State of Emergency? Kentucky’s Legislature vs. Governor

A Regulatory Transparency Project Teleforum

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On June 10, the Kentucky Supreme Court heard a pair of cases to consider whether and to what extent the Commonwealth’s legislature may set parameters on the Governor’s exercise of emergency powers.

In March 2020, Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear declared a state of emergency related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, he and other executive branch officials have issued executive orders, regulations, and other directives aimed at combatting the spread of the virus. On February 2 of this year, Kentucky’s General Assembly enacted a series of bills — over Governor Beshear’s vetoes — that amended the Commonwealth’s emergency powers laws. Under those laws, executive emergency orders that restrict private entities like businesses and churches lapse automatically after 30 days unless extended with the agreement of the legislature. Without legislative action, the Governor’s existing orders lapsed on March 4, 2021. The Governor maintains, however, that the new laws invade the executive’s authority to respond to emergencies and that he may continue to enforce emergency orders.

Two lawsuits followed. First, Governor Beshear sued the leaders of Kentucky’s legislature and the Attorney General and asked the court to declare that the new laws usurp his executive powers. Separately, Pacific Legal Foundation sued the Governor on behalf of three restaurant owners who challenge the Governor’s authority to continue the enforcement of business restrictions after March 4.

The judges in each case issued temporary injunctions. In the Governor’s case, a Franklin County judge suspended certain provisions of the new laws. In PLF’s case, a Scott County judge ordered the Governor to cease enforcement of orders against PLF’s clients. The order in the latter case has been put on hold, and both cases have been appealed. The Kentucky Supreme Court accepted “transfer” from the appellate court and ordered that the two cases be heard together.

Governor Beshear has announced the easing of restrictions, effective June 11. The parties dispute whether this latest directive from the Governor renders the case moot.

In this teleforum, Mitchel Denham (DBL Law) and Oliver Dunford (Pacific Legal Foundation) will debate and discuss the implications of these cases.


  • Mitchel DenhamPartner, DBL Law
  • Oliver DunfordAttorney, Pacific Legal Foundation

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