Kentucky's Supreme Court ruled unanimously today against Gov. Andy Beshear, finding that he has no legal challenge to the laws that the KY legislature passed earlier this year stripping him of nearly all emergency powers, and that Republican lawmakers can now end the state's school mask mandate immediately.
In a momentous legal defeat for Gov. Andy Beshear, the Kentucky Supreme Court in a rare Saturday decision ruled on the Democratic governor’s challenge of Republican-backed laws that limit his authority to enact emergency orders to help control the coronavirus pandemic.
In a 34-page order, the state’s highest court unanimously said Franklin Circuit Court abused its discretion in blocking the new laws from taking effect and sent the case back to the lower court to dissolve the injunction.
The challenged legislation was lawfully passed and the governor’s complaint “does not present a substantial legal question that would necessitate staying the effectiveness of the legislation,” the seven-member court ruled.
The Supreme Court had heard nearly two hours of arguments in the case on June 11, a day before Beshear repealed many of his emergency regulations.
The most prominent he has in place now is his Aug. 10 executive order requiring almost all teachers, staff and students in K-12 schools, child care and pre-kindergarten programs across Kentucky to wear a mask indoors. It applies for 30 days and leaves open the indefinite possibility for renewal. A U.S. district judge’s ruling Thursday temporarily blocked that order. Beshear has asked that it be dissolved.
The state Board of Education on Aug. 12 implemented its own emergency regulations requiring a mask mandate for students for most of this school year, and the Department for Public Health did the same for child care facilities. A legislative panel has since found those regulations deficient, but Beshear overrode that decision. One of the new laws in question would eliminate Beshear’s ability to override such decisions.
Saturday’s Supreme Court ruling came as the Delta variant of COVID-19 is raging across the state.
The state Supreme Court last year unanimously ruled that Beshear’s orders were legal, but that was before the legislature passed laws earlier this year restricting the governor’s powers.
They were Senate Bill 1, which limits Beshear’s ability to issue orders during a state of emergency to 30 days unless extended by the General Assembly; House Bill 1, which allows businesses, schools, nonprofits and churches to stay open if they meet COVID-19 guidelines set by either the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or Kentucky’s executive branch, whichever is least restrictive; and Senate Bill 2, a companion bill to SB 1 to give the legislature more power over administrative regulations issued during an emergency.
So, unless the CDC issues masking guidelines in schools, Kentucky schools will be maskless. Individual school districts have already been stripped of the power to enforce mask rules and now so has Beshear's office. Religious schools have already been exempted from mask mandates, now all schools will be.
I expect that with tens of thousands of kids sick across the state this fall and winter, the state legislature may let Beshear do something. Sadly, I expect the only thing they will do is consider impeachment again.
Thousands of Kentuckians are going to die from a preventable disease in the next several months.
You can thank Kentucky Republicans for that.