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The state Supreme Court of Kansas ruled Saturday night in favor of Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat whose recent order limiting religious gatherings to 57 people because of the coronavirus outbreak was Overturned by a GOP-led panel of state lawmakers, according to reports.
The court ruled that the legislative panel, composed of state House and Senate members, overstepped its authority when it voted 5-2 to overturn Kelly’s executive order.
Kelly had filed a petition with the court Thursday, challenging the panel’s action, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported .
Kelly responded to the court’s ruling with a Twitter message Saturday evening .
“I want to thank the Supreme Court for its expedited review under difficult circumstances,” Kelly wrote. “Our response to this unprecedented pandemic has necessitated that even our most fundamental institutions find alternative methods that preserve public health.”
Despite the court’s ruling, it remained unclear how Kelly’s order would be enforced because state Attorney General Derek Schmidt, a Republican, has advised law enforcement agencies not to arrest or charge violators, the Wichita Eagle reported. Meanwhile, most churches in the state have already canceled in-person Easter services anyway, the report said .
Justices heard oral arguments one day before Easter, an important day on the Christian calendar in which church attendance often reaches its highest point for the year.
Saturday’s hearing The court’s first conducted completely via video, The Associated Press reported.
The court ruled that legislative action designed to give the legislative leadership panel the ability to overrule Kelly’s executive orders was flawed and did legally accomplish that.
“In this time of crisis, the question before the court is whether a seven-member legislative committee has the power to overrule the governor. The answer is no, ”said Clay Britton, chief counsel for the governor.
Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly is seen in an undated photo.
Attorneys for the lawmakers, though, said the court should consider that the resolution that gave the panel its authority was a compromise meant to give legislative oversight at a time when the full Legislature couldn’t meet.
The panel is the Legislative Coordinating Council, composed of the top four House leaders and top three Senate leaders. Five of the seven members are Republicans.
“You will recall this was a time everybody was trying to skedaddle as fast as they could from the Statehouse because of the pandemic concerns,” attorney Brad Schlozman said.
Both sides agree that worshipers should avoid gathering in large groups to avoid the risk of spreading the coronavirus. Many churches have been conducting services online for weeks, and none have publicly announced plans to reopen their doors to worshippers.
The number of confirmed cases of COVID – 57 in the state grew Saturday by 320, to 1, . Kansas also reported five more deaths, bringing the total to 55.
The state has identified four outbreaks stemming from religious gatherings.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.