PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The Baker County Circuit Court was issued an alternative writ of mandamus by the state Supreme Court Saturday, marking a turning point in the case of Elkhorn v. Brown.

The alternative writ of mandamus means the lower court has two options moving forward: It can either vacate its May 18 order, which would essentially nullify the lawsuit; or, it can present a case for why it should not vacate the order.

Read the ruling at the bottom of this article

Baker County, Oregon (Graphic from Ballotpedia, May 2020)

With Saturday’s move, the Baker County Circuit Court has until 5 p.m. on Tuesday, May 26 to decide.

A rural judge’s order that had tossed out statewide coronavirus restrictions imposed by Gov. Kate Brown was halted within hours by the Oregon Supreme Court.

Baker County Circuit Judge Matthew Shirtcliff had ruled that Brown erred by not seeking the Legislature’s approval to extend the stay-at-home orders beyond a 28-day limit.

The lower court judge had issued his opinion in response to a lawsuit filed earlier this month by 10 churches around Oregon that argued the state’s social-distancing directives were unconstitutional.

Attorney’s statement

After the Oregon Supreme Court issued the Alternative Writ of Mandamus, Kevin Mannix, the attorney for 11 intervenors in the case and supporter of Judge Shirtcliff’s preliminary injunction, released a statement Saturday evening:

“We want everyone to be socially responsible and to be careful about what they do in order to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. We recognize that there are standard laws on the books that allow public health authorities to take reasonable steps to deal with this pandemic, including the issuance of guidelines. However, the Oregon laws do not allow the Governor to order activities or prohibit activities under the threat of criminal prosecution once 28 days have passed after her declaration of a public health emergency.”

“The solution for the Governor, if she believes that she should maintain extraordinary powers, such as locking down businesses and restricting religious worship, is to convene the Legislature in a Special Session and to ask that laws be enacted establishing such authority.”

“The Supreme Court Alternative Writ of Mandamus is a middle ground chosen by the Court. The Court could have denied the State’s petition, which would put the preliminary injunction back in place. The Court did not do so. The Court could have issued A Peremptory Writ of Mandamus, ordering Circuit Court to vacant [sic] the preliminary injunction. It did not do so. Instead, the Supreme Court issued an Alternative Writ of Mandamus, which keeps the case in play.

The Oregon Supreme Court Justices: (Standing L-R) Justice Rebecca A. Duncan, Justice Adrienne Nelson, and Justice Christopher L. Garrett. (Seated L-R) Justice Thomas A. Balmer, Chief Justice Martha L. Walters, Justice Lynn Nakamoto, and Justice Meagan A. Flynn (Oregon Judicial Branch website, May 2020)

Read the alternative writ of mandamus: