SC attorney general's office says local "stay at home" orders likely illegal

Tecklenburg says Home Rule powers extend to emergencies


The City of Charleston is attempting to "flatten the curve" with ordinances and closures - RUTA SMITH
  • Ruta Smith
  • The City of Charleston is attempting to "flatten the curve" with ordinances and closures
One of South Carolina's top prosecutors says that emergency orders adopted by local governments this week are likely illegal, but Charleston's mayor argues Home Rule extends to emergencies.

Days after two of South Carolina's largest cities ordered their residents to stay at home to prevent the spread of COVID-19, South Carolina's Solicitor General Robert D. Cook issued an opinion on Friday noting that local governments' powers are limited in times of emergency.

Charleston and Columbia both enacted emergency "stay at home" orders this week, asking residents to remain in their homes to prevent one-on-one contact that could spread the highly contagious and deadly COVID-19 disease. Other cities have considered similar measures, and the Friday opinion was in response to a letter from a Lowcountry lawmaker asking if the orders were allowable.

Citing a 1980 opinion from the Attorney General's Office looking at the governor's powers in emergency situations, the opinion goes out of its way to concede localities' Home Rule powers under state law. Stopping short of calling the orders unconstitutional, the order reiterates the governor's "extraordinary powers" during times of emergency.

"The city appreciates the strong support for the principle of Home Rule voiced in today’s AG Office's opinion, and believes that principle extends to emergency ordinances to protect the health and safety of our citizens," Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg said in a statement on Friday afternoon.

"In addition, city leaders and staff have worked diligently to ensure that our current emergency ordinances directly support and codify the orders issued by Governor McMaster during this crisis," the mayor added.

During a press conference on Friday, Tecklenburg said that if Gov. Henry McMaster's asked the city to lift its order, he would follow the governor's instructions.

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