Kentucky Supreme Court upholds COVID-19 executive orders, mask mandate and other policies remain

Posted at 10:16 AM, Nov 12, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-12 15:16:16-05

FRANKFORT, Ky. (LEX 18) — If Governor Andy Beshear viewed this as a win, you'd be hard-pressed to get him to take a victory lap.

On Thursday, the Kentucky Supreme Court upheld the governor's executive orders, made in response to the coronavirus pandemic. That means the mask mandate and many other aspects of that order, including limited seating and early close times for bars and restaurants, will remain in place.

"I don't care if it's a win for me and a loss for someone else," Governor Beshear said during a briefing held to discuss the court's decision. "Politics has no place in something like this because the virus doesn't care," he continued.

The state high court on Thursday found that Beshear acted within the power granted the governor under the Kentucky Constitution and by state law to issue such orders. His mandates will remain in place.

Beshear said in a Tweet Thursday that the lawsuit had the potential to undo the safeguards put in place
to keep Kentuckians safe from coronavirus.

Beshear's general counsel, La Tasha Buckner, argued in September that the governor did not overstep his power to make those decisions and told the court that Beshear had every right to issue these orders during an emergency.

Buckner added that the constitution requires the governor to act during an emergency, and she emphasized that these orders have saved thousands of lives.

There were several legal challenges to the governor's orders, the most prominent coming from Attorney General Daniel Cameron's office. Cameron didn't necessarily oppose the orders themselves but did oppose how they were invoked. Essentially, he feels the governor's powers are too far-reaching, and he said he plans to address that matter (KRS 39 A) during the next legislative session.

But that's a matter for 2021. In 2020 the seven justices who ruled unanimously could only follow the letter of the current constitution and in doing so, concluded that the orders invoked were valid, and within the scope of the governor's powers. They also overruled a Boone County Circuit Court, which had ruled in favor of plaintiffs who argued irreparable damage was done due to the orders.

In a statement, Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron acknowledged the court's decision and also said executive power "must be considered by the General Assembly in the upcoming legislative session."

For Beshear, the ruling allows him to do what he promised to do from the onset of this pandemic's spread in March: listen to the medical experts.

"The last thing we ought to be doing is fighting with one another and undoing the steps every public health official says are important to protect one another," Mr. Beshear said.

"Managing the response to this virus is probably the most important thing I will ever be asked to do in my professional life. And this (ruling) says we have the tools to try to do it," the governor added.