Kansas Gov Sues State Legislature In Fight Over Ban On Church Gatherings

Democratic Governor of Kansas Laura Kelly delivers the keynote speech at today's Emporia State University Constitution Day event for high school students, Emporia, Kansas, September 17, 2019. (Photo by Mark Reinstei... Democratic Governor of Kansas Laura Kelly delivers the keynote speech at today's Emporia State University Constitution Day event for high school students, Emporia, Kansas, September 17, 2019. (Photo by Mark Reinstein/Corbis via Getty Images) MORE LESS
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April 10, 2020 11:03 a.m.

The fight between Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly (D) and the state’s Republican legislature escalated Thursday, with the governor suing in state Supreme Court after GOP congressional leaders overturned her order banning church gatherings of ten people or more.

In her petition, she targeted the machinery by which members of the legislature revoked her order: the Legislative Coordinating Council, a group of seven congressional leaders that is acting while the full legislature is out of session. The chambers have not been meeting as a whole since mid-March, when the COVID-19 pandemic worsened.

Kelly argued that the Kansas Emergency Management Act imbues the full legislature with checks on the governor’s orders, but that those oversight powers cannot be constitutionally transferred to the LCC by the resolution passed March 19.

“Not only does this action threaten the lives of Kansans, it runs directly contrary to the Kansas Constitution,” Kelly’s lawyers wrote in a court filing. “If the legislature seeks to amend the Kansas Emergency Management Act, it must do so by way of the constitutionally prescribed legislative process — not by mere concurrent resolution.”

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“As such, any attempt to exercise revocation authority over Governor Kelly’s emergency orders, which Kansas statutes explicitly vest with the Legislature as a whole or the Kansas Finance Council, by the LCC is unconstitutional,” they added.

The council is made up of five Republicans and two Democrats, and Kelly’s executive order was overturned on a party-line vote.

The governor’s lawyers asked the Court to make an expedited decision before Easter Sunday, when Christians of all stripes would usually be flocking to church.

The Republicans who overturned her order, claiming infringement on the constitutional right to freedom of religion, tried to have it both ways in their public statements.

Susan Wagle, president of the Senate who is also running for Pat Roberts’ U.S. Senate seat, took to Twitter to criticize Kelly for “closing our churches,” while also encouraging her followers to stay home.

Likewise, Kansas’ Attorney General Derek Schmidt (R) called the substance of the order “sound public health advice,” while telling police officers and prosecutors statewide not to enforce it.

“I am confident Kansans of faith can be trusted to follow that important advice without their government threatening criminal sanctions for disobedience,” he said.

Read the governor’s court filings here:

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