Lawsuit challenges Baker’s emergency declaration
Says governor applying wrong law to COVID-19 crisis
A SMALL GROUP of business owners and pastors filed suit against Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday, alleging he exceeded his authority by using the Civil Defense Act of 1950 to declare a state of emergency in Massachusetts and order sweeping societal changes in response to COVID-19.
The lawsuit, filed in Worcester Superior Court, said the COVID-19 health crisis is not a civil defense crisis and therefore the governor’s declaration of emergency and his 30 executive orders should be declared invalid.
“Governor Baker is applying the wrong law to address the crisis at hand and, by doing so, he has unlawfully exercised legislative police power,” the lawsuit says.
According to a recent CommonWealth article, the Civil Defense Act of 1950 was passed at a time when the United States was worried about the spread of communism and military threats from the Soviet Union. The law allows the governor to declare a state of emergency when the state is threatened by enemy attack, sabotage, riots, fires, floods, earthquakes, droughts, or other natural causes.
The Baker administration had no immediate comment. In the past, the administration referred questions about the governor’s legal authority to the law itself.
The lawsuit was filed by the New Civil Liberties Alliance of Washington, DC, on behalf of 10 plaintiffs – two hair salons in Hubbardston and Lexington, the owner of three restaurants in the North End, pastors of churches in Westfield and Somerville, the headmaster of Trinity Christian Academy of Cape Cod, and the owners of a tanning salon in Burlington, a gym in Billerica, a family entertainment center in Marlborough, and a convention facility in Devens.
Michael DeGrandis of the New Civil Liberties Alliance said the state’s Public Health Act should be the statute used to address COVID-19 because one of its main purposes is to control and prevent the spread of infectious diseases. He said the Public Health Act grants broad authority to local boards of health to deal with such a crisis.
Most of DeGrandis’s clients don’t care about the legal issues; they just want to open their businesses.
Carla Agrippino-Gomes, the owner of three North End restaurants, including Terramia and Antico Forno, said she and other restaurant owners in the North end may choose to open on Friday even if the Baker administration hasn’t given the green light.“Give us guidelines or else we’re going to take matters into our own hands,” she said. “I think we can do it right and do it safely.”
Robert Walker, the owner of Apex Entertainment LLC in Marlborough, said the shutdown has gone on too long and it’s time to reopen the economy more quickly. “The time has come to return business decisions to business owners,” Walker said.