The state’s Supreme Judicial Court has rejected a lawsuit challenging the governor’s authority to declare a state of emergency and issue executive orders during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We conclude that the [Civil Defense Act – CDA] provides authority for the Governor's March 10, 2020, declaration of a state of emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and for the issuance of the subsequent emergency orders,” the justices wrote in their 41-page decision
. “The emergency orders do not violate art. 30 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights; and the emergency orders do not violate the plaintiffs' Federal or State constitutional rights to procedural and substantive due process or free assembly."
MHA, the Massachusetts Medical Society, and the Organization of Nurse Leaders had joined to file an amicus brief in September defending the governor’s actions. That brief stated, “To put it simply, the battle cannot be won (and could yet be lost) if the Governor's office is prevented from using the authority granted to it by the CDA. The levels of sickness and death caused by the virus, and the accompanying strains placed on our healthcare infrastructure, have been unprecedented in modern Massachusetts history. It is self-evident that the pandemic has been a ‘disaster’ and a ‘catastrophe’ resulting from natural causes, as the Act requires for the Governor to invoke it.”
The suit was brought by two hair salons, a tanning salon, a boxing gym, two restaurants, two houses of worship and their pastors, the head of a religious academy, a family entertainment center, and a conference center.
The SJC noted that its ruling does not permit the governor to act as he has for all public health emergencies the state may face. “The distinguishing characteristic of the COVID-19 pandemic is that it has created a situation that cannot be addressed solely at the local level,” the justices wrote. “Only those public health crises that exceed the resources and capacities of local governments and boards of health, and therefore require the coordination and resources available under the CDA, are contemplated for coverage under the CDA.”