Newsom's sweeping COVID orders are controversial, but legal: expert

The question keeps coming up: how much power does Gov. Gavin Newsom really have in mandating masks, social distancing, business closures and stay-at-home orders?

The short answer is that it's really up to Newsom with only two checks and balances to restrain his authority, according to experts. Still, to some members of the public, it looks like Newsom has taken it too far.

"I personally don't understand where the authority comes from. I'm no expert but I really don't see how he has the authority," said Austin Peterson, a retail employee at Solano County.

"Stay-at-home is fine and social distancing and masks, but curfew, I think it's a little too much for me," said Fairfield resident Mac Candari.

With all the pandemic mandates, is Newsom illegally abusing his powers?

"No, because he has them all," said Professor Leslie Gielow Jacobs, an expert on California government law at the University of the Pacific's McGeorge School  of Law in Sacramento. "He has broad discretion to do it because essentially all the authority of the agencies and arguably, a lot of the legislative authority has been transferred into him."

On March 4, Newsom declared a state of emergency, a declaration that has legal force.

The California Emergency Powers Act says that during a state of emergency, Newsom has complete authority over all state agencies, the right to exercise police powers, and the ability to issue and enforce orders as he deems reasonably necessary, which has the force and effect of law.

"At least under the statute, it would be difficult to find something that was unreasonable," said Jacobs.

Newsom can be sued over the legality of his orders, especially on constitutional grounds. He's already faced a setback in court when a county judge issued a ruling earlier this month that limits his use of the Emergency Powers Act.

"I think there's gonna be a lot more people resisting what he is doing on a statewide and a local basis," said Matt Shupe. Contra Costa County Republican Committee Chairman.

But, Newsom still has the advantage of science. "Can you prove you need to do that to stop the spread of disease? Certainly you can and so that's the way the court would look at it," said Jacobs.

Besides the court, there is another check and balance. Under the Emergency Powers  a governor has a legal duty to end the emergency declaration as soon as it becomes appropriate. Otherwise, the legislature, by majority vote can revoke his authority and end the emergency themselves.