Kentucky Supreme Court sides with GOP on laws limiting governor’s emergency powers

Like many other state governors, Kentucky Democrat Andy Beshear has issued a host of restrictions on both businesses and his constituents amid the COVID-19 pandemic, all under the guise of a state of emergency. Angered by the development, Kentucky’s Republican-led state legislature sought to limit the governor’s emergency powers — and now, they’ve just been handed a legal win in that regard.

Gov. Beshear had successfully sued in lower courts over new laws put in place by the state legislature limiting his emergency powers. But according to Fox News, the Kentucky Supreme Court has overturned an injunction on the legislation, effectively giving the green light to the GOP-backed laws meant to tamp down on potential abuses of power.

Governor’s powers curtailed

In response to what Republican state legislators viewed as a repeated executive overreach by Gov. Beshear, a series of bills were passed in early 2020 that put time limits on the governor’s emergency orders. Beshear had vetoed those bills, but his vetos were overridden by the legislature, prompting the lawsuit that found favor in a lower court and resulted in an injunction.

The injunction was then challenged by Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron (R), who sided with the legislature, and the case eventually reached the state’s Supreme Court.

An injunction overturned

Justice Laurance VanMeter authored the Kentucky Supreme Court’s unanimous decision on the legislation. “Franklin Circuit Court abused its discretion” in issuing the temporary injunction against the new laws, the judge wrote in a 34-page ruling dissolving the prior injunction and remanding the case back to lower courts.

VanMeter wrote that the lower court’s previous “findings are largely unsupported by sound legal principles because they are occasioned by erroneous interpretations of the constitutional authority of the Governor and law.”

A brief concurring opinion, authored by Deputy Chief Justice Lisabeth Hughes and joined by Chief Justice John Minton Jr., agreed that the lower court had ruled improperly in issuing the injunction, but nonetheless raised some concerns.

A 30-day “kill switch”

According to Politico, the new laws limit the governor’s emergency orders to a maximum of 30 days, unless extended by the state legislature.

“The 30-day limit operates as a ‘kill switch’ that essentially transfers the day-to-day management of emergencies to the legislature by rendering the executive branch powerless to act after 30 days, forcing the call of a special legislative session,” Hughes wrote in her concurring opinion, as Politico reported.

“This type of special legislative session trigger has no antecedent in Kentucky law to my knowledge and requires careful constitutional analysis,” the justice added, leaving open the possibility that the new laws could be deemed unconstitutional upon closer consideration.

As things stand right now, though, the legislation passed earlier this year is currently in effect, meaning Gov. Beshear can’t extend any emergency orders beyond the 30-day mark.

For Americans who value liberty, that definitely counts as a win.

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