Judge Won’t Dismiss Order Tossing Out Virus Restrictions

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A rural Oregon judge says he won’t dismiss his ruling which tossed out Oregon Gov. Kate Brown’s stay-at-home orders to fight the spread of the coronavirus.

The Oregonian/OregonLive reports that Baker County Circuit Judge Matthew B. Shirtcliff told the state Supreme Court Tuesday he will not alter the preliminary injunction that declared Brown’s directives “null and void.″ The Supreme Court last week stayed Shirtcliff’s original ruling.

“I have elected to stand by my original ruling,″ the judge wrote to the lawyers involved in the case. ” I will not be vacating the May 18, 2020 Order Granting Preliminary Injunctive Relief and Denying Motion to Dismiss or taking other action.″

The state Supreme Court will now accept further legal briefs until June 2 before it decides whether it should uphold or dismiss Shirtcliff’s preliminary injunction.

The governor had won an emergency stay, meaning a hold on the injunction, allowing her executive “Stay Home Save Lives″ orders to remain in effect, until the state Supreme Court hears the merits of the case.

The state now has until Thursday to file further briefing in support of its push to dismiss Shirtcliff’s injunction, and the 10 churches and 21 others who sought the injunction will have until next Tuesday to respond.

Shirtcliff had ruled last week 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executive orders in response to the global pandemic exceeded a 28-day limit adopted by state lawmakers and were no longer valid in response to a suit filed by 10 churches, the non-profit Pacific Justice Institute and 21 others against the governor. Shirtcliff is the only judge seated in Baker County, where the suit was filed.

On Saturday, the high court justices ordered the trial judge to either dismiss the injunction or explain why he shouldn’t.

The state Supreme Court’s direction Saturday showed it had found the governor made a serious challenge to the injunction. If the state’s high court thought the governor’s petition was frivolous, it would have thrown out the petition, said Steve Kanter, a retired law professor and dean emeritus at Lewis & Clark Law School.

Legal observers said they didn’t expect Shirtcliff to back down from his ruling made eight days earlier. Now, the state Supreme Court will decide the merits of the case.

The churches had successfully argued in Baker County that ORS 433.441 limits declared public health emergencies to 14 days, or up to 28 days maximum, and because COVID-19 is a public health crisis, that limitation applied. They also had argued that the governor’s social gathering restrictions had violated their constitutional right to the freedom of religion and assembly.

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