Kentucky Supreme Court: New laws that limit governor's emergency powers can stay in place

Missing Gavel
Posted at 10:25 AM, Aug 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-21 23:19:51-04

FRANKFORT, Ky. (LEX 18) — The Kentucky Supreme Court has ruled that laws passed by the Kentucky legislature, designed to limit the governor's powers during emergencies, should not have been temporarily blocked.

The high court says the Frankin Circuit Court must lift its temporary injunction and allow the laws to be in effect for now.

"We find that this matter presents a justiciable case or controversy but that the Franklin Circuit Court abused its discretion in issuing the temporary injunction," wrote Justice Laurance VanMeter in his opinion of the court. "Accordingly, we remand this case to the trial court with instructions to dissolve the injunction."


The opinion states that the Franklin Circuit Court emphasized that Gov. Beshear alleged "irreparable injury to his constitutional powers" and claimed the bills passed by the Kentucky legislature "impair the exercise of his constitutional duty." The Kentucky Supreme Court says using the temporary injunction was improper, claiming the findings are "largely unsupported by sound legal principles because they are occasioned by erroneous interpretations of the constitutional authority of the Governor and law."

The high court says since the challenged legislation was lawfully passed, the governor's complaint "does not present a substantial legal question that would necessitate staying the effectiveness of the legislation" and claims the Franklin Circuit Court "abused its discretion" by issuing the temporary injunction.

University of Kentucky law professor Scott Bauries explained the new laws do not stop the governor from issuing emergency orders, but they stop the governor from extending them without a vote from the legislature.

“So, the Governor will have no choice but to call them into special session when we have to issue additional emergency orders,” Bauries said. “It means that there will need to be a lot more cooperation between the governor and the General Assembly.”

"The court’s order will dissolve Kentucky’s entire state of emergency for the COVID-19 pandemic," said Crystal Staley, Communications Director for Gov. Beshear's office. "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. It will further prevent the governor from taking additional steps such as a general mask mandate. The administration will work to determine whether the General Assembly would extend the state of emergency as we assess whether to call a special session. The Governor 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. If called in to a special session, we hope the General Assembly would do the right thing."

"For months, we have maintained that the Governor must work with the General Assembly during the COVID-19 crisis," said Attorney General Daniel Cameron in a statement. "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."

LEX 18 Political Analyst Bob Babbage said Beshear’s challenge regarding the constitutionality of the new laws remains to be argued in court.

“The constitutional question will go on and the overall questions about how the state works in the future, both in a practical sense and in a legal sense, will always be in flux, always the subject of conversation and debate no matter who is governor and who is in the House and Senate. That’s the way the system works. That’s the way the system will work in the future,” Babbage said.

The case is reversed and remanded to the Franklin Circuit Court with instructions to dissolve the injunction.

Beshear issued a mask mandate for schools, which was blockedby a federal judge prior to the Supreme Court decision.

The Kentucky Department of Education issued a separate mask mandatein public schools, which will not be affected by either ruling.