Michigan Supreme Court again rules in favor of emergency law critics

Justices again ordered the Board of State Canvassers to certify petitions that would allow lawmakers to kill the law
An "Unlock Michigan" sign is seen in Dickinson County, July 2020.
An "Unlock Michigan" sign is seen in Dickinson County, July 2020.(WLUC)
Published: Jul. 9, 2021 at 7:42 PM EDT
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LANSING, Mich. (AP) - The Michigan Supreme Court has reaffirmed an earlier decision that could lead to the repeal of a law that was used by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to order restrictions last year related to the coronavirus.

The court directed the Board of State Canvassers to certify a ballot question that could kill the 1945 Emergency Powers of the Governor Act.

It has already been declared unconstitutional, but critics want it off the books. The Supreme Court ruled on Oct. 2 that the law improperly delegates legislative powers to the executive branch of state government.

That same day, a group called Unlock Michigan turned in petitions to repeal the law. The group circulated petitions in 2020 and collected over 460,000 valid signatures, which easily met the 340,000-signature threshold based on the Michigan Bureau of Elections tabulation.

But the Board of State Canvassers deadlocked on partisan lines and refused to certify the issue in April. The two Democrat members instead wanted to initiate an investigation into how Unlock Michigan collected signatures.

However, the Supreme Court issued a ruling on June 13 ordering the board to approve the petitions based on “a clear legal duty” to do so. Justices ruled that the canvassers rejected a motion to investigate petition circulation practices with a tie vote, so they can only certify them now.

In the meantime, a group called Keep Michigan Safe filed a motion with the court, asking justices to reconsider the order to certify the petitions so an investigation could take place into Unlock Michigan’s work. The Supreme Court rejected the group’s request again Friday and again ordered the Board of State Canvassers to approve the petitions.

“We’re extremely disappointed by this decision which ignores Unlock Michigan’s illegal conduct and eradicates the state’s ability to keep people safe during emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic and outbreaks of infectious diseases like anthrax, Legionnaires’, hepatitis and tuberculosis,” said Keep Michigan Safe spokesman Mark Fisk.

Lawmakers approved a measure last fall that would have wiped the Emergency Powers of the Governor Act off the books, but Whitmer vetoed it in December.

When the petitions are certified, the Republican-controlled Legislature will likely enact the measure and end the emergency powers law with no threat of a veto from Whitmer. The Legislature also could vote to put the issue to a public vote in 2022.

Fisk said losing the Emergency Powers of the Governor Act would cause severe economic and health consequences during future crises.

“Unlock Michigan is a brazen political power grab that will put people’s lives at risk and undermine our economy by hamstringing leaders trying to act during public health emergencies for generations to come,” he said.

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