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News >  Pacific NW

Federal judge in Spokane again upholds Inslee COVID-19 emergency order

UPDATED: Wed., July 15, 2020

Gov. Inslee  (Colin Mulvany/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Gov. Inslee (Colin Mulvany/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Gov. Jay Inslee has the authority to issue emergency orders shutting down businesses in an effort to control the COVID-19 pandemic, a federal judge in Spokane has ruled for a second time.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Rice denied a request for a preliminary injunction against the order from a water park in Chelan County, which claimed Inslee exceeded his authority with his emergency orders that restrict businesses to opening in phases. Slidewaters argued it relies on summer to make the money it needs for the rest of the year, and under the phased reopening plan it would miss most or all of the season.

Rice rejected a request last month from the company for a temporary restraining order.

The Freedom Foundation, an Olympia-based group representing the water park, said it was filing an appeal with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Rice rejected the claim that state law giving a governor the power to issue an emergency declaration doesn’t cover the pandemic. The statute mentions “public disorder,” and the dictionary definition of disorder includes “abnormal physical or mental condition,” he noted.

“The plain meaning of the governor’s statutory authority to proclaim a state of emergency in the event of a ‘public disorder’ clearly encompasses an outbreak of pandemic disease,” Rice wrote in a decision filed Tuesday.

The judge also rejected the company’s claim that order had been restored, which he said was a “clear contradiction” to the rising number of COVID-19 cases in Washington. Because the governor has the authority to declare an emergency, the Department of Labor and Industries has the authority to develop rules to enforce it, he added.

The water park had argued it had a protected liberty interest under the constitution to operate, but Rice said such interests are not an absolute right to all people at all times in all places. A public health law can restrict that interest, and the threat of the pandemic “clearly poses a risk” to Washington residents.

“Case numbers continue to climb around Washington despite mitigating measures like social distancing, hand sanitizing and directives to wear facial coverings in public,” he wrote. “It is not the court’s role to second guess the reasoned public health decisions of other branches of government.”

Rice dismissed the complaint “with prejudice” and sent it back to Chelan County Superior Court to determine costs the water park will pay.

Inslee has repeatedly said anyone can file a lawsuit to challenge the emergency orders but insisted he was on firm legal ground to issue them.

Ashley Varner, Freedom Foundation vice president of communication and federal affairs, said the organization was “disappointed” by the ruling, contending Rice was “willing to give dictatorial powers to the governor at the expense of the rights of Washington citizens.”

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