FRANKFORT — The Kentucky Supreme Court heard oral arguments Thursday on whether Gov. Andy Beshear exceeded his Constitutional authority on executive orders related to the coronavirus pandemic.
A lawsuit was filed in June by three northern Kentucky businesses: Florence Speedway, Bean’s Café and Bakery and Little Links to Learning, a daycare center. The suit was not filed due to their forced closure when the state of emergency was declared, but due to limitations when they were allowed to re-open.
They sought to, for example, increase the number of children at the daycare from 10 to 15 per room, allow back-to-back seating at a distance of 3.5 feet, and ban closures of businesses who violate the mandatory wearing of masks.
Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s office also sought to intervene, saying parts of the state law allowing the governor to issue executive orders were unconstitutional and were allowed by the judge.
The circuit judge, after a hearing, indicated he would support the plaintiffs in the suit, so the Governor’s office asked for a stay of that order and appealed the case to the Supreme Court.
La Tasha Buckner, Beshear’s General Counsel and chief of staff, argued the governor’s orders follow guidance from both state and federal public health officials, and that the wearing of masks has helped combat COVID-19, citing a University of Kentucky study.
“It has shown that thousands of lives have been saved by this measure,” she told the justices, adding, “The appellees want to gut the Governor’s ability to take action during an emergency.”
Cameron’s Solicitor General, Chad Meredith, argued, that while the governor is not powerless to address COVID-19 and to act in an emergency, he can’t do whatever he wants.
“This Court said in Fletcher v. Commonwealth, ‘Good intentions do not justify unconstitutional acts,’ and there have been a lot of unconstitutional acts over the last six or seven months.”
Meredith added that Beshear has lost every state and federal court case on the executive orders.
After the hearing, Cameron spoke to reporters and said Beshear used the part of a state law granting him emergency powers known as Chapter 39A the wrong way.
“Here in the Commonwealth we have regulatory process and framework in place that allows him to do the same thing,” Cameron said. “What our argument has been, is that 39A exceeds the bounds of what is appropriate, in terms of infringing on the Constitutional rights of our citizens,” and wants that part of the statute thrown out as unconstitutional.
Beshear also spoke to reporters, defending his Administration’s actions under the law. “What this Attorney General was arguing for today, is the removal of any and all authority to respond to an emergency. In the midst of this pandemic, which has now killed nearly 200,000 people nationwide, that would be disastrous.”
During the arguments, a group of protestors stood outside the Capitol, some carrying signs that called Beshear a tyrant. Beshear responded, “Sadly, we live in a world right now where if people disagree with steps you take, they call you names, they try to attack you personally.”
There is no timetable on when the Supreme Court will hand down their ruling.