Michigan Supreme Court rules Whitmer exceeded powers during coronavirus pandemic

Orders will remain in place for 21 days -- and many for even longer
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Published: Oct. 2, 2020 at 5:16 PM EDT
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LANSING, Mich. (WJRT) - The Michigan Supreme Court has ruled that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer exceeded her powers during coronavirus pandemic.

In a split 4-3 ruling, the majority opinion of justices says Whitmer lost the authority to continue a State of Emergency for the coronavirus pandemic after April 30, when the Michigan Legislature declined to extend it.

However, Whitmer pointed out her orders will remain in place for 21 more days until the Supreme Court ruling takes effect. After that, she said many of the orders will remain in place under “alternative sources of authority that were not at issue in today’s ruling.”

Whitmer initially declared a State of Emergency for coronavirus in March, when the illness began spreading widely in Michigan. The Legislature approved an extension of the emergency from April 1 to 30, but declined another extension beyond April 30.

Michigan’s Emergency Management Act of 1976 allows the governor to declare a State of Emergency for up to 28 days without input from the Legislature, but approval from lawmakers is required after that.

Whitmer invoked the 1945 Emergency Powers of the Governor Act after April 30 to continue the State the Emergency and issue dozens more executive orders increasing and decreasing restrictions to prevent the spread of coronavirus without legislative approval.

The Republican-led Legislature has criticized Whitmer’s actions keeping businesses closed and maintaining restrictions on residents during the coronavirus pandemic. The Legislature filed a lawsuit in May challenging her authority under the 1945 law.

The Michigan Court of Claims and Michigan Court of Appeals both ruled in Whitmer’s favor and allowed her orders to continue.

However, the Supreme Court ruled that the 1945 law constitutes an unconstitutional delegation of lawmaking authority from the Legislative to the Executive branch of state government. Based on that, the court ruled that all of Whitmer’s coronavirus orders after April 30 “lack any basis under Michigan law.”

Whitmer called Friday’s ruling “deeply disappointing” and said she “vehemently disagrees” with the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Michigan Constitution.

She said it eventually will leave Michigan as the only state without some form of an emergency declaration in place while coronavirus continues spreading, especially in the Upper Peninsula.

“I know this is hard. We all want this crisis to be over, and we all want life to return to normal as soon as possible,” Whitmer said in a statement. “But the only way we will get through this is by pulling together as Americans and working as one nation to defeat this virus. That means wearing a mask, washing your hands frequently, and maintaining six feet of physical distancing. Michiganders have grit, and there is no challenge we can’t meet.”

Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield said the Legislature worked well with Whitmer in March and April “to improve her executive orders and help keep Michigan healthy and moving forward together.” He said Republicans feel that same willingness to work alongside Whitmer’s administration.

“It’s been said the governor is in the best position to act quickly, and the Legislature is in the best position to act deliberately. That is how our entire system is designed to work," Chatfield said. "We look forward to the coming bipartisan deliberations on the pandemic response and the improved outcomes for Michigan families.”

Whitmer pledged to continue working on behalf of Michiganders to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

“I want the people of Michigan to know that no matter what happens, I will never stop fighting to keep you and your families safe from this deadly virus," she said.

Democrat State Sen. Jim Ananich of Flint called on Republicans in the Legislature to adopt all of Whitmer’s current coronavirus orders as law, so they would continue.

Friday’s ruling comes on the same day that Unlock Michigan turned in 539,000 petition signatures to repeal the 1945 Emergency Powers of the Governor Act. If at least 340,000 of those signatures are declared valid, the Legislature could throw out the law or put it to a statewide vote.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.