Minnesota Supreme Court Rules State COVID Emergency Declaration Was Lawful

The state Supreme Court issued a 6–0 ruling on the matter, with one justice recusing himself.
Minnesota Supreme Court Rules State COVID Emergency Declaration Was Lawful
People wear masks as they People wear masks as they walk through the Mall of America in Minneapolis on June 10, 2020. (Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)
Jack Phillips

The Minnesota Supreme Court has ruled that a COVID-19-era emergency declaration previously issued by Gov. Tim Walz was constitutional.

The governor’s emergency was rescinded years ago, but lawsuits have been filed on whether the order was lawfully issued. On May 10, the court rejected a lawsuit that was filed on behalf of Minnesota residents and business owners who had contended that the order was unconstitutional.

“The breadth of authority granted to the Governor under the Act is great, but so is the need of the executive branch to respond quickly in times of crisis,” Justice Gordon Moore wrote for the court. “A delicate balance must be struck to ensure that Minnesotans are protected from both government overreach and emergent threats to their health.”

Chief Justice Natalie Hudson as well as Justices Margaret Chutich, Anne McKeig, and Paul Thissen signed onto Justice Moore’s opinion. Justice G. Barry Anderson wrote a concurrence and mostly agreed with Justice Moore’s rationale, while Justice Karl Procaccini didn’t partake in the decision because he was appointed by the governor and previously worked for him.

“Although the separation of powers is a critical piece of our constitutional infrastructure, we cannot blind ourselves to the need for some degree of flexibility when delineating the boundaries of each governmental branch,” Justice Moore wrote.

“[The justices] conclude that the Act does not represent an unconstitutional delegation of legislative authority. The limitations on the scope of powers delegated, the non-illusory checks on the executive’s exercise of the delegated powers, and the material differences between this Act and other unconstitutional delegations of power all support our conclusion.”

Mr. Walz, a Democrat, declared an emergency over the COVID-19 pandemic on March 20, 2019, although it initially did not impose any restrictions and suggested that Minnesotans should stay home when feeling sick. However, the governor—like many other state officials nationwide—issued several subsequent directives in the following months that shut down restaurants, schools, and certain businesses, as well as mandating the use of masks.

In a concurrence, Justice Anderson agreed that an underlying state law that allows such emergencies to be declared is constitutional. However, he said the act should be amended by the state Legislature, noting that the Senate and House can end the governor’s emergency powers if they both agree on it.

“The more prolonged an emergency becomes, the greater the need to delineate the limits upon the authority of the executive branch,” he wrote in the concurrence. “But it is to the policy making branches—the legislative and the executive—that this duty is assigned, not the judicial branch. And the time to address these fundamental issues dealing with the distribution of, and a check upon, political power is when no emergency is present.”

A conservative-leaning group, the Upper Midwest Law Center, challenged the governor’s emergency mandate and the state law that allows Mr. Walz to make such a declaration.

After the state Supreme Court’s ruling last week, the law center stated that it was disappointed with the decision and warned that a future governor could take actions that are unconstitutional.

“While we wish it were different, the sad reality is that the Legislature did not set aside partisan interests when the Governor dictated what we could do on a daily basis for 16 months,” the group’s senior counsel, James Dickey, said in a statement. “The current Legislature has been even more partisan and has passed one unconstitutional law after another based only on the slimmest of majorities.”

Their lawsuit argued that only the state House and Senate have the power to create laws and that Mr. Walz went beyond his jurisdiction by declaring a statewide COVID-19 emergency.

The legal group stipulated that the high court on May 10 didn’t “have the opportunity to examine whether any particular emergency order that could be issued in the future violates other constitutional guarantees.”

Two other courts, including the Minnesota Court of Appeals, concluded that the state’s emergency management act allows the governor to declare an emergency during peacetime if there is a public health emergency. The Upper Midwest Law Center filed an appeal of that decision to the state’s high court.

It’s not clear if the group, which originally filed the lawsuit in 2020, is planning to appeal the state Supreme Court’s order.

Jack Phillips is a breaking news reporter with 15 years experience who started as a local New York City reporter. Having joined The Epoch Times' news team in 2009, Jack was born and raised near Modesto in California's Central Valley. Follow him on X: https://twitter.com/jackphillips5