Constitution Week keynote calls for separation of powers in wake of COVID-19

John Eastman speaks to the crowd for Grand Lake's ninth annual Constitution Week on Saturday. He focused on constitutional rights in the wake of COVID-19.
Amy Golden /

Grand Lake Constitution Week’s keynote speaker began his talk Saturday with a moment of silence for Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the US Supreme Court justice who died Friday of pancreatic cancer.

After sharing some memories of Ginsburg from his time as clerk for Justice Clarence Thomas, John Eastman jumped into his speech on the nation’s constitutional founding in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Eastman is a visiting scholar in conservative thought and policy at the University of Colorado Boulder. He is a scholar of constitutional law, particularly religious freedom.

He sparked controversy last month following an op-ed he wrote for Newsweek challenging Kamala Harris’ eligibility for vice president. The piece was widely criticized for leading to the spread of birtherism conspiracy theories on the candidate.

On Saturday, Eastman discussed the legal authority for executive powers at both a state and federal level to execute restrictions associated with the pandemic.

“At least in the early phases, these kind of actions were lawfully authorized,” he said, outlining the legal authorities allocated to officials to deal with public health emergencies.

“If we’ve given the governor of this state powers to deal with an emergency, I think that emergency power probably ended along about last April or May. We’re now six months later. This is no longer an imminent emergency.”

Following a round of applause, Eastman added that even if some restrictions are justified, they should be determined by legislative action, not executive power. He highlighted various constitutional amendments that he said have been arbitrarily violated during the pandemic.

During the event, Eastman and organizer Tom Goodfellow also criticized a flyer handed out to the Constitution Week audience spread out on lawn chairs in Grand Lake’s town park.

Goodfellow said organizers didn’t know that someone was going to share flyers from the group “Conservatives for Yes on National Popular Vote” and he condemned the act as not in the spirit of Constitution Week.

Eastman went further to argue the Electoral College is integral to the US Constitution and encouraged the audience to vote no on the ballot measure.

“The Electoral College ensures that we all have a say in the direction of our government,” he explained.

Other topics the speaker touched on included the outstanding national debt, which he believes should be addressed by whoever is elected in November, and what would happen in the election if the presidential candidates tied in delegates this November. Mostly, Eastman’s talk focused on what he called the “restoration” of the separation of powers.

“We the people are the ultimate sovereign authority in this country,” he said. “We have delegated a portion of our powers to the federal government. We have subdivided those powers into legislative, executive and judicial authority. That means the judges ought not to be making law; the executive ought not to be making law; and it means that the legislature not ought to be passing the buck to the other two to make our laws.”

Other presenters for Constitution Week included the host of a Colorado-focused conservatarian radio show and Eastman’s wife, Elizabeth C’de Baca Eastman, senior scholar in residence at CU Boulder’s Center for the Study of Western Civilization.

Constitution Week has come under criticism over the years for slating conservative speakers. Before Eastman’s speech, Goodfellow addressed some of that criticism by saying organizers reached out to at least 20 speakers. He did not name any but said they rejected the opportunity.

Coming into Constitution Week, Goodfellow had declined to talk to the Sky-Hi News about the events. On Friday, the newspaper published a letter to the editor in which a reader questioned Constitution Week’s lineup and targeted event donors.

“The committee never does rebuttals on comments in the paper,” Goodfellow said Saturday. “I’m not even saying that some of the comments are not justified, but we think it’s been a little over done and I think after nine years it was time to push back a little bit.”

Saturday also included a flyover from the Peterson Air Force Base and a performance from the El Jebel Shrine Pipe Band.

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