Pandemic orders usurp Legislature’s authority, lawsuit alleges

Gov. Kate Brown listens in during a phone call with Vice President Mike Pence and other governors on Monday, April 20. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

A Salem-area lawmaker has joined a lawsuit alleging that Gov. Kate Brown’s pandemic-related orders undercut the constitutional authority of the Legislature.

State Rep. Mike Nearman, R-Independence, has joined Rep. Werner Reschke and Sen. Dennis Linthicum, two Klamath Falls Republicans, who signed on to the complaint filed Friday in Multnomah County Circuit Court.

As the Covid pandemic struck Oregon in March, Brown declared an emergency and issued a series of orders that clamped down much of the economy and disrupted daily life. Those orders have drawn legal challenges that have, so far, been unsuccessful.

The most recent complaint argues the state law used by Brown to declare an emergency usurps the Legislature and violates the state constitution’s separation of powers provisions. The complaint states the law “confers essentially all power of the State upon the Governor upon her emergency proclamation.”

“That’s not consistent with an American form of government,” said James Buchal, who filed the lawsuit.

The complaint further argues the state constitution allows governors to extend an emergency declaration for 30-days with a three-fifths vote of the Legislature. However, the Legislature has not voted to extend the declaration, which can only last for 60 days, according to the complaint.

Buchal said that the governor can’t be “appointed supreme dictator” and that her orders need to be renewed.

The complaint asks a judge to declare Brown’s emergency declaration unconstitutional and block any executive orders that rely on this.

In addition to the three legislators, the complaint was also filed on behalf of Neil Ruggles, a resident of Washington County whose martial arts business has been impacted by the governor’s orders.

In May, a coalition of businesses and churches from across the state brought a lawsuit against Brown arguing that her orders violated religious freedom protections and needed to be renewed by the Legislature.

Buchal said that his lawsuit raises new questions over the constitutional authority of the governor’s orders. Previously, Buchal filed a federal lawsuit arguing the governor’s orders violated the U.S. Constitution.

“If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again,” he said.

Nearman did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

Charles Boyle, spokesman for Brown declined to comment on pending litigation.

“What I can say is that the Governor is focused on implementing measures to keep Oregonians healthy and safe, based on the advice of doctors and health experts and what the data shows will limit the spread of COVID-19: wearing face coverings, maintaining physical distance, washing hands, staying home when sick, and limiting large gatherings,” he said in an email.

 Contact reporter Jake Thomas at 503-575-1251 or [email protected] or @jakethomas2009.

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