Judge limits California governor's powers during pandemic

A Northern California county judge on Monday preliminarily ordered Gov. Gavin Newsom to stop issuing directives related to the coronavirus that might interfere with state law.

Posted: Nov 2, 2020 3:15 PM
Updated: Nov 2, 2020 5:07 PM

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - A Northern California county judge has preliminarily ordered Gov. Gavin Newsom to stop issuing directives related to the coronavirus that might interfere with state law.

Sutter County Superior Court Judge Sarah Heckman tentatively ruled that one of the dozens of executive orders Newsom has issued overstepped his authority and impinged on the state Legislature.

She more broadly barred him “from exercising any power under the California Emergency Services Act which amends, alters, or changes existing statutory law or makes new statutory law or legislative policy.”

It’s the second time a judge in the same county has reached the same conclusion, which runs counter to other state and federal court decisions backing the governor’s emergency powers. An appeals court quickly stayed the earlier order in June.

Heckman’s decision will become final in 10 days unless Newsom’s attorneys can raise new challenges. Newsom did not immediately comment or say if he will appeal.

The case centers on a single Newsom executive order in June requiring election officials to establish hundreds of locations statewide where voters can cast ballots in the November election. But lawmakers subsequently approved the same requirement, and the judge’s decision will have no effect on Tuesday’s election.

She acted in a lawsuit brought by Republican Assemblymen James Gallagher and Kevin Kiley, who said Newsom, a Democrat, was single-handedly overriding state laws in the name of keeping Californians safe.

“This is a victory for separation of powers,” the lawmakers said in a joint statement. Newsom “has continued to create and change state law without public input and without the deliberative process provided by the Legislature.”

Heckman wrote in a nine-page decision that the California Emergency Services Act “does not permit the Governor to amend statutes or make new statutes. The Governor does not have the power or authority to assume the Legislature’s role of creating legislative policy and enactments.”

Newsom used his emergency powers to virtually shut down the state and its economy in the early weeks of the pandemic.

“Nobody disputes that there are actions that should be taken to keep people safe during an emergency,” the lawmakers said. “But that doesn’t mean that we put our Constitution and free society on hold by centralizing all power in the hands of one man.”

Kiley compiled a 28-page list of Newsom’s orders that alter existing state laws, from halting evictions to how public meetings are conducted.

The governor also extended deadlines for businesses to renew licenses, file reports, or pay taxes; delayed consumers’ late fees for paying taxes or renewing drivers licenses; suspended school districts’ deadlines and instructional requirements; suspended medical privacy rules; and allowed grocery stores to hand out free single-use bags.

One order allowed couples to be married by video or teleconference, with marriage licenses and certificates digitally signed and sent by email.

Lawmakers of both political parties have criticized Newsom for not properly consulting with them before issuing sweeping orders and budget decisions.

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1114524

Reported Deaths: 18726
CountyCasesDeaths
Los Angeles3645207438
San Bernardino845311129
Riverside806761400
San Diego71648968
Orange696941554
Kern38316445
Fresno35973471
Sacramento33133546
Santa Clara30676463
Alameda27485499
San Joaquin24649503
Contra Costa22412258
Stanislaus20370416
Tulare19752303
Ventura18040174
Imperial15053353
San Francisco14445158
Monterey13886113
San Mateo13203169
Sonoma11428155
Merced10986176
Santa Barbara10922133
Kings1003886
Solano934980
Marin7518128
Placer577867
Madera571480
San Luis Obispo561835
Yolo419975
Shasta409542
Santa Cruz389827
Butte366459
Napa275717
Sutter263813
El Dorado19304
San Benito174115
Yuba173210
Lassen14803
Tehama143523
Mendocino138522
Nevada10189
Lake83218
Glenn8296
Humboldt7309
Tuolumne7088
Colusa6426
Mono4993
Siskiyou4951
Amador45016
Calaveras43421
Inyo28316
Del Norte2731
Plumas1770
Trinity1130
Modoc1110
Mariposa1042
Alpine420
Sierra170
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