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Federal judge rejects challenge to Hogan’s stay-at-home orders

Gov. Larry Hogan speaks Thursday, March 19, 2020 in Annapolis. (The Daily Record / Bryan P. Sears)

Gov. Larry Hogan acted within his legitimate emergency authority when he imposed a sweeping set of orders to respond to a pandemic, a federal judge ruled Wednesday, May 20. (The Daily Record / Bryan P. Sears)

A federal judge Wednesday rejected a constitutional challenge to Gov. Larry Hogan’s stay-at-home orders, saying the governor’s directives are narrowly tailored to achieve Maryland’s compelling interest of protecting the public from the deadly COVID-19 virus.

“The world is now in the grip of a public health crisis more severe than any seen for a hundred years,” U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake wrote.

“In the face of this pandemic, Gov. Larry Hogan, using the emergency powers granted him by the state legislature, has issued a series of executive orders designed to slow the spread of the disease and protect the health of Maryland residents,” Blake added. “Public officials cannot reasonably exercise their broad authority to protect the health of the entire community without considering the data, the science and the advice of experienced public health officials. Gov. Hogan, exercising the powers given to him by the legislature in the face of the COVID-19 crisis, has made reasonable choices informed, if not dictated by, such data, science and advice.”

With her ruling, Blake rejected claims from business owners, clergy and three Republican state delegates that Hogan’s directives violates their constitutional rights to assemble in groups of more than 10 and hold religious services as they deem appropriate.

Operators of the private Antietam Battlefield KOA Campground and Adventure Park USA, who are also plaintiffs, contended the governor’s order deprives them of equal protection, as businesses deemed “essential” by the governor are allowed to remain open.

Hogan, through counsel, had called the constitutional challenge “hyperbolic,” saying he had neither placed Marylanders under “house arrest” without due process nor deprived them of their rights to free speech and peaceful assembly. Rather, the governor said, he has taken reasonable and measured steps to prevent the spread of a disease that has killed 1,963 and sickened 41,546 Marylanders.

Blake agreed.

“The right to assembly and speech may be subject to reasonable time, place and manner restrictions,” Blake said, citing U.S. Supreme Court precedent.

“Additionally, under the pressure of great dangers, constitutional rights may be reasonably restricted as the safety of the general public may demand,” added Blake, who sits in the Baltimore federal courthouse. “Because of the ease with which COVID-19 spreads and because asymptomatic individuals may spread the virus, a gathering larger than 10 people poses an increased risk that more people will get the virus if one of the attendees has it.”

Those who sought the preliminary injunction against Hogan’s orders include Dels. Daniel L. Cox, R-Frederick and Carroll and the plaintiffs’ lead attorney; Warren E. Miller, R-Howard and Carroll; and Neil Parrott, R-Washington; the ad hoc group Reopen Maryland LLC, which has rallied in Annapolis against Hogan’s directives; and a group of pastors.

Shareese Churchill, a Hogan spokeswoman, stated in an email Wednesday night that “Judge Blake has recognized that the governor’s emergency orders have a firm basis in law and science. In fact, she even noted that the governor’s orders are consistent with the president’s own ‘Opening Up America Again’ guidelines.”

Cox did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

The case is Antietam Battlefield KOA et al. v. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. et al., Civil Action No. CCB-20-1130.

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