Gov. Larry Hogan is under fire from some fellow Republicans who claim the governor is overstepping his bounds when it comes to executive orders imposed to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
Del. Dan Cox, R-Frederick and an attorney, filed for a temporary restraining order and injunction against Hogan and his executive orders related to the pandemic.
In the lawsuit, Cox alleges that Hogan’s executive orders limiting the number of people who can gather violates the First Amendment, particularly as it relates to the practice of religion.
Cox, who did not respond to a request for an interview, is joined by three other Republican lawmakers: Dels. Robin Grammer, Baltimore County; Warren Miller, Carroll and Howard counties; and Neil Parrott, Washington County; as well as a number of other citizens, two businesses and ReOpen Maryland, a group that is pushing Hogan to ease restrictions that have crippled the state’s economy in recent weeks.
The request for a temporary restraining order and injunction is similar to what has happened in other states, including Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Virginia and last week in Pennsylvania.
In many of those cases, plaintiffs sought orders blocking governors from using executive powers to limit religious gatherings.
“Governor Hogan has, respectfully, gone beyond all necessities of the case and continues to invade the domain of Federal authority and our rights secured by the Constitution,” Cox wrote in his lawsuit. He asked the court to rule the orders “invalid as applied and for vagueness, as well as overturning as void” Hogan’s proclamation of a catastrophic health emergency and any related executive order.
Additionally, the lawsuit seeks to have the courts rule on whether the governor has overstepped his authority in closing so-called non-essential businesses while allowing others to remain open. Many of the businesses in Maryland that are open or closed follow guidelines established by the federal government.
Miller said Hogan’s orders are applied unequally, allowing large stores such Walmart to sell non-essential items such as jewelry but requiring jewelers to close. Boating and golf are also banned, he said.
The lawsuit includes the owners of Adventure Park US, a Frederick amusement park, and Antietam Battlefield KOA, both of whom allege in their lawsuits that they are losing tens of thousands of dollars in revenue as a result of the closures in Hogan’s executive orders.
“The frustration levels are through the roof,” said Miller, describing calls from constituents. “My frustration is a reflection of what I’m hearing from my constituents.”
Adding to that frustration, said Miller, is a lack of any date-specific timeline that residents can look to as they look for a resumption of pre-pandemic life.
“I don’t think people have gotten a warm and fuzzy feeling,” said Miller. “There’s no predictability about when the state is going to reopen in any form or fashion.
Hogan, last month, said he hoped that data tracking the pandemic in Maryland, including the number of hospitalizations and patients in intensive care, would drop consistently enough to ease restrictions by early May.
Speaking on Fox News Sunday night, the governor suggested that he may have to wait a little while longer.
“Unfortunately, in our state our numbers have not yet started to decline or even plateau,” said Hogan. “We’re still going up. So, we’re going to be taking a look at it every day to see when we can get things opened back up safely.”
Three dozen states have eased restrictions or are planning to do so even if they have not successfully completed 14 days of declining numbers.
A spokesman for Hogan said the guidelines do make sense.
“No one is more anxious to reopen the economy than Governor Hogan, a lifelong small businessman, and he has repeatedly said that aside from saving lives, nothing is more important to him than getting people back on their feet,” said Michael Ricci, a Hogan spokesman. “The case that he isn’t doing enough to communicate with Marylanders about the steps he is taking would hold about as much water as this copy-and-paste lawsuit.”
Hogan has found himself the subject of criticism by some as his orders have force the closure of businesses and added 340,000 people on to unemployment in six weeks — unprecedented in the history of the country and in Maryland.
On Saturday, ReOpen Maryland, which boasts more than 22,000 members on a Facebook group, held a second protest in a month — a road rally that traveled from Frederick to the Eastern Shore. Cox was expected to speak at a stop but said he had been warned he would be arrested for violating Hogan’s orders if he did so.
Cox, in his lawsuit, said he was “warned by a senior law enforcement official that the ‘governor has his sights on you’ and that if I attend, ride along and speak at the Reopen Rally, I would potentially be arrested because certain individuals had indicated they may stop cars and arrest you.”
Maryland has been under a state of emergency since March 5. The order has been extended twice and is expected to be renewed before it expires on May 10. In all, the governor has issued more than three dozen executive orders since early March.
Ricci said Cox was never threatened with arrest by the governor.
“We fully respect Delegate Cox’s right to protest and express his feelings — and copy and paste lawsuits from other states — but that doesn’t entitle him to make false and baseless claims,” he said.