Update: Oregon Supreme Court Gives Gov. Brown Unprecedented Powers
The Oregon Supreme Court did not rule in our favor recently (Central Oregon Daily News article). In essence, the Supreme Court ruled that the governor’s power to declare an indefinite general state of emergency trumps the Oregon statute that specifically deals with public health emergencies (that happens to have a 28-day time limit and/or Constitutionally a 30-day limit). The Baker City circuit court judge had originally ruled in our favor, relying on the public health statute to determine that Governor Brown’s executive orders expired. Although the Oregon Supreme Court’s ruling is disappointing, we hope that this case raises awareness of critical issues that have a major impact on all of us. Here are the major lessons we learned.
Declaring a State of Emergency Gives the Governor “Police Powers” With No Time Limits
On June 12, the Oregon Supreme Court rejected the Baker county circuit court judge’s initial ruling that Governor Brown’s executive orders had a time limit. The Court ruled that the broad stroke of a “state of emergency” essentially erases more specific statutes dealing with time limits.
All Oregonians should be aware that the declaration of a state of emergency (which is quite loosely defined) gives the Governor emergency powers that include “police powers.” These police powers include “the whole sum of inherent sovereign power which the state possesses, and, within constitutional limitations, may exercise for the promotion of order, safety, health, morals, and general welfare of the general public.” This should concern us all.
According to the Supreme Court’s response, “a declared state of emergency is not subject to a time limit.” In addition, “the powers granted to the Governor by ORS 401.192 shall continue until the termination of the state of emergency.” Given that a governor has extraordinary powers when he or she declares a state of emergency, we hope that Oregonians pay attention to laws regarding this issue. The court has wrongly set a precedent that the Governor has an authoritarian type of power with no time limits.
After participating in this court case, we now have a deeper understanding that how a Governor plays the “state of emergency” card means the difference between a small business staying open or shutting its doors permanently. It can mean the difference between a church hanging on for a defined period of time, or not surviving an indefinite period of closure. The consequences of defining states of emergencies with a broad stroke, or a more regional approach, can have drastic consequences for people’s lives. This is why it is so critical to have checks and balances within our Constitutional Republican form of government.
Judges Are Becoming Increasingly Powerful; Your Vote Matters
Many people do not understand the increasing power of judges. Judges are appointed by elected officials. When you are voting for an elected official, you are essentially voting for the judges they will also appoint. Five of seven Oregon Supreme Court justices were appointed by Kate Brown. Ballotpedia quotes a Stanford study that the Oregon Supreme Court is one of the most liberal in the United States: “Based on the justices selected, Oregon was the 3rd most liberal court.” The president appoints the U.S. Supreme Court justices. Judges are playing an increasingly powerful role in shaping our culture –a role they were never intended to have.
To give judges this amount of power is both unconstitutional and dangerous. Thomas Jefferson said, “To consider the judges as the ultimate arbiters of all constitutional questions [is] a very dangerous doctrine indeed, and one which would place us under the despotism of an oligarchy… The Constitution has erected no such single tribunal.” Despotism means tyranny. Jefferson hypothesized that if the Judicial branch of government were to get too powerful, “The Constitution on this hypothesis is a mere thing of wax in the hands of the judiciary, which they may twist and shape into any form they please.”
Legal Actions are Tied to Sharing the Gospel
Many Christians feel that Christian legal firms are just trying to “stir the pot” with various legal cases. Many do not understand that there is a legal landscape within our nation that is constantly changing and the trend is against religious freedoms. Precedents are continually being set based on the rulings of various cases. Christian legal firms pursue legal cases in a long-term effort to secure our First Amendment rights (which many do not realize are under constant attack). At the same time, organizations like the ACLU and the Freedom from Religion Foundation pursues legal cases to extract all mentions of God from our national landscape and establish what the Supreme Court now calls “the religion of secularism.”
One clear example is with campus ministry. Case after case has been filed trying to get campus ministry groups off of secular school campuses. There have been cases against InterVarsity, Good News Clubs and others. If they did not have legal firms to represent them, the legal precedent would have been set long ago that Christian groups should not be given the same right as secular groups to meet on campus. Legal firms like Pacific Justice Institute, Alliance Defending Freedom, and others have defended the ability of many ministries and organizations to minister in an increasingly secular culture for years and deserve our prayers and support.
Pacific Justice Institute has decided that we are unlikely to succeed if we appeal it to the U.S. Supreme Court, given the increasingly moderate Justice John Roberts’ recent ruling siding with the liberal justices against churches in a similar case in California.
We hope that the recent case we were involved with raises awareness of the unprecedented power of not only the governor, but of judges at both the state and federal level. Elections have consequences, and we pray that all believers will vote with a mind to protect our ability to share the gospel in an increasingly secular culture.