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Democratic Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer blasted state Republican lawmakers on Tuesday over a lawsuit they have filed challenging her emergency authority to deal with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, ironically accusing them of a “power grab.”
Whitmer’s office filed a legal response to the suit this week, claiming that while the Republican majority in the Legislature represents a “coequal” branch of government, they somehow don’t have the authority to question her, no matter what she does.
“This is more than a political bluff for a dissatisfied coequal branch of government holding a losing hand under applicable law,” Whitmer wrote, according to the Detroit News. “It is a power grab cloaked in the fineries of unfounded legal reasoning.”
She also accused the GOP majority of seeking “to build a constitutional crisis atop a public health crisis.” Now, the lawmakers want courts to “referee this political disagreement and do their legislative work for them.”
Oral arguments are set to begin Friday, the newspaper reported.
There are two state laws Whitmer has cited as giving her power to issue her orders, even indefinitely, the paper cited:
The 1976 Emergency Management Act allows the governor to declare a state of emergency but to get the approval of the Legislature after 28 days. The Legislature refused to sign off on an extension on April 30.
The 1945 Emergency Powers of the Governor Act (EPGA) also allows the governor to declare an emergency but seems to give the governor the ability to decide when to rescind it.
Courts will have to decide which law is applicable if any.
But the legal challenges are important because a precedent will be set by Whitmer’s actions if she is left to her own devices — something Republicans aren’t willing to help her establish.
U.S. Rep. Paul Mitchell (R-Mich.) filed suit against Gretchen last week, claiming many of her emergency orders in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic are unconstitutional.
“I think we need to clarify the extent of what an emergency is and the extent of those powers and re-enforce that people have constitutional rights,” Mitchell said.
State Republicans followed up with a lawsuit of their own after Whitmer extended her original ‘stay-at-home’ order late last month to run through May 28, just a few hours before it was slated to expire.
The extension came the same day dozens of protesters, some of them armed, demonstrated outside the capital in Lansing.
“We’ve attempted to partner with our governor, but she’s rejected,” House Speaker Lee Chatfield tweeted. “We offered cooperation, but instead she chose court. This was avoidable, but today we filed a lawsuit in our state to challenge her unconstitutional actions. The law in Michigan is clear, and nobody is above it.”
A state judge has already dealt a legal blow to Whitmer after ruling this week that a Michigan barbershop owner, Karl Manke, could keep his business open in ‘defiance’ of Whitmer’s order, for which he was cited twice by police.
Members of the Michigan Militia vowed to block authorities’ access to Manke’s shop.
Michigan militia members vow to block the door, won’t allow police to arrest 77-year-old barber https://t.co/GRivxBOwDP
— Conservative News (@BIZPACReview) May 11, 2020
In their suit against Whitmer, Republicans claim she overstepped her legal boundaries by extending her stay-at-home order. The suit alleges that in doing so, she usurped lawmaking power from the Legislature “in service of a new executive-domineered legal regime.”
“In doing so,” the suit continues, “Defendant takes control of matters at the core of the Legislature’s constitutional mandate. And she does so under no discernible standards or time limits, save vague insistences that an ‘emergency’ requires them.”
“In Michigan, our governor has declared she no longer needs the legislature,” Chatfield wrote on Twitter last week. “What would the country say if the President declared he no longer needed Congress? Is there a double standard? You see, even in pandemics, laws still need to be upheld. We should all be working together.”
Constitutional challenges to continued lockdown orders from governors and mayors are increasing. Earlier this week, a federal judge in Kentucky blocked Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s ban on in-person church services as a violation of the First Amendment.
In issuing a temporary restraining order, U.S. District Judge Greg Van Tatenhove sided with Tabernacle Baptist Church in Nicholasville, Ky., which filed suit challenging Beshear’s ban.
While Beshear may have had “an honest” motive in attempting to mitigate the virus’ spread, he failed to provide “a compelling reason for using his authority to limit a citizen’s right to freely exercise something we value greatly — the right of every American to follow their conscience on matters related to religion,” Van Tatenhove wrote.
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