The Minnesota Supreme Court ordered the lower courts Wednesday to address the question of whether Gov. Tim Walz had the authority to declare a peacetime emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The high court called this question an “important issue of statewide significance that should be decided immediately.”
The court’s ruling stems from an August 2020 lawsuit filed by the Upper Midwest Law Center (UMLC) on behalf of 16 Minnesota residents, business owners, and churches. The case, Snell v. Gov. Tim Walz, specifically challenged Gov. Walz’s executive order that required Minnesotans to wear masks in indoor public spaces. The lawsuit argued that only the legislature has the power to make new laws and the governor exceeded his authority.
The Ramsey County District Court dismissed the lawsuit, arguing that the Minnesota Emergency Management Act authorized the governor to declare a peacetime emergency for public health purposes.
“The court found that the Act includes ‘an act of nature’ as one of the grounds for the Governor to declare a peacetime emergency, and the court found that public health emergencies, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, are an act of nature. Accordingly, the court rejected Snell’s argument that Governor Walz could not declare a peacetime emergency for the COVID-19 pandemic,” the Supreme Court explained.
UMLC then appealed the decision to the Minnesota Court of Appeals in May 2021, which declined to address the case on the merits because Walz had ended his mask mandate at that point.
“All parties agree that this case is technically moot. Specifically, they agree that the court can no longer grant Snell the relief he seeks because the challenged executive order and the peacetime emergency have ended,” the Supreme Court said in its opinion.
“But the court of appeals also determined that none of the issues raised by Snell present important questions of statewide significance that should be decided now. We disagree with that determination in part. Specifically, we conclude that the claim Snell raises regarding the scope of the Governor’s authority under the Act is an important issue of statewide significance that should be decided now,” the court added.
Thus, the Minnesota Court of Appeals will now be required to address the question of whether Gov. Walz had the authority to declare a peacetime emergency in the first place.
“This is a significant victory for our clients and for all Minnesotans,” said Doug Seaton, founder and president of UMLC. “We have consistently argued that Governor Walz does not have the power to declare a peacetime emergency in response to a public health crisis, and we look forward to this matter being promptly decided in the Court of Appeals.”