Republicans who control the Michigan Legislature urged a judge Friday to strike down stay-home orders and other restrictions related to the coronavirus, saying Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer trampled their authority in determining statewide emergencies.
The clash in Michigan is the latest between Democratic governors who have shut down businesses and ordered people to stay home in response to COVID-19 and conservatives who believe the steps are excessive.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court this week ruled against Gov. Tony Evers' administration, clearing the way for bars and restaurants to reopen.
The dispute in Michigan centers on two laws: a 1976 statute that gives the Legislature a role in emergency declarations after 28 days, and another from 1945 that grants broad authority to governors.
The House and Senate, which are controlled by Republicans, did not extend Whitmer's disaster emergency declaration in late April but she acted anyway.
The '45 law cited by the governor was aimed at local emergencies, not statewide virus outbreaks, said attorney Michael R. Williams, arguing on behalf of lawmakers.
Whitmer "suggested that the (emergency) conditions would not end until such time as a vaccination has been created. That would mean we’d be talking 2021, 2022, perhaps later," Williams said. “At other times, she’s talked about the economic consequences of the disaster. ... We would be talking about the exercise of executive power with no legislative input for a period of years.”
Court of Claims Judge Cynthia Stephens seemed to pick up that point. She challenged the governor's lawyer by asking if Whitmer could declare an emergency for her entire four-year term and keep the Legislature on the sideline.
“The governor can't just declare an emergency if she feels like it. The conditions have to exist, and that is undisputed,” Chris Allen of the attorney general's office said.
Later, during the arguments, he said there's no “blank check.”
Stephens didn't immediately make a decision. She predicted that her ruling would be appealed to “my big bosses" at the Michigan Supreme Court.
Whitmer, who has had a choppy relationship with Republicans during her nearly 17 months in office, has accused them of playing politics by suing her during the pandemic. She said the GOP also has inspired gun-toting protesters on the Capitol grounds in recent weeks.
House and Senate leaders complain that Whitmer's broad approach to reopening Michigan doesn't make sense, especially in regions that haven't been hit as hard with the virus as the Detroit area, which has 66% of cases.
In Wisconsin, Evers lost a court case over his anti-virus strategy. The state Supreme Court said the governor's health director exceeded her authority by extending a stay-home order without working with Republicans in the Legislature to come up with an administrative rule.
President Donald Trump praised the ruling in Wisconsin. His administration has lately been looking to shift the dialogue to reopening the country and restoking the dormant economy. That position has earned him praise from protesters in Michigan, Wisconsin and elsewhere, and condemnation from others who fear that the economic focus is coming at the expense of public health and safety.
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