FRANKFORT, Ky. — Lawyers for Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear defended his emergency coronavirus orders in the state highest court on Thursday as hundreds of people protested the restrictions outside.
The state's Republican attorney general, Daniel Cameron, and a group of local businesses challenged a mask mandate and other coronavirus-related restrictions that had been ordered by Beshear, a Democrat, earlier this year.
“Their claims seek to wipe out the health requirements related to coronavirus while coronavirus is still ongoing,” Beshear’s general counsel, La Tasha Buckner, told the court.
State Solicitor General Chad Meredith, who represented Cameron, countered that Beshear had exceeded his authority.
“For going on seven months now, the governor has been issuing executive orders to control breathtaking aspects of the citizens’ private lives in Kentucky,” Meredith said. "That’s incompatible with the rule of law in a republic.”
Several hundred protesters outside of the Kentucky State Capitol and State Supreme Court grounds in Frankfort, some of whom were openly armed, agreed. Some waved signs with phrases like “Freedom is Essential,” “Beshear is Peddling Fear,” “Beshear is Drunk With Power,” and “Andy’s Kentucky: Commonwealth or Communism?”
“It's tyranny to force this on people,” said protester Marty Terry, charging that Beshear “did an unlawful mandate, 30-day mask mandate, followed by a 30-day mask mandate, followed by a 30-day mask mandate. Enough. We're six months into this thing.”
Terry maintained "I'm not against masks," but “I'm against the unconstitutional overreach by executive branch.”
“I'm against the department going into businesses and saying, ‘you've got to do this. If your customers aren't wearing a mask we will put you out of business,’” he said.
Among the orders being challenged in court were directives restricting the number of children in day care centers and crowd sizes at public events.
A demonstrator named Jill, who would not give her last name, said, "We should have ability to go back to work, should have the ability to worship freely without all the restrictions, should be able to go to grocery store without being harassed for not wearing a mask. I should be able to go about my life, because how many people have gone out of business for a virus with a less than one percent death rate?”
In court, Buckner noted that the orders followed guidance from leading federal public health experts and helped slow spread of the virus in Kentucky.
“And while sadly we’ve lost over 1,000 Kentuckians to the virus, we know that these measures have worked,” Buckner said. “They helped lessen the impact across the state,” she told the court.
It's unclear when the court will rule.
After the hearing, Cameron said, "While some new policies and guidelines are needed to slow the spread of the disease and ensure Kentuckians adhere to recommended health guidelines, these policies must strike a necessary balance between public health and protecting the constitutional rights of Kentuckians."
On Wednesday, Beshear told reporters the case is a matter of life and death.
"If they win, more people are going to die," he said during a news briefing. "I don't get it. If they win, we still lose."
Cal Perry and Kailani Koenig reported from Frankfort, Kentucky, and Dareh Gregorian reported from New York.