California governor

Appeals Judge Halts Limit on Governor's Emergency Powers

Ruling comes as Newsom reportedly considers making face coverings mandatory statewide

California Governor Gavin Newsom.
Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

An appellate judge on Wednesday stayed a lower court's order barring Gov. Gavin Newsom from issuing directives that might conflict with state law, freeing him to take additional executive actions during the coronavirus pandemic.

The ruling comes as Newsom on Thursday was considering making face coverings mandatory statewide as the coronavirus pandemic continues, according to a report from the Sacramento Bee.

Last Friday, Sutter County Superior Court Judge Perry Parker temporarily blocked Newsom's executive order requiring in-person balloting stations even as every registered voter is mailed a ballot for the November election. The judge also sided with two Republican lawmakers by more broadly requiring Newsom to refrain from new orders that might be interpreted as infringing on the Legislature’s responsibilities.

The lawmakers argued that Newsom, a Democrat, has overstepped his authority with dozens of orders preempting state law since the pandemic began. Other state and federal judges have repeatedly blocked previous challenges to the governor’s emergency orders during the pandemic.

Presiding Justice Vance Raye of the Third District Court of Appeal, in a two-sentence directive, stayed the lower court's action and barred Perry from issuing any further orders, but he allowed court proceedings to continue. Perry has set a June 26 hearing in the case.

He did not reverse the lower court's finding, Assemblymen James Gallagher and Kevin Kiley said in a joint statement calling it an “entirely ordinary temporary stay" and accusing the governor of “playing procedural games” by requesting the stay.

Newsom argued both that the administration was not properly informed of Friday's court hearing and that the governor issued the election order in cooperation with state legislators.

“Although the superior court mischaracterizes the Executive Order as an infringement on the Legislature’s authority, key Members of the Legislature ... asked the Governor to act by Executive Order to prepare for the November election,” the administration's lawyers wrote to the appeals court.

Two bills are quickly working their way through the Legislature that “will essentially ratify and supersede" orders that he issued only because county election officials need time to prepare in the meantime, they wrote.

“Nobody should have to choose between their health and their right to vote," Newsom spokesman Jesse Melgar said in praising the stay. "We will continue to focus as we have been on protecting Californians’ public health and safety.”

Gallagher at a news conference this week said the case "is about the rule of law and the Constitution, and respect for that Constitution and the separation of powers that it establishes.”

“That has not happened when this governor has just changed law by edict," he added. “Let’s just call it what it is — that’s tyranny.”

In a sign of how testy things have become, Newsom's lawyers asked that the lawmakers be required to pay the administration's legal costs, while the lawmakers said they may ask for costs or fines that they promised to donate “to groups adversely affected by the Governor’s unlawful order."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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