Almost all of Oregon is reopened for business after the coronavirus lockdown, which should be a moment we can all celebrate.
Instead, the state’s Democratic governor has decided to make it yet another politicized moment with an impotent order stopping residents of closed counties from traveling to open counties for services.
According to The Oregonian, most of the state was able to begin Phase 1 of the reopening last Friday with very few exceptions. That meant gyms, hair salons, shopping malls and restaurants with sit-down diners could begin operating, although there would still be plenty of restrictions. While gatherings would also be allowed, they would be limited to 25 people under Phase 1.
Even the most inessential of inessential stores — “furniture stores, art galleries, jewelry shops and boutiques,” a group of retailers specifically ordered to close by Gov. Kate Brown — reopened Friday. So did child care centers, although priority must go to the children of essential workers. The only exception seems to be cosmetic stores.
Not bad for a blue state, right? All of this sounds pretty fair until you read the fine print.
Oregon’s three most populous counties — Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington, all of which are in the Portland area and have significantly higher rates of infection — will continue to remain closed for the time being.
According to The Oregonian, “Brown asked Portland-area residents to hold tight and resist the urge to drive to another county to get a haircut, dine out at a restaurant or visit a tourist site.”
“I know this is really hard,” the governor said.
“I know many of us are really wanting to get our hair done, get our haircut, whatever you need to do, but we are asking folks in the metro area to be thoughtful of their fellow Oregonians and to stay home and limit their travel to essential need. … We obviously don’t want to overwhelm the rest of Oregon by traveling outside the metro area.”
According to Oregon Public Broadcasting, two out of the three counties were close to opening up for business. Only Multnomah County apparently hasn’t come close to meeting the necessary requirements.
Oregon has reported 140 COVID-19 deaths and 3,726 confirmed cases, almost all of which are in and around Portland.
So, will Brown be enforcing this order? Well — not exactly.
“Brown also said police won’t be stopping Portlanders who are heading out for a visit to the coast, but she asked that metro area residents respect her direction, which is meant to lessen the spread of COVID-19,” The Oregonian reported.
Of course, none of these quarantined counties is out on the coast, so unless the police are repurposed to trawl every mall parking lot and type license plate numbers into the system until their fingers turn blue to determine where the car is from, this order is beyond useless. Since that’s not going to happen, what we’re going to assume from this is that Brown issued an order that sounded good on paper but one that she realized, at some point, that she had limited authority to make.
And, on Tuesday, she officially had no authority to make that decision.
According to KOMO-TV, Baker County Circuit Judge Matthew Shirtcliff ruled Tuesday that since the governor hadn’t asked the legislature for an extension of her original 28-day emergency order, her restrictions were null and void.
The decision came in response to a lawsuit filed by 10 churches challenging the constitutionality of the state’s social distancing regulations.
Brown asked the Oregon Supreme Court for an emergency review of the ruling. She also asked Shirtcliff to stay his ruling, which he refused to do.
“The science behind these executive orders hasn’t changed one bit,” Brown said in a statement.
“Ongoing physical distancing, staying home as much as possible, and wearing face coverings will save lives across Oregon.”
Yes, but those weren’t exactly the points made by the lawsuit, which were a) Brown didn’t have the authority to extend her lockdown order and b) subjecting constitutionally protected institutions to the same rules as the restaurants without explicit constitutional protections isn’t going to fly.
On the first count, my assumption, from long experience, is that this judge’s decision probably won’t hold — and, considering the legislature is in Democratic hands, it’s probably a moot point anyhow. In the narrow case of churches, however, it’s worth pointing out other religious assemblies have won similar court cases in states such as Kentucky — something that doesn’t augur well for Brown maintaining control on that aspect of life in her state.
But then, that’s the point: Court or not, most governors will likely have less control than they think regarding people returning back to aspects of their old lives, no matter how much control the government wants to maintain.
Bringing this all back to the fact that Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington counties can’t enter Phase 1 of reopening, how much control could the government realistically exert over these jurisdictions?
Consider the disproportionate amount of police manpower that would be required to enforce the closure if Brown hadn’t given herself the convenient out of allowing Portland-area residents to drive to the coast.
The governor made it sound as if she was being merciful. In truth, she was merely being utilitarian. As much as one guesses she desperately wanted to micromanage who could go where, she realized that moment has passed.
We’ve reached the point in the coronavirus crisis, at least for the time being, where nonenforcement of orders like this should be the rule, not the exception.
The farcical idea that we could stay closed until a vaccine is developed is long over. I understand governors enjoy power — and most of them believe they’re using it for good. The science simply doesn’t back that up.
We cannot continue destroying our economies and our freedoms in the name of chasing a chimeric safety.
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