Kentucky Supreme Court Upholds Gov. Beshear's Mask Mandate, Emergency Restrictions

Ryan C. Hermens | Lexington Herald-Leader | AP

The Kentucky Supreme Court on Thursday upheld Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear's emergency coronavirus executive orders, which imposed a statewide mask mandate and limited seating in restaurants, as cases surge across the state.

The lawsuit "would have eliminated every single safeguard we have here in Kentucky to keep you safe," Beshear said during a media briefing after the decision was announced. "It would've resulted not just in difficulty, but in death if this challenge had been ultimately upheld. "

In May, Beshear allowed restaurants to reopen for indoor dining services at 33% capacity, and later allowed automobile racing to return with only employees and drivers. The governor also issued an executive order requiring most people to wear a face covering in public.

However, some Kentucky business owners said the governor overstepped his power by implementing the restrictions. Kentucky's Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron and his team, who challenged the governor's orders before the state's highest court, said that Beshear's restrictions went above his constitutional powers to adopt measures that apply to every person in the state, NBC-affiliate Lex 18 reported in September.

In a unanimous decision Thursday, the state's Supreme Court said Beshear acted within his constitutional power as governor. 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."

Cameron said in a statement on Thursday that while the court disagreed with their position, the governor's executive power "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. 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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