Judge declines to block rulings on COVID-19 restrictions
FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Having lost another round in legal fights over some of his coronavirus-related actions, Kentucky’s governor signaled Monday that he’s ready for the state’s highest court to settle the disputes.
Gov. Andy Beshear’s comments came after a state appeals court judge kept in place lower court rulings blocking some of his executive orders dealing with crowd sizes amid the pandemic.
Beshear, a Democrat, said his office is likely to request that the matter move directly to the Kentucky Supreme Court. He warned that each day a court order remains in place blocking his executive actions is “a day that’s dangerous” for the state, which is dealing with growing numbers of COVID-19 cases.
“I haven’t gotten to choose any of these jurisdictions we’ve been in, but we are going to get this thing up to the Supreme Court,” the governor said. “And to me, it’s not about the drama of lawsuits, it’s about saving lives.”
Three of the state’s top Republican leaders — Attorney General Daniel Cameron, Senate President Robert Stivers and House Speaker David Osborne — praised the ruling, saying it “affirms that the Constitution and state law must be upheld and applied consistently.”
On Monday, Court of Appeals Judge Glenn Acree declined to overturn rulings that blocked Beshear’s orders restricting crowd sizes at Florence Speedway and at agritourism businesses as well as class sizes at day care centers. Acree’s rulings involved cases from two circuit courts.
The judge acknowledged that COVID-19 can cause severe respiratory illness and, in some cases, leads to death. He credited the “commonsense” of Kentuckians in combating the virus.
“This court does not believe that, for the very short duration of the restraining orders, Kentuckians will suffer to a greater degree than without them,” Acree said. “With or without them, Kentuckians remain capable of doing the wise and commonsense things necessary to keep each other safe in the coming days, just as they have until now.”
The next step could be for a three-judge appeals court panel to consider the merits of Beshear’s claims in seeking to overturn the lower-court rulings, Acree said.
Beshear, a former state attorney general, later said the ruling that ultimately matters will come from the Supreme Court in signaling he’s likely to try to accelerate the matter to the state’s highest court.
The three GOP leaders — Cameron, Stivers and Osborne — said the governor should let the cases proceed in the lower courts “without additional attempts to bypass the normal legal process.”
“While there may be a need to adopt various policies to address an emergency situation, they should never come at the expense of the state’s laws or the constitutional rights of Kentuckians,” they said in a statement.
Acree’s ruling did not affect Beshear’s recent order requiring Kentuckians to wear face coverings in public places. The order, to last for 30 days, does not require Kentuckians to wear a mask while eating, drinking or exercising if they can maintain social distancing of 6 feet (2 meters). Exemptions include children under age 5 and those with health conditions preventing them from wearing a mask.
Meanwhile, Beshear reported 272 new confirmed coronavirus cases in Kentucky on Monday, raising the statewide total to more than 19,650 since the pandemic began. Eleven of the new cases are among children under age 5, with the youngest being 4 months old, he said. The governor also reported four more virus-related deaths, raising the statewide death toll to at least 629.
For most people, the new corona virus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness and be fatal.