In the latest in an escalating series of legal challenges by Republicans, four Washington state legislators sued Gov. Jay Inslee in federal court on Tuesday, seeking to strike down his stay-home order aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus.
A 28-page complaint, filed by the lawmakers and others in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, contends “the emergency has been contained” and that continuing restrictions for workers, businesses and residents are not legally justified.
The lawmakers joining the lawsuit are Reps. Drew MacEwen, R-Union; Andrew Barkis, R-Olympia; Chris Corry, R-Yakima; and Brandon Vick, R-Vancouver. Four other Washington residents also are plaintiffs, saying their rights to work, operate businesses, obtain medical care and worship have been harmed. The plaintiffs are represented by Joel Ard, a Seattle lawyer and member of the conservative Federalist Society, and David DeWolf, a professor emeritus of law at Gonzaga University.
Inslee’s emergency stay-home order, which was first imposed March 23, was recently extended through May 31, although some workplaces, construction sites and recreational activities are reopening in phases.
The new lawsuit portrays the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic in Washington as overblown, pointing, for example, to the state sending ventilators to other states and scrapping a U.S. Army field hospital which had been built at CenturyLink Field.
With hospitals not currently at risk of being overwhelmed, the lawsuit says that underpinning of Inslee’s emergency order is no longer valid.
“The threat has faded. But Inslee continues on,” the complaint states, adding the virus is a threat primarily to older, vulnerable populations. Inslee has not shown deaths would rise among any group if the stay-home order is lifted, the lawsuit asserts, “other than the most vulnerable population — sick, elderly people in long term care.”
It adds that the governor has not adequately considered targeted measures to protect that population, while allowing others to return to work.
Inslee called the lawsuit’s claims “biologically ignorant and humanly heartless” when asked about it at a news briefing Tuesday afternoon.
“It’s just ignorant, because this is a very transmittable disease,” Inslee said. “It continues to transmit disease, we had hundreds of new cases just yesterday, it’s just a biological fact.”
J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm, the House Republican leader, was not part of the lawsuit, but sounded supportive Tuesday, citing “irretrievable damage being done to families, institutions and commerce.” He added, “We were not meant to be governed in the long term by emergency orders. It is good to test this constitutionally.”
State Democratic Party Chair Tina Podlodowski criticized the Republican legal challenges as extremist.
“This is yet another irresponsible action from Washington State Republicans that jeopardizes the sacrifices so many Washingtonians have made to save lives in the fight against this virus,” she said in a statement, vowing to make the virus response an issue in campaigns this fall.
As of Tuesday, the state has had 15,594 confirmed cases of coronavirus, with 862 deaths, according to the state health department. Of those who have died, more than 90% were 60 years or older.
The new challenge is the third federal lawsuit by Republicans and conservatives against the state’s coronavirus restrictions. In April, Republican gubernatorial candidate Joshua Freed filed a narrower lawsuit targeting the state’s ban on in-person church services and other spiritual gatherings, which was imposed as part of a broader prohibition on public gatherings.
Last week, Tim Eyman, the initiative promoter also running for governor, and others filed a lawsuit broadly challenging Inslee’s order as “tyranny.” The lead plaintiff in that lawsuit, Franklin County Commissioner Clint Didier, said at a news conference last week, “We can take care of this virus by letting the people catch it.”