Supreme Court hears arguments over governor's powers

Posted at 6:42 PM, Jun 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-10 18:42:20-04

FRANKFORT, Ky. (LEX 18) — One day before Kentucky's remaining COVID-19 restrictions expire, the Kentucky Supreme Court heard arguments over lawmakers' attempt to limit the governor's emergency powers. Those are the powers Gov. Andy Beshear used to issue emergency orders during the pandemic.

In 2020, the Supreme Court ruled that Gov. Beshear legally has the power to respond to emergencies, like the pandemic, mostly on his own. But in early 2021, state lawmakers passed several bills curbing that power.

Gov. Beshear sued to try to block these laws:

  • Senate Bill 1 - limits the governor's emergency orders to 30 days unless the orders are renewed by the legislature
  • Senate Bill 2 - gives the legislature more oversight over the administrative regulation process
  • House Bill 1 - allows businesses and schools to stay open during the pandemic if they follow federal or state guidelines - whichever are less restrictive.

On Thursday, the Kentucky Supreme Court took up two cases that are centered on the limiting laws: Gov. Andy Beshear v. Goodwood Brewing Company and Attorney General Daniel Cameron v. Gov. Andy Beshear.

Attorney General Daniel Cameron's office is defending the laws for the legislature. They argue that the governor's powers are granted by law and can be amended by law. Therefore, they believe lawmakers had every right to limit Beshear's emergency powers.

"Where does that authority come from? It's not anywhere in the constitution," argued Solicitor General Chad Meredith on Thursday. "It exists only by statute and this court said less than a year ago, in Acree case, that the legislature can change the statute giving the governor his power in emergencies."

But the governor's counsel, Amy Cubbage, argued the governor's emergency powers are protected because the constitution makes the governor Kentucky's chief executive.

"The ability to respond to an emergency is inherently an executive function in Kentucky," argued Cubbage.

Oliver Dunford, the lawyer representing Goodwood on Thursday, told reporters the issue behind their case is whether the governor needs to follow the law.

"At stake is whether the governor has to follow the laws like everyone else in the Commonwealth," said Dunford.

Goodwood's owner, Ted Mitzlaff, was at Thursday's hearing. He said this case is bigger than just his business. He says he's fighting for all restaurants that were impacted by covid restrictions.

"Bars and restaurants around Kentucky were really unrealistically picked on versus others," said Mitzlaff. "Our Lexington facility, for example, is right behind Target and behind the Fayette Mall. You can look out and see Target's parking lot and the Fayette Mall's parking lot were packed, yet we weren't allowed to have patrons."

But the governor argues Kentucky's ability to respond to future emergencies is at stake here. He believes if the governor's emergency powers are limited, future emergencies could result in tough consequences.

"It could be catastrophic," said Beshear. "You have to look at if we have another pandemic and a governor can't suspend any statutes at all, can't put these steps in place - what would that look like? It would look like the Dakotas and even they put rules in place when it reached the height [of the pandemic]. So, we would look worse than any other state in the midst of this pandemic."

A ruling in the case should be issued in the next few months.