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The Oregon Supreme Court late Monday halted a rural judge’s order earlier in the day that had tossed out statewide coronavirus restrictions imposed by Democratic Gov. Kate Brown.

Baker County Circuit Judge Matthew Shirtcliff had ruled that Brown erred by not seeking the Legislature’s approval to extend the stay-at-home orders beyond a 28-day limit. The Supreme Court’s ruling stays Shirtcliff’s decision pending review by all the high court justices.

In a statement, Brown praised the Supreme Court action. “There are no shortcuts for us to return to life as it was before this pandemic. Moving too quickly could return Oregon to the early days of this crisis, when we braced ourselves for hospitals to be overfilled,” she said.

The lower court judge had issued his opinion in response to a lawsuit filed earlier this month by 10 churches around Oregon that argued the state’s social-distancing directives were unconstitutional.

In a seven-page opinion, Shirtcliff wrote that the damage to Oregonians and their livelihood was greater than the dangers presented by the coronavirus. He also noted that other businesses deemed essential, such as grocery stores, had been allowed to remain open even with large numbers of people present and have relied on masks, social distancing and other measures to protect the public.

“The governor’s orders are not required for public safety when plaintiffs can continue to utilize social distancing and safety protocols at larger gatherings involving spiritual worship,” he wrote.

Courts in other states have ruled against similar orders. The Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down Gov. Tony Evers’ stay-at-home order last week, ruling that his administration overstepped its authority when it extended the order for another month without consulting legislators.


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