Kentucky governor handed loss by state’s high court over emergency COVID powers

As COVID-19 cases surge in some states, governors are being challenged at the highest levels over their ability to implement emergency powers that they very liberally exercised last year at the height of the pandemic.

According to The Hill, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D) was recently challenged by his state’s attorney general and the GOP-led assembly on using his COVID-19 emergency powers — a challenge that ultimately resulted in the Kentucky Supreme Court ruling against the governor. 

What’s going on?

The bills that were proposed to limit the governor’s emergency powers were reasonable, with one including a requirement that the Kentucky legislature approve such an extension of his powers in a formal vote, or make it to where if a vote wasn’t taken, the orders automatically expire within 30 days of being issued.

Earlier this year, Beshear made it clear that he wasn’t a fan of needing state legislative approval to exercise those emergency powers, and ultimately requested that the Franklin Circuit Court block such legislation, which is exactly what happened.

However, over the weekend, Beshear and the lower court were shot down by the Kentucky Supreme Court, which ordered that the lower court’s injunction against the legislation be dissolved.

The state’s high court decided that Beshear’s original complaint “does not present a substantial legal question that would necessitate staying the effectiveness of the legislation,” adding that it believes the legislation to block or limit the deployment of emergency powers was properly passed by the state’s legislature, as the Lexington Herald Leader noted.

The ruling also came in the wake of a federal court decision several weeks ago that prohibited mask mandates in Kentucky’s private school system.

Praise and backlash

Unsurprisingly, Beshear and his staff, including spokesperson Crystal Staley, were not pleased with the ruling and suggested that it puts the state at great risk for another COVID-19 case count spike.

“The court’s order will dissolve Kentucky’s entire state of emergency for the COVID-19 pandemic. It either eliminates or puts at risk large amounts of funding, steps we have taken to increase our health care capacity, expanded meals for children and families, measures to fight COVID-19 in long-term care facilities, worker’s compensation for front-line workers who contract COVID-19 as well as the ability to fight price gouging.”

Staley added that Beshear “has had the courage to make unpopular decisions in order to keep Kentuckians safe — the court has removed much of his ability to do so moving forward.”

In contrast, Attorney General Daniel Cameron (R) praised the Supreme Court for its ruling, saying “Today, the Supreme Court unanimously agreed with our position. This is not a novel concept; in fact, it’s the bedrock of our system of government.”

As COVID-19 cases continue to increase across the country and as governors attempt to wield emergency powers once again, don’t be surprised to see those powers challenged at the highest levels.

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