Around New England

Governor’s Most Sweeping Coronavirus Restrictions Are Legal, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Rules

December 10, 2020

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has ruled that Governor Charlie Baker’s sweeping coronavirus restrictions do not violate state statutes or the state constitution.

The court ruled unanimously on Thursday, December 10 that “reducing the dangers” of coronavirus “is a significant government interest” and that the governor’s executive orders “are content neutral and narrowly tailored, and they leave open alternative channels of communication.”

Among other things, the court’s ruling applies to the governor’s former draconian limit on religious gatherings to 10 or fewer. The court rule that “limitations on religious gatherings to mitigate COVID-19 risks are valid as long as the limitations are no more stringent than those imposed on similarly situated secular institutions, which they are in this case …”

In June several business owners, two church pastors, and a Christian school sued the governor, asking a court to find that the governor doesn’t have the authority to issue the kinds of executive orders severely limiting commercial, educational, and religious activities that he has claimed.

The plaintiffs argued that the state’s Civil Defense Act of 1950 that gives the governor broad powers in the event of emergency doesn’t apply to a public health crisis because the statute doesn’t mention a public health crisis as among its criteria; and that the state’s public health law empowers the state Department of Public Health and local boards of health, not the governor.

The court justified the governor’s orders by noting that the state Civil Defense Act includes the phrase “or other natural causes” – and found that coronavirus “is naturally caused.”

The case, decided Thursday, December 10, is known as Desrosiers vs. The Governor.