N.H. Court Rejects Challenge to Ban on Gatherings of 50 or More People
This came in yesterday’s Binford v. Sununu, written by state court Judge John C. Kissinger. First, the court concluded (correctly, I think) that the Governor had the statutory authority to impose the restriction:
Plaintiffs contend that Governor Sununu lacks the [statutory] authority to declare a state of emergency because the circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak do not amount to an emergency under the definition of emergency in RSA 21-P:35. Plaintiffs argue that “New Hampshire has had just 17 people diagnosed with [COVID-19], and ZERO deaths. In a state of over 1 million people, those numbers alone make it clear this is not an ’emergency.”‘ This argument is without merit.
It would be irrational to find that the governor must wait for the health care system of New Hampshire to be overwhelmed with patients suffering from COVID-19 before he is authorized to declare a state of emergency and take preventative measures to slow the spread of a highly contagious and potentially deadly disease. Indeed, RSA 4:45 contemplates the need to take preemptive action and explicitly authorizes the governor to do so. Specifically, RSA 4:45, I permits the governor to declare a state of emergency where a disaster is “imminent or has occurred within this state.” (Emphasis added)….
The court also soundly rejected some constitutional arguments that the plaintiffs had made only briefly: “Plaintiffs do not assert any facts that would lead the Court to conclude that Governor Sununu has declared martial law, has taken any property from Plaintiffs without just compensation, or has exercised impermissible control over Plaintiffs’ bodies.”
It then turned to the freedom of assembly challenge, and again I agree with its analysis here:
Multiple jurisdictions have contemplated the executive’s authority to suspend or infringe upon certain civil liberties during states of emergency. See Smith v. Avino, 91 F.3d 105, 109 (11th Cir. 1996) (“In an emergency situation, fundamental rights such as the right of travel and free speech may be temporarily limited or suspended.”); United States v. Chalk, 441 F.2d 1277, 1280 (4th Cir. 1971) (“The invocation of emergency powers necessarily restricts activities that would normally be constitutionally protected.”); In re Juan C., 33 Cal. Rptr.2d 919, 922 (Ct. App. 1994) (“An inherent tension exists between the exercise of First Amendment rights and the government’s need to maintain order during a period of social strife. The desire for free and unfettered discussion and movement must be balanced against the desire to protect and preserve life and property from destruction.”); ACLU of W. Tenn., Inc. v. Chandler, 458 F. Supp 456, 460 (W.D. Tenn. 1978) (explaining that the governor has the authority to impose “limitation on the exercise of [First Amendment rights] only in very unusual circumstances were extreme action is necessary to protect the public from immediate and grave danger”).
The 11th Circuit has articulated a two-prong test to determine whether an executive order passes constitutional muster during a state of emergency. In Avino, the Governor of the State of Florida issued an executive order declaring a state of emergency in the wake of Hurricane Andrew. This executive order provided that Miami city and Metropolitan Dade County officials could impose curfews from August 24, 1992 through December 21, 1992. The Miami Dade county manager set the curfew from 7:00 pm to 7:00 am and called in the National Guard and other law enforcement officials to aid local police. By October 2, 1992, the curfew was in effect from 10:00 pm
Article from Latest – Reason.com