Twice in recent weeks, California superior court judges upended government pandemic restrictions. Is the governor’s office getting the message?
On Dec. 8, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James Chalfant told the county that its ban on outdoor dining “is an abuse of the (health) department’s emergency powers, (and) is not grounded in science, evidence, or logic.” In a ruling that temporarily sets aside the local prohibition, Chalfant said the government and the media “are generating fear and thriving on fear and the evidence shows that healthy Americans need not fear.”
“I think it’s been a tremendous failure of government agencies to explain the nature of the disease. People have died, but the average healthy American is not at risk of dying.”
Chalfant didn’t tell Gov. Gavin Newsom “no” directly. The state’s ban on outdoor dining wasn’t at issue in this case. But his ruling opens up the entire lockdown framework to legal challenges. If Los Angeles County has to support its ban with data, then every other restriction needs to be held to the same standard.
Two days after the Chalfant ruling, Kern County Superior Court Judge Gregory Pulskamp did say “no” to Newsom, delivering “a stinging rebuke” of his pandemic restrictions. His ruling says Newsom is “enjoined from enforcing against plaintiff the provisions of the Blueprint for a Safer Economy, the Regional Stay at Home Order, and all Covid-19 restrictions that fail to treat houses of worship equal to the favored class of entities.” The suit was brought by Father Trevor Burfitt, who oversees Catholic churches across the state.
The Pulskamp decision follows by a week the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that the state’s prohibition on indoor worship was a violation of the faithful’s constitutional rights.
“It takes time for Supreme Court precedents to be applied as widely as needed,” but the Burfitt “decision suggests that Justice (Samuel) Alito’s recent efforts on behalf of the First Amendment and religious freedom are bearing fruit rather quickly,” Mark Tapscott blogged on Instapundit.
If that was a win for the saints, then a San Diego Superior Court judge handed a victory to, well, let’s just call them bad boys lest someone thinks “sinners” is too judgmental. Judge Joel Wohlfeil issued a preliminary injunction Wednesday barring the state from enforcing stay-at-home orders against a couple of “gentlemen’s clubs,” which could mean that restaurants in the county will be reopening, as well. The Times of San Diego reported that Wohlfeil’s ruling noted “that the state of California and San Diego County have not provided evidence tying the spread of COVID-19 or lack of ICU bed capacity to live adult entertainment or businesses with restaurant service.”
Newsom has been sued more than 50 times since he first began shutting down the state. And he’s now suffered a number of significant losses, including one to Republican Assemblymen Kevin Kiley and James Gallagher, who took the governor to court over his June 3 executive order that required general election ballots be mailed to every registered voter in the state.
In that case, Sutter Superior Court judge Sarah Heckman said Newsom “continues to issue executive orders which create legislative policy” and “it is reasonably probable the governor will continue issuing executive orders which amend statutory law and create legislative policy under the purported authority of the (California Emergency Services Act), violating the California Constitution and the rights of plaintiffs thereunder.”
Lockdowns are a thoughtless and cheap response to the coronavirus pandemic. It’s the easy way out for officials. When it’s over, they want to be able to say, “hey, we did everything we could to save lives” But their reflexive and thoughtless reactions were never based on data. Nor has their continued insistence that, in Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s words, “it’s time to cancel everything,” been based on the findings of science. Just hunches. Political impulses. An urge to use the leverage of the state to command and control not just the economy but private matters.
Californians are starting to tune out public officials, though. In spite of Newsom’s stay-at-home orders, few are actually staying home. They’re talking to him as loudly as the courts are.
Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.