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No, Portland Restaurants Can’t Reopen Yet, Even Considering That Rural Oregon Judge’s Ruling

The Oregon Supreme Court issued a stay on the Baker County judge’s decision, which had invalidated Gov. Kate Brown’s executive orders related to the coronavirus pandemic

Tables set with wine glasses and napkins in a nondescript dining room
A restaurant dining room
Vhpfoto/Shutterstock

Despite a rural Oregon judge’s ruling that deemed Gov. Kate Brown’s emergency orders “null and void,” Portland restaurants cannot reopen dining rooms just yet. The Oregon Supreme Court has hit pause on the full dismantling of those “Stay Home Save Lives” mandates, until they issue a full ruling.

On Monday, Baker County Circuit Judge Matthew Shirtcliff issued a decision related to a lawsuit filed by 10 Oregon churches, claiming that Brown’s stay-at-home orders were unconstitutional, a violation of their religious freedoms. The churches’ attorneys’ argument relies on a distinction between the state statute related to public health emergencies, not the statute related to natural disasters: The former has a 28-day time limit, and because many of those March orders are still in place, the judge says Brown crossed the line of what she could do as governor. Although the crux of the argument was centered on these religious groups, that decision applies to several executive orders, which included the forced closure of private businesses like restaurants.

Brown’s office almost immediately filed paperwork for an appeal, requesting an emergency review of the case by the Oregon Supreme Court. The court granted an emergency stay, which means no one can act on Shirtcliff’s ruling just yet. Instead, the court will review the appeal before issuing their own opinion. “There are no shortcuts for us to return to life as it was before this pandemic,” Brown said in a statement following the announcement. “Moving too quickly could return Oregon to the early days of this crisis, when we braced ourselves for hospitals to be overfilled and ventilators in short supply.”

The attorneys involved with the case must file their arguments with the court by Friday, before the Supreme Court issues a decision. Until then, the bars and restaurants in the still-closed counties will have to remain takeout-only.

Many Portland restaurant owners are just fine with that, but some of their customers — or people posing as their customers — are not. In a Facebook post, Haymaker owner Dave Bertelo says he received a call from someone claiming to be a customer, letting them know about the dismissal of the stay-at-home order. “They went on about how much they miss coming in,” his post reads. “Told them we are not set up for that at this time and restarting a restaurant is like turning around a battleship... it doesn’t move on a dime. We will be as safe and smart as possible.” Bertelo implied that the person who called was likely not a customer, but rather a Salem-based coronavirus-truther. Matt Ramey, who owns Pine Shed Ribs and Barbecue in Lake Oswego, commented that he received an in-person customer yesterday, operating under the same assumption.

The court has no timeline for when it will issue a decision.

Oregon Emergency Orders Remain Valid For Now, State Supreme Court Rules [OPB]
Oregon Supreme Court puts hold on Baker County judge’s ruling declaring governor’s coronavirus orders ‘null and void’ [Oregonian]
10 Oregon churches sue governor, want to worship without restrictions amid coronavirus pandemic [O]

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