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Commentary and Analysis Regarding Colorado Law

Executive Authority In Plain View During COVID-19 Pandemic

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Article IV, Section 2 of the Colorado Constitution states that “The supreme executive power of the state shall be vested in the governor, who shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” Perhaps no other time in recent memory has this authority been wielded more rapidly, widely, and with such impact to members of the public than in the current pandemic created by the novel coronavirus. This impact has come through the Governor’s use of executive orders to control everything from the ability to move freely in the State (Stay at Home, D 2020-017, and Safer at Home, D 2020-044), to the operation of ski areas (D 2020-004), and the ability to have an elective or non-essential surgery (D 2020-09), to name a few.Put simply, executive orders allow the Governor to create law without the normal legislative process the General Assembly goes through to enact statutes. Under normal circumstances, the General Assembly (as the legislative branch) is charged with making the laws through the approval of bills, while the Governor holds approval authority over the bills passed by the legislature before they can become law (the judiciary, as the third branch of government is charged with interpreting the constitution and laws of the state). In effect, executive orders are intended to allow for more flexibility in specific times of need, so that quick actions can be taken outside of the context of the normal three-branch system of government. [In case anyone needs a refresher on our three-branch system, I would direct you to the following scholarly overview: Schoolhouse Rock (I will leave the irony of the “three-ringed circus” analogy up to the reader)].

Executive orders are usually limited to directing how the executive branch of government functions. However, with prior approval from the legislative branch, executive orders can become more wide-reaching, which is what we have seen in the current pandemic circumstances.

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