A federal district court judge denied a motion for preliminary injunction Wednesday that had been filed against Gov. Larry Hogan and other state officials relating to shutdowns following the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus.
Thursday, the plaintiffs filed a notice to appeal the court’s decision to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.
In her decision, U.S. District Court Judge Catherine C. Blake cited to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Jacobson v. Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 197 U.S. 11 (1905), a case that involved a Massachusetts board of health regulation requiring all adults to get a smallpox vaccination.
In referencing the case the court noted that the Supreme Court stated in that case, “Real liberty for all could not exist under the operation of a principle which recognizes the right of each individual person to use his own, whether in respect of his person or his property, regardless of the injury that may be done to others.”
In the Jacobson case, the Supreme Court counseled against infringing on the legislature’s power to decide the best way to protect public safety, Blake said in her decision. She noted that since the challenged orders are public health measures meant to address disease outbreak the test in Jacobson is applicable. The court further stated that in order to succeed the plaintiffs had to show that the governor’s orders either have no real or substantial relation to protecting public health or that they are “beyond all question, a plain, palpable invasion of rights secured by the fundamental law.”
The district court held that pursuant to Jacobson, public officials cannot responsibly exercise their broad authority to protect the health of the entire community without considering data, science and the advise of health professionals. The court ruled that Hogan exercised the powers given to him by the legislature and made reasonable choices.
The court further noted that the plaintiffs in the case minimized the risks of the pandemic without citing any contrary scientific authority, and failed to meet the standard the Supreme Court outlined in the Jacobson case.
The case was originally filed on May 2 and was filed by delegates Warren Miller, Dan Cox and Neil Parrott as well as 10 pastors and other church representatives, two former members of the U.S. military, two businesses and the group Reopen Maryland, LLC, alleging a number of U.S. and Maryland constitutional violations against Hogan and his administration.
In issuing the court’s ruling, Judge Blake noted that plaintiffs filed their motion without an accompanying memorandum of law. She further noted that the plaintiffs only addressed some of the state’s claims in their response and so the court did not consider the plaintiff’s claims under several clauses of the U.S. Constitution. The decision notes, citing a D.C. Circuit Court case from 2002 that a court is not required to unearth theories and precedents not cited by the parties.
In taking up the plaintiffs’ remaining claims the court held that Hogan’s executive orders relating to the COVID-19 outbreak have a “real and substantial” relation to the public health crisis and were aimed at reducing the opportunities for the virus to spread.
In reaching the court’s decision the judge noted that the free exercise clause does not require the government to exempt religious practices from a valid and neutral law of general applicability.
In citing a 1944 U.S. Supreme Court case, Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158, the court noted that the right to practice religion freely does not include liberty to expose the community to communicable disease.
The court cited to recent cases in New Mexico and Illinois that had similar order to those issued by Hogan and found that his orders were neutral as applied to religious observances.
Blake, an appointee of President Bill Clinton, has served as a U.S. District Judge since 1995.