Oregon Supreme Court Cancels Reopening, Allowing Governor's Orders to Stand—for Now

AP Photo/Andrew Selsky

In a flurry of news Monday, a court in Oregon invalidated all of the executive orders from Governor Kate Brown (D-Portland) that shut down virtually all economic activity in the state. Later that night, the state Supreme Court put a stay on that court order, affirming Brown’s supreme control in the age of the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic.


First, a judge in Baker County ruled all of Brown’s 20-plus executive orders related to the shutdown null and void. From PJ Media yesterday:

An Oregon judge has struck down as “null and void” all of Governor Kate Brown’s COVID-19 stay-at-home edicts – including one that indefinitely closed churches throughout the state.

Judge Shirtcliff, from the more conservative eastern Oregon Baker County, explained in his ruling that not only can all churches open, but all of Governor Kate Brown’s edicts have been overturned because she hasn’t called the legislature back to Salem to re-up the onerous edicts.

Judge Shirtcliff ruled that Brown had exceeded her authority by extending the emergency declaration in Oregon past the statutory 28-day limit. Thus, every related executive order subsequent to the initial declaration was null and void.

Oregon Governor Kate Brown Extends Emergency Declaration Past Independence Day

At 7:45 p.m. Monday, Oregon State Supreme Court Presiding Justice Thomas A. Balmer issued a ruling granting the state’s emergency motion after reviewing briefs from both sides. The Oregonian reports:

State Supreme Court Presiding Justice Thomas A. Balmer in a three-paragraph ruling issued at 7:45 pm. granted the state’s emergency motion after reviewing briefs from both sides.

The hold will remain in effect until the high court considers the state’s full petition to dismiss the Baker County Circuit judge’s preliminary injunction.

Balmer gave the plaintiffs until Friday to file any responses and said the court would take the matter under advisement, with no set timetable for a decision.

Earlier Monday, Baker County Circuit Judge Matthew B. Shirtcliff ruled that the governor’s executive orders in response to the global pandemic exceeded a 28-day limit adopted by state lawmakers and were no longer valid in response to a suit filed by 10 churches against the governor.

The governor’s office appealed to the Oregon Supreme Court to keep her emergency orders in effect, arguing that Shirtcliff overstepped his authority and his legal reasoning was flawed.

Oregon Gov Pulls Out All the Stops to Destroy Mother Who Reopened Her Salon

Brown issued a victory lap statement after the ruling:

The ruling comes as no surprise, given that Kate Brown appointed 5 of the 7 current Supreme Court justices. The other two were appointed by previous Democratic Governors John Kitzhaber and Ted Kulongoski. Balmer previously served as the attorney for the Democratic Party of Oregon. Brown knew she had a friendly audience at the Supreme Court. Justices typically get nominated to fill vacancies due to retirement, so they almost always run as unelected incumbents in Oregon. Opposition rarely emerges in the subsequent elections.


Shirtcliff’s ruling on Monday nullifying Brown’s orders raised a multitude of questions about their effectiveness in fighting the pandemic:

“The governor’s orders are not required for public safety when plaintiffs can continue to utilize social distancing and safety protocols at larger gatherings involving spiritual worship,” Shirtcliff ruled.

He added: “Plaintiffs have shown that they will be harmed by deprivation of the constitutional right to freely exercise their religion. Other plaintiffs have also shown great economic harm to their businesses and their ability to seek livelihood.”

“The Baker County judge found that the churches can take necessary social distancing precautions, just as grocery stores and other essential businesses have done. He also ruled that the injunction was in the public’s interest, allowing people the right to freely worship and the ability to restore economic viability,” Bernstein wrote.

“This court understands that the current pandemic creates an unprecedented crisis in the state as well as in our country,” Shirtcliff said.

For now, however, our brief window of freedom in Oregon has closed, after about eight hours. It was fun while it lasted.


Jeff Reynolds is the author of the book, “Behind the Curtain: Inside the Network of Progressive Billionaires and Their Campaign to Undermine Democracy,” available now at www.WhoOwnsTheDems.com. Jeff hosts a podcast at anchor.fm/BehindTheCurtain. You can follow him on Twitter @ChargerJeff.


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