not violate the state constitution.
“This ruling gives us the chance and an opportunity to get this virus back under control," Beshear said. "But that won't happen unless we open our eyes and our ears and our hearts, (and) we realize the amount of suffering that is out there, and for all of us, we take some actions.”
The justices also found that a Boone County judge erred when he issued an injunction last summer that would have prevented the orders from staying in place.
"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 Supreme Court's ruling said. "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" state law.
While Beshear praised the ruling, it brought a swift reaction from some Republicans in the GOP-controlled legislature, where an effort to curb the governor's powers is expected when the chamber convenes in January.
Senate Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, claimed on Twitter that rules set by Beshear "unilaterally" have "destroyed jobs, harmed economic recovery & increased mental illness."
"Of course the liberal Supreme Court supports him," Thayer tweeted. "But the people's voice will be heard."
Senate President Robert Stivers said in a statement that he is reviewing the court's ruling. Upon reading and researching the opinion and these issues, I will propose an appropriate course of conduct for our chamber for the upcoming 2021 legislative session,” he said.
Starting in March, Beshear issued orders that included closing restaurants and other public businesses, then gradually allowing them to reopen at reduced capacity; and requiring social distancing measures.
The case stems from separate challenges to Beshear's emergency orders that developed in June, with businesses involved in childcare, car racing, food service and agriculture suing to get relief from they saw as arbitrary restrictions on their ability to operate.
The challenges were bolstered by Attorney General Daniel Cameron and Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, statewide Republican officeholders who are possible contenders for the GOP nomination for governor in 2023.
Cameron said in a statement that there are still "lingering questions" about the state law that governs disasters and emergencies -- Kentucky Revised Statutes Chapter 39A -- and executive power that the legislature ought to consider.
"I look forward to working with the legislature on these matters," he said.
Speaking at a press conference in Frankfort, Beshear said the Supreme Court ruling creates an opportunity to get the virus back under control. Kentucky reported a single-day high number of new cases -- 2,700 -- on Wednesday.
Beshear implored people who haven't been following mask-wearing and other guidelines to start doing so.
And, with Republican opposition to some of his orders, Beshear sought to compare his actions to those of GOP governors in other states.
"We're seeing other states around us -- Ohio and Indiana -- now putting in some of the same restrictions that we have that were challenged under this order," he said.
On Wednesday, Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb announced he will sign an executive order adding new COVID-19 restrictions for a month in counties hit hard by the virus, including many in southern Indiana.
Beshear downplayed questions about whether lawmakers may try to reign in his executive powers, saying that the court recognized that he was using his powers as provided in the state constitution. The court also noted that some of the governor's authority during the crisis is the result of legislation.
A Boone County judge on July 2 issued a temporary restraining order easing Beshear's capacity restrictions with respect to childcare facilities and auto racing tracks.
Then on July 9, a Scott County judge temporarily invalidated Beshear's restrictions on "agritourism" businesses.
But the Supreme Court stepped in July 17, keeping all lower court orders related to Beshear's COVID-19 regulations in place while the high court considered the issue.
Those fighting the regulations argued that halting Beshear's orders caused "economic hardships" and burdened people's constitutional rights, the Supreme Court noted in its Thursday ruling.
"We conclude that the greater public interest lies instead with the public health of the citizens of the Commonwealth as a whole," the court ruled. "The global COVID-19 pandemic threatens not only the health and lives of Kentuckians but also their own economic interests; the interests of the vast majority take precedence over the individual business interests of any one person or entity."
This story may be updated.
Reporter Chris Otts contributed.
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