Health and Science

Kentucky Supreme Court upholds Gov. Beshear's coronavirus restrictions, including mask mandate

Key Points
  • The Kentucky Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the emergency coronavirus executive orders that Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear has issued over the past several months.
  • Kentucky's Republican attorney general, Daniel Cameron, who challenged the orders before the state's highest court, said the restrictions went beyond the governor's constitutional powers.
  • The orders "were, and continue to be, necessary to slow the spread of COVID-19 and protect the health and safety of all Kentucky citizens," Justice Lisabeth T. Hughes said in the court's opinion.
In this May 11, 2020, file photo, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear puts on a face mask after speaking to reporters at the Capitol in Frankfort, Ky.
Ryan C. Hermens | Lexington Herald-Leader | AP

The Kentucky Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the dozens of emergency coronavirus executive orders that Gov. Andy Beshear has issued over the past several months, including a statewide mask mandate and seating limits in restaurants.

The challenge to Beshear's orders, brought by the state's attorney general along with several businesses, "would have eliminated every single safeguard we have here in Kentucky to keep you safe," Beshear, a Democrat, said during a media briefing after the decision was announced. "It would have resulted not just in difficulty but in death if this challenge had been ultimately upheld."

The decision comes as Kentucky reports a weekly average of 2,047 Covid-19 cases a day, up nearly 25% compared with a week ago, according to a CNBC analysis of data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

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Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, a Republican, said Beshear's restrictions went beyond the constitutional powers that allow him to adopt emergency measures, NBC affiliate Lex 18 reported in September.

Among Beshear's orders are a requirement that most people wear a mask in public, restrictions on businesses, and orders involving school funding, workers compensation and special voting measures during the pandemic, according to the Courier Journal.

In its unanimous decision Thursday, the state's Supreme Court said Beshear acted within his constitutional power as governor in issuing the orders. The governor's orders "were, and continue to be, necessary to slow the spread of COVID-19 and protect the health and safety of all Kentucky citizens," Justice Lisabeth T. Hughes said in the court's opinion.

"The Supreme Court has said that the actions we're taking are constitutional, so now's the time," Beshear said during the briefing. "We know what the law is, it's clear, so let's all be supportive of the things that protect one another."

However, the Courier Journal reported that the ruling may be short lived, because the state's Republican-controlled legislature could soon change the state's law to hamper Beshear's emergency powers.

Cameron said in a statement Thursday that the governor's emergency powers "must be considered by the General Assembly in the upcoming legislative session."

President-elect Joe Biden has pushed for governors and city leaders to institute mask requirements, saying they will save American lives if more people wear them.

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