Judge Limits Governor Newsom’s Power During Pandemic

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Photo by Bill Oxford on Unsplash

Lauren Cunningham, Staff Writer

Sutter County Superior Court Judge Sarah Heckman ordered Governor Gavin Newsom to stop issuing directives related to COVID-19 that could interfere with state law on Nov. 2. Heckman ruled that one of the dozens of executive orders Newsom has issued overstepped his authority and was an unconstitutional exercise of legislative power.

“It’s very important for the Governor to be able to make swift executive decisions, but I do think Newsom has excessively exercised that power during this pandemic,” junior Thomas Quinnild said. Before this ruling, Newsom issued 58 executive orders in the pandemic related state of emergency. The Governor also suspended school districts’ deadlines and instructional requirements. Lawmakers of both political parties have criticized Newsom for not properly consulting with them before issuing sweeping orders and budget decisions.

“Even during a state of emergency we still have separation of powers, we still have rule of law, we still have the constitution, the governor can’t claim all the powers of the state for himself,” Assembly man Kevin Kiley said in an interview with KRON4 news. The judge’s ruling determined that Newsom’s executive order to send out the vote-by-mail ballots, as well as enact other precautions to reduce the threat of spreading the virus during the elections process, violated the California Constitution because it created new law. Under California’s constitutional separation of powers, only the Legislature has the power to create laws. Heckman more broadly stopped Newsom from exercising any power under the California Emergency Services Act, which amends, alters, or changes existing statutory law and makes new statutory law or legislative policy. 

“I first started to pay attention to what decisions Newsom made for our state during the coronavirus because it affected me,” junior Grace Clark said. Heckman found the California Emergency Services Act itself constitutional and made it clear that Newsom has the authority, necessary in emergencies, to suspend statutes and issue orders to protect Californians. However, she wrote a nine-page decision that the California Emergency Services Act does not permit the Governor to amend statues or make new statues. The judge also stated that the Governor does not have the power or authority to assume the Legislature’s role in creating legislative policy. 

Heckman’s decision will become final Nov. 13, unless Newsom’s attorneys can raise new challenges. Newsom’s administration is planning its next steps and disagrees with the order’s limitations. The Court ruling is not expected to have an impact on the state’s mandates for Californians to wear masks in public, or other pandemic-related statewide restrictions on activities and businesses.

“Nobody disputes that there are actions that should be taken to keep people safe during an emergency, but that doesn’t mean that we put our Constitution and free society on hold by centralizing all power in the hands of one man,” Assembly members James Gallaghar and Kevin Kiley said in their abuse of power lawsuit against Newsom.