Republicans sue Inslee over ‘stay home’ order. He fires back.

May 5, 2020

A group of Republican state lawmakers filed a lawsuit Tuesday in federal court in Tacoma challenging the constitutionality of Gov. Jay Inslee’s stay home order.

The lawsuit contends “there is no public disorder or threat to the public order in the State of Washington” and asserts that the COVID-19 crisis is mostly a threat to “older and sicker” residents and people in long term care facilities.

“If any emergency is confined to certain small subsets of the population, the Governor’s statewide edict cannot be justified,” the lawsuit said.

The four Republican lawmakers who are suing are state Reps. Drew MacEwen, Andrew Barkis, Chris Corry and Brandon Vick. Four Washington residents are also part of the lawsuit.

The complaint asks the court to find Inslee’s emergency proclamations unconstitutional.

In a text message, House Republican Leader J.T. Wilcox, who is not a party to the lawsuit, offered support for the legal challenge, citing the “irretrievable damage being done to families, institutions and commerce.”

“We were not meant to be governed in the long term by emergency orders,” he wrote. It is good to test this constitutionally.”

At a previously scheduled news conference Tuesday afternoon, Inslee pushed back  saying he vigorously disagrees with the GOP lawmakers-turned-plaintiffs.

“I think they are not only shortsighted, but dangerous,” Inslee said.

The Democratic governor warned that if Washington were to abandon its social distancing efforts now, the virus would come back with a vengeance.

“Apparently those politicians, as far as I can tell, that doesn’t bother them too much,” Inslee said.

In their lawsuit, the Republican lawmakers note that approximately half the people who have died in Washington were over age 80.

They also cite positive trendlines and developments, including the fact Washington sent unneeded ventilators to New York and ended up not needing to use an Army field hospital that was deployed to Seattle.

“We know that the threat to vulnerable populations remains,” the lawsuit said. “We know that there is no longer an emergency in the state.”

In response, Inslee said it would come as a surprise to the families of the more than 800 people who have died from COVID-19 in Washington that there is no longer a crisis.

“I believe that position is biologically ignorant and humanly heartless,” Inslee said.

Also Tuesday, Washington Department of Health officials highlighted data that indicates the progression of the COVID-19 pandemic is beginning to look highly variable across the state.

While some counties have not reported a new infection since late March or early April, in other places, such as Yakima and Franklin Counties, the numbers are spiraling up at what public health officials consider to be an alarming rate -- partly due to outbreaks in food processing plants.

In a conference call with reporters, State Health Officer Dr. Kathy Lofy also called attention to the epidemiological curve chart for Skagit County, which shows the number of new cases reported daily has remained at a stubbornly high rate for many weeks.

On a statewide level, the number of new COVID-19 cases reported each day in Washington has averaged around 200. Lofy said this apparent plateauing is not a "new normal" she would accept, even if it’s partly accounted for by a gradual increase in testing.

In their lawsuit, the Republican lawmakers criticize the state’s response to COVID-19 in long-term care settings -- where many of the deaths have occurred.

They also enumerate how the shuttering of schools and businesses has affected their lives and livelihoods, including one lawmaker whose foster child can’t get her braces fixed because orthodontists are closed.

Previously, Republican candidates for governor Joshua Freed and Tim Eyman, among others, have filed court challenges to Inslee’s proclamations.

*Reporter Tom Banse contributed to this story