Court Backs Kansas Order on Religious Services

Legislators had tried to overrule governor
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Apr 12, 2020 11:00 AM CDT
Court Backs Kansas Order on Religious Services
Known as the Lighted Cross Church, Excelsior Lutheran Church near Wilson, Kansas, sits dark Friday. The church did not hold its usual Good Friday service because of the pandemic.   (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

(Newser) – The Kansas Supreme Court has ruled that a Republican-dominated legislative panel exceeded its authority when it tried to overturn the Democratic governor's executive order banning religious and funeral services of more than 10 people during the coronavirus pandemic. The decision letting Gov. Laura Kelly’s order stand came after the justices heard oral arguments Saturday, one day before Easter. The court ruled that legislative action designed to give the legislative leadership panel the ability to overrule Kelly’s executive orders was flawed and didn't legally accomplish that, the AP reports. "In this time of crisis, the question before the court is whether a seven-member legislative committee has the power to overrule the governor. The answer is no," said Clay Britton, chief counsel for the governor.

Attorneys for the lawmakers said the court should consider that the resolution that gave the panel its authority was a compromise meant to give legislative oversight when the full Legislature couldn't meet. The Legislative Coordinating Council is made up of the top four House leaders and top three Senate leaders. Five of the seven members are Republicans. "You will recall this was a time everybody was trying to skedaddle as fast as they could from the Statehouse because of the pandemic concerns," said attorney Brad Schlozman. Both sides say worshippers should avoid gathering in large groups. Many churches have been conducting services online for weeks, and none has publicly announced plans to reopen to worshippers. The hearing was the court’s first conducted completely via video conferencing. The state has identified four outbreaks stemming from religious gatherings.

(Read more coronavirus stories.)

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