Lt. Gov. Forest drops suit over pandemic shutdown orders

Posted August 13, 2020 9:53 a.m. EDT
Updated August 13, 2020 11:25 a.m. EDT

— After a judge ruled against Lt. Gov. Dan Forest this week in his suit against Gov. Roy Cooper, his opponent in the November election, Forest has decided against an appeal.

Attorney General Josh Stein announced the end to the case on Twitter.

"While Dan Forest makes reckless decisions that endanger North Carolinians in an effort to prop up his campaign, Governor Cooper will continue to do what is right for their health and safety," Cooper campaign spokeswoman Liz Doherty said in a statement.

Forest sued Cooper last month, arguing that the governor needed to obtain consent from the Council of State, a group of 10 statewide elected officials that includes both Cooper and Forest, before issuing statewide emergency orders shutting down bars, gyms, entertainment venues and other businesses for months during the pandemic.

Part of state law seems to require concurrence, but Cooper's legal team has said other code sections allow him to act unilaterally in an emergency.

"The court finds no statutory language upon which it can base the limitation the lieutenant governor invites – to confine the governor's exercise of power under [the state Emergency Management Act] to only a local or regional area," North Carolina Business Court Senior Judge James Gale wrote in his 31-page ruling. "The language requires the opposite conclusion by suggesting that the governor must act beyond the confines of the local jurisdiction when 'the scale of the emergency is so great that it exceeds the capability of local authorities to cope with it.'"

Forest and other Republican leaders have questioned many of Cooper's actions during the pandemic and have pressed that he roll back his shutdown orders and allow businesses to reopen under restrictions designed to keep workers and customers safe.

Cooper began to ease the state-mandated restrictions in May, but he has twice extended "Phase 2" of the state's three-part plan to reopen businesses and resume social activities during the pandemic. The latest extension was made last week and runs through Sept. 11.

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