Republican Lawmakers Sue Gov. Kate Brown, Claiming She’s Abusing Emergency Authority

The argument: Brown has claimed some powers constitutionally set aside for the Legislature.

Oregon lawmakers in a 2020 special session. (Wesley Lapointe)

Three Republican lawmakers and a Washington County man filed a lawsuit against Gov. Kate Brown on Oct. 16, alleging Brown's COVID-19 emergency orders exceed her constitutional authority.

The lawsuit, filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court, argues the three lawmakers, state Sen. Dennis Linthicum (R-Klamath Falls) and state Reps. E. Werner Reschke (R-Klamath Falls) and Mike Nearman (R-Independence), are "injured by the conduct alleged herein insofar as [Brown] has invaded his rights and privileges under the Oregon Constitution to exercise, in concert with other legislators, the legislative power of the State of Oregon."

There is some irony in the lawsuit, as each of the legislator-plaintiffs participated in a walkout earlier this year to block a climate bill rather than perform their sworn duties as lawmakers.

They now argue that in exercising emergency powers during the pandemic, Brown has taken away their constitutional authority as lawmakers.

The fourth plaintiff, Washington County businessman Neil Ruggles, claims he has suffered "financial losses, and has lost a martial arts practice that for 30 years provided him with physical, social, and mental health benefits, by reason of the governor's unlawful and unconstitutional orders." Ruggles established a GoFundMe page Sept. 8 to raise $25,000 to help pay for the lawsuit. It has raised $18 so far.

Earlier in the pandemic, the Elkhorn Baptist Church in Baker City sued Brown, challenging her original stay-home order issued in March. Elkhorn prevailed in circuit court but the Oregon Supreme Court ruled in Brown's favor.

Oregon Supreme Court Overturns Baker County Judge's Order Nullifying Gov. Brown's Stay Home Order

James Buchal, the plaintiffs' attorney, says he's presenting a different theory in the new case.

"This lawsuit raises constitutional claims not previously considered by the Supreme Court of Oregon in its Elkhorn Baptist Church case, which upheld the governor's exercise of emergency powers when challenged on statutory grounds," said Buchal.

"We hope that the Oregon Supreme Court will follow the Supreme Court of Michigan and other state and federal courts which have recognized that the exercise of very broad statutory emergency powers for months on end infringes the rights of both citizens and legislators to have important general policy rules established by the legislative branch of government."

Karynn Fish, a spokesperson for the Oregon Department of Justice, which represents the state in court, said her agency is still reviewing the lawsuit.

Charles Boyle, a spokesman for Brown, said the governor is looking out for all Oregonians.

"Our office does not generally comment on pending litigation, so I can't comment on this lawsuit," Boyle said. "What I can say is that the governor is focused on implementing measures to keep Oregonians healthy and safe, based on the advice of doctors and health experts and what the data shows will limit the spread of COVID-19: wearing face coverings, maintaining physical distance, washing hands, staying home when sick, and limiting large gatherings."

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