FRANKFORT (KT) – The Kentucky Supreme Court heard oral arguments Thursday on two cases that involve Gov. Andy Beshear’s powers to issue executive orders during emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic.

After declaring a state of emergency due to the pandemic in March 2020, Beshear issued numerous executive orders covering everything from allowing refills of non-narcotic prescriptions, to mandating the wearing of masks and limiting capacities and hours of operation at restaurants, bars and other venues.

During the 2021 session, lawmakers passed several pieces of legislation that would limit the length of the orders and require legislative approval. The governor vetoed them, but the legislature overrode the vetoes, prompting Beshear to file suit at Franklin Circuit Court, where Judge Phillip Shepherd issued a statewide temporary injunction to prevent the legislation from taking effect.

At the same time, several businesses, including Goodwood Brewing, filed a lawsuit at Scott Circuit Court against the governor’s executive orders, and won a preliminary injunction. The Kentucky Supreme Court kept that from taking effect until they could address both cases together, and agreed to hear directly, bypassing the Kentucky Court of Appeals.

Attorney Oliver Dunford of the Pacific Legal Foundation in Florida, who represented the businesses, said this case is important. “At stake is whether the governor has to follow the laws like everyone else in the commonwealth. The new laws have restricted the governor’s emergency powers, and that’s the sole issue.”    

After the hearing, Beshear told reporters, “These emergency powers were not just an exercise in normal times, they were exercised in a time of a pandemic. Driven by COVID, 2020 was the deadliest year ever in the United States.”

Supreme Court Chief Justice John D. Minton, Jr., said they hoped to issue a ruling quickly.